“Gettin’ Small”

Old school business applications are big, they’re clunky, and when they go down, they go down hard. That’s why service-orientated architecture (SOA) is all about getting small.

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Allen Bernard, Managing Editor.

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It’s about breaking big, monolithic enterprise applications down into a dynamic matrix of discreet, distributed services that can be mixed and matched on the fly to suit changing business needs. But preserving that kind of agility takes a new approach to governance, one that understands how all the SOA pieces fit together in the nimble new enterprise.

There was a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, when the environment could accommodate and support gigantic reptiles. That environment changed. The dinosaurs died. Ants didn’t.

A similarly cataclysmic change continues to reshape the global business environment. The extraordinary evolution of the Web has changed how businesses relate to that environment, and to customers, partners, competitors as it redefines the enterprise. That the pace of this change continues to accelerate poses an increasingly significant threat to any company with too much in common with the doomed dinosaur—better to be more like a swarm of tenacious ants. Better to get small.

The widespread interest in and adoption of SOA is an attempt to do just that, to avoid the dinosaurs’ fate by getting small. But it’s not about shrinking or downsizing.

Companies around the globe are taking steps to deconstruct the brittle, monolithic applications, which constitutes the fossilized backbone of the typical IT infrastructure. These companies are attempting to replace that backbone with a network of loosely coupled services. Services that can easily be composed into a new breed of highly adaptable applications that can thrive amid tectonic shifts in the business landscape.

But winning big by getting SOA-small takes a thorough understanding of the difference between controlling a lumbering thunder-lizard of an infrastructure versus controlling a teeming swarm of services. Controlling, directing and maintaining all the moving parts in a highly dynamic SOA environment takes a new approach to governance.

It’s All About Relationships

The first thing to understand is effective SOA governance is not a problem to be solved by purely technological means. It requires a coordinated mix of people, process, and technology, and it must address the entire SOA lifecycle. Never lose sight of the fact that in SOA people, processes, and technologies are part of the swarm.

The next thing—and this one is critical—is the ability to see, understand, and manage the relationships and interdependencies that connect services and other software assets to each other, to the policies and standards that determine their design, development, and use, and to the composite applications in which services are consumed.

These relationships and interdependencies define the SOA, and governance holds everything together, organizing the swarm to keep it moving toward its objective. This takes a clear understanding of the SOA at both a macro and micro level. Macro governance is about the swarm. Micro governance is about the ants. Together they encompass the entire SOA lifecycle.

The Swarm and The Ants

At the macro level, this means understanding the overall goals of the SOA within the context of corporate business objectives. Typically, these goals are better business/IT alignment, an increased capacity for innovation, and maximum business agility. Macro-level governance must reflect those goals, guiding project and service investment decisions.

Macro-level governance then feeds governance at the micro level, where governance must determine when, where, how and by whom services will be produced and consumed. Governance must then set, monitor, and enforce the performance requirements those services are expected to meet once they enter the service network.

Effective SOA governance touches everyone and everything in the swarm, and reaches down to the smallest components of the SOA. This involves the creation and application of the appropriate policies and standards to the software assets—services and everything else—in the enterprise portfolio.

Specific standards- and policy-compliant software assets can then be prescribed, during the project planning stage, for use in the development of services. Those services can then be similarly prescribed for use in the creation of composite applications. Governance is embedded in the original software assets, then passed on to the service, and through that service into the composite application.

Once a service is deployed in the operational environment a different set of standards and policies must be applied to maintain control over the SOA. Defining and enforcing standards and policies to ensure service availability, access, and performance instills trust in the available services. That trust increases reuse, further improving the SOA’s bottom-line benefits.