The IT architecture of many organisations can best be described as accidental. And the proliferation of applications, servers, databases and other proprietary software over the years has resulted in ossification. The technology that was intended to make the business it served nimble and agile is itself rigid, costly and unwieldy. Service-orientated architecture (SOA) is set to change that.
And while industry commentators have speculated over SOA for a number of years already, this game-changing approach to software is not just some grand concept, years away from fruition: the results will be tangible in the very near future: according to analyst group Gartner SOA will be the prevailing software engineering practice by 2008.
Antony Shipley, master solutions architect at technology giant Hewlett-Packard’s services division, says customers have long-since recognised the drivers for SOA: reducing the cost of IT and making IT more responsive to business needs. “Products and services are slow to the market place because agility is low,” he says.
But service-oriented architecture is, in fact, just the first step towards addressing that problem, says Shipley. HP’s vision for IT architecture, which it calls the adaptive enterprise, represents the a whole new degree of flexibility within the infrastructure.
To get there IT leaders are already implementing web-services-based software, to reduce the rigidity imposed by legacy systems. As that web services technology matures, it will naturally progress through SOA and ultimately to on-demand computing, says Shipley. SOA is the enabler, but is not the end goal, he adds.
Antony Shipley is master solutions architect for Hewlett-Packard‘s Services, Consulting and Integration division. With over 20 years experience in the IT industry he has been deeply involved in projects in both a delivery and management role. He has worked extensively in the digital publishing industry, creating and defining HP’s leading solutions and services in this area.
The adaptive enterprise exists where a number of business and IT components merge together: SOA; grid computing; IT services management; IT ‘real estate’ consolidation; and application modernisation.
But getting to the adaptive enterprise level will require a monumental shift in the way we think, says Shipley. The old software model created applications that were designed to last. SOA will be the first stage in changing the application side: whereas traditional applications were tightly coupled, SOA applications are designed to be loosely coupled and responsive to change.
This will also change the mindset about how applications are developed. The old code-intensive software model resulted in lengthy development cycles; SOA demands process-oriented, iterative development cycles.
But while this is a radically different approach, it builds on existing best practice, says Shipley. Concepts, such as object-orientated programming, are now starting to be applied in a logical sense to business processes and business services, he adds. “So it is not really a new concept; it has just grown up.”
When these programming concepts are applied to a business model, they provide new ways of delivering services that are available on demand and are paid for when they are consumed. And they are not confined to inside the organisation – they can be equally applicable outside the business to customers and suppliers.
As a practical example, Shipley describes how SOA operates at one of HP’s clients, a global freight shipping company. In France, the company ships in excess of 60,000 packages a month; in India, the volume is between 100 and 200. These are entirely different business models, one high volume, the other low volume but with a far higher value. Customer expectations in each country are vastly different. But whereas, previously, the company would have needed different applications to track the shipments, an SOA approach has allowed it to use core common functionality.
SOA is “not just about buying a piece of technology and the problem is solved. It is about engagement from the business and it is about engagement from IT,” says Shipley.