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SOAs So Close, Yet So Far
By Clint Boulton

May 17, 2005

NEW YORK — Service-oriented architectures (SOA) have a ways to go to becoming fully realized. But there is a disconnect between how CIOs and software developers view distributed computing progress, according to BEA CTO Mark Carges.

The engineer, who co-authored the popular Tuxedo e-commerce platform, said CEOs believe SOAs are more advanced than developers recognize. One of the reasons for this gulf in perception is that even if an SOA works just a little bit, a company leader will consider the model a success if it saves money.

“The folks who are down in the trenches doing the work are saying: ‘Eh, we haven’t even started yet.’ The folks who are actually driving this are saying: ‘We’re actually making some good progress here,'” Carges said, drawing laughter from the audience at the SOA Executive Forum here Tuesday.

Carges continued: “It’s not that the execs really think they’re further ahead than what the folks in the trenches are saying. It’s more that they are seeing and getting the benefits from just the projects they’ve begun doing and those benefits have moved the business in fundamental ways so that they rate themselves a little higher.”

Both developers and executives realize the SOA can be a lot better, said Carges at the event, where several computing experts discussed their experiences and progress with SOAs . SOAs are evolving computing architectures that allow developers to reuse assets, such as software code or services.

Carges said that while SOAs are “not broadly adopted at this point in time,” they will need to migrate from the current Web services and composite application stage to the “service infrastructure.”

While an application infrastructure describes how to build and deploy software, the service infrastructure describes how an enterprise can pull applications together through a combination of process, information and services across computing environments with different infrastructures.

This is essentially BEA’s SOA plan, consisting of several steps: service enablement, lifecycle management, message brokers, data services, security and scalability.

Service enablement allows businesses to “build composite applications regardless of the technology they were built upon,” Carges said. Lifecycle management tracks services from their creation to disposal. Message brokering allows rules to be shuttled out of the code and into a service backbone to provide message management with one single policy.

Data services is a common service layer for accessing, altering and updating data across disparate systems. The security layer safeguards transactions as a service. Services agility allows people closest to the business to change policies independent of IT.

BEA is planning to put its service infrastructure into play next month, where company officials will unveil the fruits of Project FreeFlow. FreeFlow will include elements of the Quicksilver enterprise service bus, as well as Web services management and security.

Despite a lack of broad adoption, for which the murkiness of certain Web services standards play a part, one computing expert offered the audience a measure of confidence.

Dr. John D. Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School, discussed how the state of Massachusetts is using an SOA to solve the convoluted process of exchanging information between doctors, patients and insurance carriers at medical centers.

As chairman of the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network (NEHEN), Halamka discussed how payers and providers in Massachusetts have unified the administrative workflow of health care through a regional SOA.

Describing the architecture as a sort of “Napster for doctors,” Halamka said NEHEN has helped the cost of conducting a computer-based transaction drop from $5 to 10 cents because it cuts out a lot of manual processes, saves time and reuses assets.

Over 90 percent of payer/provider transactions pass through NEHEN, which does about four million transactions a day at as low as two seconds per clip.

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