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OASIS Reference Model for SOA

SOA standards one step nearer?

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The Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) has been a great success – in that it's a new buying signal for lots of customers who were seemingly getting a bit fed up with paying money to IT vendors for more of the same.

So there are now 43 million different interpretations of what `SOA’ means, ranging from “radically new, loosely coupled, asynchronous technology infrastructures” (often so loose that they barely connect at all) to “Hey, we've been doing SOA all along but just didn't realise it” (the Monsieur Jourdain approach – which, at least, usually works on an industrial scale).

And, of course, every vendor is the “thought leader” for its particular version of SOA and is madly lobbying (dare one say financing) the analysts of this world, in order for them to come up with its own special magic quadrant.

So the recent announcement by OASIS that “its members have approved the Reference Model for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA-RM) version 1.0 as an OASIS Standard, a status that signifies the highest level of ratification” is broadly to be approved.

At least we now have some real idea of what we might be talking about and can make sense of all the SOA offerings in terms of their departures from the reference – this will help developers when their lords and masters in the business dictate: “...oh, and it must be SOA, of course...”

As Patrick Gannon, president and CEO of OASIS, puts it: “SOA-RM offers us a much-needed vocabulary for communicating an organization's services architecture. It delivers a standard reference that will remain relevant as a powerful model, useful across SOA deployments with evolving technologies”.

Usefully, SOA-RM isn't intended to support any specific Web services standards, technologies, or other concrete SOA implementations. Instead, it offers common semantics that can be used unambiguously across and between different implementations – and (as OASIS requires) there are already 3 successfully verified implementations of SOA-RM itself (from the Canadian Government, Capgemini, and Adobe Systems).

The new standard has a respectable list of supporters: “Adobe Systems, AmSoft, Axway Software, BEA Systems, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, Capgemini, Fujitsu, General Motors, NEC, Reactivity, Software AG, and others” are quoted on the release.

Perhaps the absences from that list are also interesting: IBM, Microsoft and, not least, Sonic Software (which “invented” the Enterprise Service Bus and is, like the others, an OASIS member).

I asked Sonic - part of Progress Software -: Progress spokesman Trip Kucera told me: "The Oasis SOA reference model is promising and certainly an initiative we’ll monitor moving forward. There are also some interesting parallels with our own SOA maturity model, which is freely available for organizations to customize for their needs”. So, I’m left feeling that the OASIS reference model may stil have a little way to go before universal adoption is assured (also see "OASIS to define SOA" in Related stories, below).

Reg Developer's Martin Banks also sounded a note of caution when we discussed this announcement.

"Setting reference models in stone before too many people have really worked out what they think SOA really is could push (pull?) the definition of SOA down a back alley – particularly a technological one,” he says. “The trouble with vendors is they want to see ‘technology’ and with SOA, the technology is at least secondary, if not totally irrelevant. It’s all about what the business wants/needs to do – the processes involved”.

I take his point, although I also note that OASIS at least claims that its new model isn't tied to particular technologies. It's also being reported that Avaya was the only OASIS member to vote against the new reference model, on the grounds that it isn’t definitive enough and that things that aren't really SOA could claim to conform (Avaya’s view of SOA is here). We shall have to see how it all pans out.

OASIS hosts various mail lists for public comment and for exchanging information on implementing the standard. The Reference Model can be downloaded from here, where you’ll also find pointers to its mailing lists. &Reg;

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