What SOA means for management

Some new technologies may allow for management to follow deployment, but not service-oriented architecture.

The success of SOA within any organization depends on the appropriate management, according to industry watchers who say SOA will change the traditional management paradigm and require vendors and IT managers to update their approaches. For instance, the loosely coupled nature of SOA services will demand updated technology -- tools that can follow the application components from system to system without being tied to one physical server.

"One of the core challenges . . . is loose coupling, where you want to build services that you can control and manage independently of the consumers of those services," said Jason Bloomberg, managing partner and senior analyst at ZapThink during a live discussion sponsored by Tidal Software. "Management then becomes the critical enabler for loose coupling, which is the critical enabler for business agility. That is how it all fits together." (For a Webcast of the discussion, click here.)

Yet it's not that simple. IT managers need to have begun breaking down the walls, or silos, between IT domains to enable management of loosely coupled application services across a business environment, said Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

"SOA management needs to go a step further and take into consideration many systems and interdependencies -- perhaps involving services coming from outside the organizational boundaries, be they from partners across the supply chain, and even hosting and commercial service providers," Gardner said. "Management is going to be, as a topic, very important to SOA in a traditional sense, but also management in a new sense."

According to Bloomberg, SOA at its core is about delivering services that perform as expected on the fly. To ensure SOA performance meets expectations is a management issue. Yet the nature of SOA is more complex than traditional environments and today's management tools will be challenged, he said.

"Many architects are a bit surprised that SOA doesn't make their jobs easier or the job of IT any easier. If anything . . . there's more of a challenge for IT to meet the business requirements for flexible, agile, composable and loosely coupled services," Bloomberg said. "This is especially true in the management area, because the services have to behave as advertised."

That means the traditional approach of waiting for an application-performance problem to happen and then responding won't work in an SOA world. Many IT managers have struggled to manage applications as they evolved from mainframe to client/server to Web environments, Gardner said. The transition to SOA will only intensify the challenge of perfecting performance.

"Firefighting as the means to application performance has never been the preferred way," he said. "You need to start working toward predictive, analytical approaches to the management of performance."

Not only do IT managers need to start working actively, but they also have to think about their applications in terms of business processes. As SOA becomes the norm within companies, it will introduce the concept of flexible business process-based applications, Bloomberg said. These will need to be managed as compositions of services. But IT managers won't likely abandon their existing management systems and overhaul their entire management strategy.

"You're not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. You are going to continue to leverage your previous investments," Gardner said. In fact, Bloomberg added, "[SOA] is not really that disruptive on the technology side. SOA helps leverage existing technologies. It has a heterogeneity story that says, 'Well, you don't have to replace. You can leave and abstract as needed."

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