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IBM Throws SOA Party, Invites Customers

IBM announced new service-oriented architecture design Centers at an inaugural event in Toronto Tuesday.

SOAs are models for distributed computing aimed at helping enterprise tackle the oft-dreaded dilemma of integrating disparate applications. The idea is to create a more agile, flexible environment for business processes, such as supply chain management or human resource management. They generally rely on reusable standard interfaces for integration.

Jason Weisser, vice president of Enterprise Integration at IBM, said SOAs typify IBM's strategy to move customers to e-business on-demand environments and expunge cost and complexity.

Weisser told internetnews.com that to better bridge the gap between customers and its software, IBM has opened SOA Design Centers in Austin, Texas, Beijing, Delhi and Hursley, U.K., where IBM customers can build SOAs using IBM's WebSphere products.

The news is the centerpiece of the inaugural IBM CIO Summit on SOA in Toronto this week, which the executive said is a way for IBM to work with customers on SOAs. IBM is working in the endeavor with automotive retailer Pep Boys, telco MCI, online auction eBay, and financial services firm Charles Schwab.

At the centers, customers and business partners can work through tough business problems. Work from customers and partners is then fed back into the IBM software development process to be used in future iterations of IBM products, such as WebSphere Application Server and integration software and Tivoli's infrastructure management and security software.

"Unlike other demo centers or prototype centers where someone spits out a bunch of code, these centers are actually an extension of our development labs where we build the products," Weisser said.

Weisser said work completed at the IBM SOA Design Center is different from, yet complements efforts of the IBM Global Services SOA Centers of Excellence, which use IBM Business Consulting Service to help clients in vertical industries identify business processes using an SOA.

Because crafting an SOA is such a nascent approach to marrying software integration with business processes, the race is stocked with many horses. IBM unveiled WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation last month and is looking to lead the charge.

But it is facing competition from usual rivals BEA Systems , Oracle and Microsoft , as well as a slew of smaller vendors looking to enable SOAs, including Infravio and Cape Clear.

BEA is hawking SOA portals -- and is expected to unveil a crystallized SOA strategy at its conference next week. Oracle has designed a developer kit to work with its application server.

Microsoft is busy preparing Indigo, an SOA and interoperable platform for Web services, as a major piece to its next-generation Windows operating system, Longhorn.

Research firm IDC recently said services firms' worldwide Web services-related revenue will increase exponentially in 2004 as companies continue to turn to strategic and long-term decisions around adopting standards-based SOAs. IBM wants to be at the forefront of this explosion.

But perhaps more telling of IBM's leadership position is how Weisser came to IBM. He left Microsoft to join IBM a year and a half ago because he shared more in common with Big Blue than the Redmond, Wash. company from a philosophical standpoint.

"I looked at both sides and said to myself that I really believed that IBM had figured it out and that the other company I was with really hadn't gotten to the place that I was comfortable with," Weisser said.

The executive said Microsoft and others seem to throw technology at business problems to solve them while IBM considers the business issue first, then applies technology tailored to it. This was more consistent with his mode of thinking, he said.

But even philosophical likenesses weren't enough to jumpstart SOA work until recently. For that, Weisser said progress in building Web services, grid and other standards have paved the way for more complete work in the software development space.

Web Services Security (WS-Security) is one. The Web Services Interoperability organization published a draft of the security profile today. Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) is another key spec in the works to tie business processes with SOAs and Web services.