SOA Management and SOA ROI

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Many enterprises are chasing the dream of real-time operations to contend more effectively in a hyper-competitive market. This dream entails flexible business processes, just-in-time products, and on-demand services that are all driven by marketplace events and shifting customer demands. This dream is impossibly expensive to achieve without software to automate the processes and functions that make up a business’ engine. The trick is to shrink software development and integration times to next to nothing and making operational management efficient. If this can be done then as business managers become aware of a new need, IT can swoop in, model, design, and implement a business process to meet it then relax with a shaken martini as they oversee the management software keeping the process operating at peak performance.

What a great dream! Can this ever be reality? Well, maybe not the martinis in the office part, but Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) do make it much easier, faster and cheaper to build and change business processes. In an SOA software resources (services) are self-described, self-contained, independent of services and communicate with each other through standard-based, published interfaces. Service Oriented Architecture is such a systematic integration approach. This is not a new architecture, object brokers such as CORBA and DCOM are attempts to implement a SOA. However, the Web Services group of standards has some appealing attributes. Every software vendor on the planet has Web Services support plans (ie universal adoption) and the information bus is the Internet which already provides universal connectivity. So yes some big steps forward have been made in making integration a natural part of everyday software development and because of that code reuse, service aggregation and any number of integration tasks become easier.

However, actually recognizing ROI from IT projects has always been difficult. There are several reasons for this but most importantly ROI of SOA technology can only be achieved if the resulting services are available and performing well. This means that IT operations excellence is a pre-requisite for accruing business benefit. Using SOA to implement business processes is only half the ROI story. Management of SOA-dependent processes is the other half.

At this point, most IT folks are expecting to hear a product pitch for a management tools and set of agents to monitor SOA technology. That has been typical of every new IT technology. Enterprises buy it, start using it, and a few months later are looking for a utility tool to manage it. However, this approach will doom you to failure with SOAs. Getting the full ROI from SOA-built processes depends on taking a Service Oriented Approach to management. The reason stems from the key differences between an SOA environment and a traditional application architecture– that the service components are loosely coupled and are usually highly distributed. This presents many challenges:

  • As a result a business process can be built from many services, therefore monitoring the performance of a single service will not determine the performance of the entire process.
  • With many service components built by potentially different groups and organizations, responsibility for the entire business process is not clearly delineated to a single group.
  • Which tools will monitor, report and analyze the interaction between components to troubleshoot problems that span multiple components.
  • How will companies demonstrate compliance to the myriad of governmental and industry regulations, when highly flexible environments are an auditor’s worst nightmare.

These issues cannot be addressed with a single monitoring agent residing on an SOA component nor by calling every developer, systems admin, database manager and network engineer into a room every time there is a problem. Instead transactions need to be monitored in an end-to-end fashion for availability and performance. Tools must capture the relationships between the composite business process, the SOA components and the underlying infrastructure and use those relationships to analyze root causes of problems. Robust change management systems must be implemented to keep the auditors happy.

Luckily for IT operations the service oriented approach need only be implemented once and it can handle any combination of processes and services that development can “throw over the wall.” It is also convenient that good SOA management is part and parcel of a number of other popular acronyms – BSM, ITIL, COBiT, etc. After all leverage is the name of the game in implementing and managing SOAs.


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