SOAs So Close, Yet So Far

NEW YORK — Service-oriented architectures (SOA) have a ways to go to
becoming fully realized. But there is a disconnect between how CIOs and
software developers view distributed computing progress, according to BEA
CTO Mark Carges.

The engineer, who co-authored the popular Tuxedo e-commerce platform, said
CEOs believe SOAs are more advanced than developers recognize. One of the
reasons for this gulf in perception is that even if an SOA works just a
little bit, a company leader will consider the model a
success if it saves money.

“The folks who are down in the trenches doing the work are saying: ‘Eh, we
haven’t even started yet.’ The folks who are actually driving this are
saying: ‘We’re actually making some good progress here,'” Carges said,
drawing laughter from the audience at the SOA Executive Forum here Tuesday.

Carges continued: “It’s not that the execs really think they’re further
ahead than what the folks in the trenches are saying. It’s more that they
are seeing and getting the benefits from just the projects they’ve begun
doing and those benefits have moved the business in fundamental ways so that
they rate themselves a little higher.”

Both developers and executives realize the SOA can be a lot better, said
Carges at the event, where several computing experts discussed their
experiences and progress with SOAs . SOAs are evolving computing
architectures that allow developers to reuse assets, such as software code or

Carges said that while SOAs are “not broadly adopted at this point in time,”
they will need to migrate from the current Web services
and composite application stage to the “service

While an application infrastructure describes how to build and deploy
software, the service infrastructure describes how an enterprise can pull
applications together through a combination of process, information and services
across computing environments with different infrastructures.

This is essentially BEA’s SOA plan, consisting of several steps: service
enablement, lifecycle management, message brokers, data services, security
and scalability.

Service enablement allows businesses to “build composite applications
regardless of the technology they were built upon,” Carges said. Lifecycle
management tracks services from their creation to disposal. Message
brokering allows rules to be shuttled out of the code and into a service
backbone to provide message management with one single policy.

Data services is a common service layer for accessing, altering and updating
data across disparate systems. The security layer safeguards transactions as
a service. Services agility allows people closest to the business to change
policies independent of IT.

BEA is planning
to put its service infrastructure into play next month, where company
officials will unveil the fruits of Project FreeFlow. FreeFlow will include
elements of the Quicksilver enterprise service bus, as well as Web
services management and security.

Despite a lack of broad adoption, for which the murkiness of certain Web
services standards play a part, one computing expert offered the
audience a measure of confidence.

Dr. John D. Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School, discussed how the state
of Massachusetts is using an SOA to solve the convoluted process of
exchanging information between doctors, patients and insurance carriers at
medical centers.

As chairman of the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network
(NEHEN), Halamka discussed how payers and providers in Massachusetts have
unified the administrative workflow of health care through a regional SOA.

Describing the architecture as a sort of “Napster for doctors,” Halamka said
NEHEN has helped the cost of conducting a computer-based transaction drop
from $5 to 10 cents because it cuts out a lot of manual processes, saves
time and reuses assets.

Over 90 percent of payer/provider transactions pass through NEHEN, which
does about four million transactions a day at as low as two seconds per

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