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SOA? It’s A People Thing

Don’t get so excited about the technology

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One of the major issues with Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is that technology companies are the primary drivers of its development, yet its implementation has little to do with technology. This does create a situation where having an `SOA’ offering becomes an important tick-box for the technology vendors, with each offering geared strongly towards each vendor’s preferred technology solution. But in practice, the implementation of a service infrastructure is really a function of management, and the implementers are now most likely to be an evolution of the applications developer.

According to Mark Potts, an HP Fellow and CTO of HP’s Management Software operation, The growth in SOA implementations will provide more opportunities for developers, and only some will remain in a traditional code-cutting role. “It gets very fuzzy when it comes to code cutting,” he said. “There are still going to be code cutters who, for example, write the glue code for how one application will consume the services provided by another application. But there is certainly going to be less demand for that because they won't be rewriting software or customising it, they will simply be re-using it. So I think you will see developers becoming more architecturally savvy. Companies don't just go and buy an SOA. This is about change in the business and breaking down the Line of Business technology silos. It is also about businesses having developers that understand the concepts of software re-use."

Potts was speaking at a recent event where HP set out to re-establish a position at the head of a SOA bandwagon that has become increasingly geared to `gee-whiz’ technology solutions. One of the interesting aspects of this move was that, though the company is not short of technology offerings, it was far more keen to stress the importance of users understanding the management and people issues, such as the new role for developers.

The new developers’ skills set, he suggested, will be geared towards understanding how services are consumed and how new services are built out of existing services, applications and tools. Developers will therefore find themselves defining processes that encroach on the operational lifecycle. Potts pointed to Microsoft’s Service Definition model as an example of the shift in emphasis facing developers. This gives developers the tools to define how an application is deployed so that it meets set requirements. This in turn gives the operations staff a much better insight into how it should be managed. “So now developers are taking assets and metadata from the development lifecycle and bringing them into the operational lifecycle,” he said, “which means those two world are starting to get close. And the same it true for composite applications developers, for if they understand the model they can also tell the operators, who can then monitor operations against that model.”

In the Potts view of SOA the big need is to address the people/process issues within the enterprise and get them right. This is why the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is one of the important components of HP's SOA offerings and positioning. According to Potts the real value of ITIL is that it offers users best practices models in service delivery and service support, together with the processes that go around them.

Though standard technologies are the important building blocks of SOAs there are still many standards holes that need to be filled. Potts, in particular, stressed that more work needed to be done in the area of defining and standardising the contexts of business-to-business processes in a wide range of vertical market sectors, following on from the lead set by RosettaNet in the manufacturing sector.

So, is this an area HP is looking to apply technology? “Yes it is,” Potts said. “If you look at what happens in the business world in terms of lowering costs then automation has taken the people out of many processes. If you look at IT we're doing the same thing.”

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