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Service-Oriented Architectures Underpin On-demand

It seems the sphere of influence for Web services technologies is broader than originally thought, as one research firm contends service-oriented architectures (SOAs)-- methods used to facilitate communications between different applications and data sources -- are underpinning on-demand, or utility computing efforts.

Waltham, Mass-based research firm ZapThink said in a recent report that SOAs will offer the organizing principle behind the on demand computing movement, which is spearheaded by such vendors as IBM, HP, Computer Associates and Veritas. Web services are important to the adoption of service-oriented architectures because the XML standards on which they are based let companies connect data or processes to different applications.

The ZapThink report, titled "SOAs: More Change Ahead for IT Consulting," also concluded that total SOA architectural and process consulting revenues will surpass those from system integration by 2006, and that system integration revenue by professional services organizations will decrease by over 70 percent by 2010.

According to ZapThink Senior Analyst Jason Bloomberg, the notion of on-demand is broad and is something that will need to be chiseled down to concrete definitions at some point. In the meantime, he said it is widely accepted that the umbrella vision of automated services that may be accessed easily consists of "managed operations delivery models for IT operations, pay-as-you-go financial models for IT capabilities, shared pool approaches to IT resources, as well as the concepts of grid computing, self-management/adaptive management/autonomic computing.

Bloomberg said the IT realm can throw service-oriented architectures into the mix as well, as IBM, HP and CA are pushing the on demand philosophy, albeit from slightly different angles: HP and CA are focusing on the management components, while IBM employs a services-driven approach.

"The common thread through all these concepts is the idea of virtualizing IT resources, which means hiding the underlying complexity of the technology in a layer of abstraction that simplifies the access and use of those resources," Bloomberg said. "In other words, the coordinating concept of on demand is Service orientation. The change in perspective that is needed to go from point-to-point applications of Web Services to SOAs is the same change in perspective needed to understand the true value and power of on demand. Professional services must understand this shift in perspective in order to meet the long-term needs of their clients."

Bloomberg also reiterated his firm's contention that service-oriented processes will have such a direct effect on the software industry that the viability of systems integrators will be tested. To accommodate the demand for such processes, he said companies will look to professional services organizations for architectural consulting and business process optimization solutions and less for actual system integration work.

"Because Web Services will enable tomorrow's software to integrate out of the box, consultants will have to add value somewhere else," Bloomberg said. Existing integration vendors are already feeling the pain. webMethods and TIBCO are heavily into Web Services, and some of the consulting firms we interviewed are helping their customers build SOAs on top of EAI backbones."

Bloomberg provided an example, noting a change in Federal Express' European operations. FedEx has a globally centralized infrastructure based on TIBCO. India-based consulting firm MphasiS helped FedEx's European operations build an SOA on top of TIBCO, focusing much of MphasiS' efforts on Service definition and identifying the relevant Service consumers and producers. So, while FedEx is committed to TIBCO, it is also is moving to service-oriented architecture.

For integrators, Bloomberg said salvation lies in moving up the "integration zipper" from an application programming interface adapter angle to a business process/semantics focused approach as they ready their products to participate in SOAs."

Smaller integration vendors like Mercator and Vitria are looking at focusing on business process enablement in particular vertical markets, while vendors like IONA are struggling to shift their CORBA-based business to more of a pure service-oriented integration business. Other vendors like WRQ and Sonic Software have been gaining traction in the service-oriented integration space.

Consultants such as ZapThink aren't the only firms bullish on service-oriented architectures and Web services. Meta Group recently concluded that Web services, utility computing and outsourcing will extend the boundaries of the hosting market.

"The $2.7 billion market for managed hosting services is slowing to a 23% growth rate as many customers consolidate contracts and migrate services in-house," says Corey Ferengul, vice president and principal analyst with META Group's Operations Strategies. "Emerging industry trends that will accelerate hosting market growth include Web services, utility computing, and the general emphasis on outsourcing as a strategy to reduce costs and extend capabilities. The outsourcing relationship should be viewed as a trusted strategic relationship, emphasizing business value over pricing."