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IBM Unveils First SOA Products, Services

IBM Wednesday touched off new software and services to help companies craft Service-oriented architectures (SOA) that will help them modify their infrastructure on the fly according to changes in business needs.

The news includes software from the Armonk, N.Y. company's WebSphere line, as well as SOA service plans, courtesy of IBM's Global Services (IGS) division.

At a basic level, SOAs are architectures for distributed computing and shared services that employ reusable standard interfaces to integrate applications within a company. This is important because most of today's applications are sealed off from "communicating" with other applications, making it almost impossible for businesses processes to affect change.

SOAs, which could include, but are not limited to, processes such as Web services , address specific business issues. By matching a flexible SOA with an equally flexible business process through specifications such as the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), tasks such as processing a mortgage application can be reduced from having month-long approval process to weeks, or days, according to IBM.

To wit, new products such as WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation allow customers to build and integrate applications within SOAs, according to Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services for IGS.

"This is the first time we've combined an application server and integration server to help customers create reusable services out of their existing Web services and packaged applications and combine services to link business processes with software applications," Liebow told internetnews.com. The software also features native support for BPEL.

Given that SOAs are written to be dynamic and act upon changing business climates, it makes sense that Big Blue would tout them as an integral part of its e-business on-demand strategy for offering customers greater control and flexibility over the computing they require. This won the approval of at least one analyst, ZapThink's Jason Bloomberg.

"What's most exciting about IBM's announcement is that they insist that On Demand businesses must have SOAs," Bloomberg told internetnews.com. "IBM has never tied their broad On Demand vision to SOA so tightly before, and should definitely serve as a wakeup call for those companies still struggling with the SOA value proposition."

Rivals BEA, Microsoft and Oracle have already announced SOA strategies and products.

Liebow, who recently took the SOA torch from IBM's products and standards colleagues, said his team has created a number of service offerings to help customers get their SOAs up and running.

For example, he said IBM Assessments for Services Oriented Architectures will help customers using SOAs to gauge their progress. This degree of consulting extends to IGS' Strategy and Planning for SOAs, which charts a business services map identifying business service candidates, vision, building blocks, governance model, a reference model architecture and a transition plan.

For customers with data in legacy systems, the executive said IGS will offer Application Renovation and Integration for SOAs, which will help customers figure out if it is worth their effort to expose legacy data and link it with new business processes in the SOA.

While he applauded IBM for what he called "ambitious" plans that finally make use of BPEL, Bloomberg said IBM has some work to do before it can lay claim to the SOA crown, particularly in the areas of management, modeling, and IBM's componentization effort to bring its software products to one modular code base.

"We expect to see a series of follow-on announcements from IBM as these pieces fall into place," the analyst said. "Secondly, the predominant value to IBM customers in this announcement is the combination of the software and the range of professional services offerings, including roadmaps, best practices, training, etc. For those companies who would like to take advantage of IBM's software but go elsewhere for consulting, IBM's SOA value proposition isn't as strong."