Making sense of SOA

New standard offers straightforward definitions, could give SOA a chance to thrive

Service-oriented architecture, a concept that has had many definitions, might be getting easier to understand.

The Open Group has released a technical standard to foster a common understanding of SOA concepts and terminology between business analysts and information technology practitioners within organizations.

Developed by members of the Open Group’s SOA Work Group, the SOA Ontology Technical Standard defines the concepts, terms and semantics of SOA in a precise and straightforward way to eliminate any ambiguity, said Chris Harding, the SOA Work Group’s forum director. The Open Group is a consortium that creates standards to enable access to integrated information within and between enterprises.

SOA is a flexible set of design principles used during the phases of systems development and integration in computing. A deployed SOA-based architecture should provide a loosely integrated suite of services that can be used within multiple business domains.

A lack of mutually agreed-upon SOA terms, definitions and concepts can create interoperability issues that inhibit end-to-end business activities within an organization, Harding said. It can also hinder communications between developers of information technology, users and partner organizations, reducing the success rate for SOA deployments.

By providing common terminology and concept mapping that business and technical people can use to discuss problems and opportunities, the ontology bridges different architecture, engineering, business and marketing domains, Harding said. It also creates a foundation for further work in domain-specific areas by supplying a consistent framework that can be reused and revised as SOA projects evolve.

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"A common semantic reference point now exists to define the relationship between business process, enterprise architecture and SOA," said Melvin Greer, Lockheed Martin senior fellow and chief strategist for SOA /Cloud Computing. Lockheed Martin works with federal agencies on SOA and cloud deployments.

Given the linkage between service orientation and cloud computing, the ontology holds the promise of increasing cloud adoption as well, Greer said. The cloud computing model provides an on-demand resource for network access that allows users to tap into a shared pool of configurable computing resources.

SOA has not always lived up to its promise. But it's now past the stage of vendor-driven SOA in which vendors pushed SOA integration technology that in many cases did not meet the needs of organizations, David Mayo, president of Everware-CBDI and co-chairman of the Federal SOA Community of Practice, told GCN in and interview earlier this year.

To that end, some federal agencies are finding that an incremental implementation of SOA concepts is helping in the creation of new system interfaces and interconnection with other systems.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration is making progress on a service-oriented architecture designed to enhance the sharing of air traffic management system information among authorized personnel. The System Wide Information Management program is being implemented as a service-oriented architecture in the National Airspace System, which will let the FAA create new system interfaces more quickly and more cheaply. SWIM capabilities will be implemented as multiple services over the next 5 years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Recovery Directorate implemented SOA concepts and technology within the agency’s portal to provide interconnections with other federal agencies in addition to disaster assistance programs at the state and local levels and from nonprofit organizations.

The impact of the much of the SOA ontology will be seen in better interoperability between SOA tools, said Claus Jensen, a senior technical staff member with IBM and a member of the SOA Working Group.

However, the SOA ontology will help a business analyst understand that a business process interacts with a service through some particular interface or operation. The analyst learns that processes and services are key concepts in a service contract. So the analysts knows if it is right to consume whatever service the SOA designer has provided, Jensen said.

The SOA designer, on the other hand, can use the ontology to design interfaces and modules into well-engineered and architected services, he noted.

“A lot of this [work] will happen in tools,” Jensen said. “Even if the tools do the right thing and people don’t speak a language that they respectively understand -- even with the best of tools – they will end up with confusion and inefficiencies,” Jensen, said.

The SOA Ontology Technical Standard is available free of charge and may be downloaded from the Open Group website.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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