Service-oriented architecture adoption is heading towards mainstream for a certain sector of IT user organizations, but it is barely recognized by others. While there is a noticeable vertical industry differentiator – with finance, telco, and government being the lead industries – size of organization is much more telling.
Adoption is greatest in the large enterprise sector, dwindling away rapidly to a comparative vacuum in the small and medium business (SMB) sector. Many mid-sized organizations could benefit greatly from the agility service-oriented architecture (SOA) brings, and would like to deploy automated business processes and composite applications to enhance their customers’ experiences. They are held back by the cost of the technology and by the skills needed to create and maintain a managed SOA environment.
We are starting to see a gradual commoditization of some of the technology that is needed to create a SOA infrastructure. Open source technology stacks are now maturing and becoming simpler to deploy, putting price pressure on commercial products. However, the cost of acquiring the skills needed, and of providing the ongoing administration and governance of the SOA environment, is typically greater than the technology costs, so that reducing the technology costs below a certain point has a diminishing impact on SOA adoption.
An alternative, of which we have seen a small but growing number of successful examples, is the use of a hosting solution. Normally, when hosting is discussed in the context of SOA, the assumption is made that the SOA infrastructure layer is implemented in-house, and the business services selectively outsourced on a case by case basis. In the case of the SMB, there is much to be gained by considering inverting this logic by retaining the business services in-house, and using a hosted solution for the SOA infrastructure.
Most SMB organizations have established a set of applications that provide the required level of functionality, but are stovepiped by the legacy platforms on which they execute. Integration is carried out by humans, frequently using dissimilar interfaces into different applications in order to gain a complete picture of a situation. The organization will often have only a skeleton IT staff that maintains the current set of applications, and will have little or no development expertise. While the benefits of SOA would be as relevant to the SMB as to a larger organization, the relative cost of implementing a SOA would be unsupportable.
For a services organization providing hosted services to many small businesses, the cost of creating and maintaining a SOA infrastructure can be shared across several customers. Either the infrastructure could be cloned for each customer, or else a shared infrastructure used, relying on the routing functionality to keep the logical separation.
The requirement at the customer site is to enable the required functionality as a set of services. This might not be simple, as most application adapters are targeted at the applications in common use within large organizations. However, the creation of custom adapters is usually possible, with screen-scraping techniques working where there is no obvious application programming interface to work to.
Having enabled the services, the hosting provider can provide the analytic skills to work with the customers to create composite applications and automated processes as needed.
The hosted SOA infrastructure solution also works well where the SMBs are part of a trading network, where the hosting provider can act as a hub to provide the transformation of messages between the various parties.
The potential of this hosted SOA model should be considered as part of the decision-process around any software as a service (SaaS) model, and is likely to become increasingly attractive to any organization that has allowed its in-house IT services to be reduced to a maintenance-only role.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)