SOA appliances: IBM's take

SOA presents many organizational challenges. Find out what they are and get IBM's take on SOA in this Q&A.

IT channel takeaway: Get IBM's take on where intelligence will reside in service-oriented architectures, its view of binary XML and the current adoption of SOA. You'll also get considerations to keep in mind regarding organizational challenges with SOA.

With Jim Ricotta, general manager of SOA Appliances for IBM.

Question: Could you provide an overview of where the intelligence is going to reside in service-oriented architectures -- at least as IBM sees it? What will be the functions assigned to applications, specialized servers and appliances?

Ricotta: Well, let's talk about what functions will happen where. There are some key themes in SOA. One is the use of standards. There is the actual implementation of composite applications using SOA. There's the management of Web services. There's the governance of the whole SOA. There's infrastructure that actually provides some of the underpinning.

We have products that perform the Web services management function -- Tivoli has a product called Tivoli CAM for SOA that does that, so you can establish policies and enforce SLAs around your different Web services. We have a product that is a registry and repository. Another thing you need in SOA is security, and with the DataPower acquisition, what IBM is saying is that security is [best] handled at the infrastructure layer. Our most popular appliance of the three we have is a Web services security appliance, which is a drop-in solution that can perform anything that you want to do from a security point of view -- WS-Security, triple A functions -- accessing, authentication and authorization of Web services requests -- digitally signing messages, logging activity for compliance.

Question: What's IBM's view of the value of binary XML? Does it make sense to just go with plain old XML, in spite of its verboseness, and use an accelerator, or are there cases when the binary approach makes more sense?

Ricotta: Interesting question. One of the reasons that XML has gained so much popularity as a message format is that it is ASCII text. It is human readable. It is easily modifiable. Even though the messages consume more resources like memory and CPU, people have switched to XML for some of those reasons. There are probably similar reasons why we all use ASCII text so much — in Web pages, for example — instead of some binary coding. And of course the nice thing about XML is it's standardized, so you can send your message with your schema and your data to somebody and they can parse it and make sense out of it and maybe translate it into their own format. Having said that, there are some efforts, some proposals in the area of binary XML. None of them are standardized yet. We are following them closely. We've been involved with the data power group in XML since 1999, so we are participating in some of the ideas around binary XML, but there's nothing standard there to support.

Question: Speaking more broadly about SOA, some analysts are saying that SOA adoption is being held back beyond the point-to-point stage by political problems, while others are predicting 90 percent adoption in a few years. What's your take?

Ricotta: There are definitely a lot of organizational challenges with SOA because now, instead of each line of business having its silo -- its application from presentation all the way to back-end services -- now, you're sharing. You're creating bonds or bridges between the silos, and that can present organization challenges. Who controls different parts? Who decides who gets which SLA? Who decides who gets to consume more or less resources? But from what I've seen over the last four or five years since I've been involved, these are good things for organizations to tackle anyway. It is a fact of the evolution of business that you've got to be agile, you've got to be more horizontal. One line of business should be able to access data from another or use data from one application in a Web portal that's designed to reach a new type of customer. So, while I think there are those challenges, from what I hear, the organizations that are tackling them are getting benefit.

This 3 Questions originally appeared in a weekly report from IT Business Edge.

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