6 Keys to SOA Success

By John McCormick Print this article Print

Service-oriented architecture can--and do--fail. Here are some ways to avoid the pitfalls.

At last month's SAP Sapphire user conference, much of the discussion on the part of both SAP and its customers from the keynote by SAP chief executive Henning Kagermann to talks and presentations by information-technology managers from building supplier Home Depot, pharmaceutical company Wyeth, oil and gas company Valero and many others was about service-oriented architecture deployments.

Indeed, the adoption of SOA, a computing architecture that allows an enterprise to make its applications and computing resources, such as databases, available as "services" that can be called upon when necessary, is growing. Gartner, in a new report issued last month titled Applied SOA: Transforming Fundamental Principles Into Best Practices, said that SOA will be used in more than half the mission-critical applications and business processes created this year, and in more than 80% come 2010.

No surprise, given SOA's promise: flexible applications, which can be developed quickly, that cut corporate software development costs.

However, as Gartner and others note, SOA projects can fail. There are any number of reasons these efforts don't succeed. The requirements might not be properly defined, the budget might not be adequate, business processes might be misaligned, or there might be problems with underlying data. It could even be that the information-technology department is developing services the business doesn't really need. Or that good SOA baselines aren't formulated and, therefore, there's little chance to show real ROI.

So, what's the make or break?

Gartner, in its report, listed six keys to SOA success:

Instill SOA discipline in your organization. Companies need to figure out what they want and really plan their implementation. And organizations can't achieve higher levels of SOA without organizational discipline. Gartner supports the creation of an integration competency center (ICC) to coordinate the activities of all teams involved in SOA development the applications team, I.T. management and the business units as well as to formulate decisions and to take responsibility for project success.

Plan big, start small. This is just good I.T. project management. Starting small gives people a chance to learn and establish best practices and policies. There's also a greater chance of success with smaller projects. At Sapphire, Matt Stultz, the SAP technology director at Home Depot, also recommended that there be good, reusable components even in the first project, so that I.T. can demonstrate how SOA can be leveraged right from the start.

Invest in integration infrastructure. Companies for years have been working on integrating applications, and have invested in middleware and connectivity to make it happen. SOA which makes integration efforts more coordinated and better planned and custom integration projects can coexist, according to Gartner. Companies that plan technology and skills requirements based on that fact will derive benefits from both efforts.

Design services systematically. Keep long-term objectives in mind, with shared semantic and technical designs, Gartner says.

Invest in meta-data management. Meta-data, the data about the data, is key to improving the manageability and agility of systems. As Gartner notes, companies should extract the meta-data that controls software behavior from programs into visible files, then start to document and share their meta-data. Gartner brings up the idea of creating a meta-data database.

Anticipate obstacles; don't give up. Some hurdles listed by Gartner: poor governance, the inability to find or duplicate services, version-control problems, and data integrity challenges. A question posed in the report: When it comes to governance, who owns transactions that can span the world? The consultancy recommends monitoring middleware to track transactions end-to-end. For version control, it says impact analysis tools and a version management policy, one that enables the coexistence of multiple versions of the same services, are essential.

But the point is, there are ways to overcome the challenges. SOA is worth the effort. And it's the reason why Sapphire attendees and information-technology managers in all sorts of corporations are adopting SOA.

This article was originally published on 2007-05-14
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