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Is SOA getting boring?

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That hits on another point, which is IBM’s contention that it is best situated to glue everything together. Mills contended that SOA brings pressure on the SAPs and Oracles of the world to open their APIs using Service Component Architecture and Service Data Objects. Obliquely, it points to new competition for where new functionality gets situated: inside the application stack, or at the BPM or service composition layer in the middle. Mills denies that there’s a power struggle going on. In his words, the question of who wins or loses when you add SOA to the mix is “one of those silly debates… we’re not saying what we do is more important than what SAP does.”

Well, maybe it’s silly, but IBM has plenty of accounts where there’s a lot of SAP and Oracle, so there’s going to be competition for that middle tier.

But what about the other half of the enterprise market that uses homegrown rather than packaged apps? Later that day, we sat in on another session to explore how IBM is building a composite apps business for that segment (more specifically, for banking, insurance, telco, and healthcare sectors). This was a follow up to a session we caught a year ago, just as ink had dried on IBM’s Webify acquisition that brought the underlying technology for building vertical industry SOA frameworks.

Balance of power questions abounded there as well, although IBM is taking pains not to call these composite applications, but composite solutions. The inference is that solutions are supersets of applications, and thanks to SOA, far more dynamic.

With that assumption, IBM is still playing linchpin - they own the underlying framework, and reprising the role performed by its global business services groups, IBM also plays arbiter in recommending solutions. This year, it introduced tooling that allows customers to add their own framework extensions, or get IBM to integrate third parties currently not on their preferred partner list. Three partners - Kana for contact management, Seec for insurance business components, and Chordiant for “customer experience solutions" - testified that of course it’s a two-way partnership (they’re also veteran IBM business partners).

But IBM is clearly first among equals, as the framework is its own, is responsible for level one support, and therefore, is positioned to assert account control. But realizing that the technology has surged ahead of the business model, IBM and partners are still shaping the rules of engagement for composites as they go along.

From a technology standpoint, SOA might be getting a lot more boring. However, impacts to vendor business relationships are for now anything but.

This article originally appeared in onStrategies.

Copyright © 2008, onStrategies.com

Tony Baer is the principal with analyst onStrategies. With 15 years in enterprise systems and manufacturing, Tony specialises in application development, data warehousing and business applications, and is the author of several books on Java and .NET.

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