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Interview: IBM exec extols future of SO

Interview: IBM exec extols future of SO

Michael Liebow, vice president of Web Services and SOA at IBM Global Services, took the time to speak with Network World Senior Editor Denise Dubie about why IBM deems SOA so critical to the company's and its customers' computing future.

IBM invests about US$1 billion per year in its strategic service oriented-architecture technologies. The company has been busy this year, focusing on technologies that could become part of customer SOA rollouts. For example, Big Blue recently unveiled a version of its WebSphere software with updated SOA capabilities and offered free access to online training to help customers build SOA. And this month IBM partnered with Microsoft to turn over to a standards body a key set of Web services security specifications that could enable the trusted exchange of data between partners. Michael Liebow, vice president of Web Services and SOA at IBM Global Services, took the time to speak with Network World Senior Editor Denise Dubie about why IBM deems SOA so critical to the company's and its customers' computing future. What is IBM's take on SOA?

I'm always afraid to answer that question because if I say it's really big, then people tend to say it can't be that big. But it is that big. The issue you get into with SOA is the design point of how you change the solutions to adapt to this new computing platform. It's changed dramatically, but it hasn't changed overnight. A lot of people may be hearing about SOA for the first time, but it's something that has been brewing for quite a while. It's safe to say for the last 10 to 15 years there has been a vision of this future that has been hard to do, hard to realize. It's not something that has just been cooked up by somebody in some back room. There has been an effort that has been going on to horizontally integrate companies to provide for varying amounts of re-use, more flexible IT architectures to support business requirements.

What types of investments help further SOA efforts?

IBM, as a company, has significantly invested just over the past five or six years with investments with Web services standards. We've been able to take a lot of ground in achieving this vision. Now why did I jump from SOA to Web services? A lot of people say they don't acquaint the two. The difference here is that SOA is a notion around services orientation in your enterprise architecture and the definition of which is the abstraction of business process away from the underlying IT and application infrastructure.

What standards efforts has IBM made?

The industry and IBM have been committed to this, and IBM has been investing a lot to create this next wave of standardization, which didn't exist. IBM sat down with Microsoft and others to articulate a set of standards and specifications for how applications could talk to one another. Now we have a set of basic standards that allow for the discovery, description, communication, cataloging and securing of messages that allow applications to talk to one another. That's the big news. There is native support for these standards in products going off the shelf.

How do you recommend companies starting to adopt SOA?

You can come at it from a lot of different directions, which I think is good and pragmatic. Depending on who you are in the organization, the entry point will vary. If you are a developer at a bank with 10,000 developers you can download an SDK from IBM's or some other site, and you can start playing with the technology and start looking for a home for it in your organization. You have a hammer you are looking for a nail. Literally, hundreds of thousands of developers have done that. These are the same people that are open source coding at night. You have to be aware of it and channel it. That's one type of adoption. Another type of adoption is the line of business. Someone who runs the business unit says they have a pain point and I have to solve it. The business turns to IT and IT says they have 12 other priorities that are equally important, but the business needs, for example, a single view of their customer now, they don't have that capability. You get that friction developing between business and IT. The business person needs to gain access to a database and cobble something together.

How does one go from a fragmented, scattered approach to adopting true SOA?

What we are seeing now is a significant step up by CIOs to get ahead of this, to standardize, to provide the governance as to how, where and when you do SOA in the organization. The business unit adoption is not really SOA, it's something I would call SOI, or service-oriented integration. It's exposing some applications to being connected; it has great business value but really low real technical value. It's a way to sub-optimize; you will start to get reduced returns in the future because they create more havoc in the enterprise architecture. While it's a good short-term - you get a nice little bang - you don't get the benefit long term. CIOs need to jump ahead of this because they will end up with just hot spots in a chaotic environment with no hope of being able to control it. In a decentralized environment, it's the kiss of death.

How can companies avoid a poorly designed SOA?

They need to assess their current business services. If you have a claims processing service, you need to assess how well designed is it. You need to develop a capability around service modeling. How do you take a business activity and how do you understand the subroutines in that activity. Then how do you divvy that up and understand the different steps involved in that business activity. It's not good enough to just take what you have and automate. It's very important to realize a set of business services at the outset.

How is development handled across the software brands?

The predominant product that an SOA is built off of is WebSphere. There are various products from the application server up through the modeling tools in order to integrate business process functions. There is a toolset to help facilitate building out the architecture for re-use. If you think about what you are doing, you are creating a whole new layer of noise in your IT architecture. When IBM and Microsoft sat down to envision this whole thing, they knew they couldn't agree in terms of how these applications could connect at a product level, they had to create another layer of noise in order to trade messages above the applications.

How can one avoid that 'layer of noise' from causing performance problems on their network?

From a management standpoint, what we are talking about is messages. One customer has 300 business services in production being leveraged by 70 applications, and he is running at about three to five million messages per day. So forget about spam; forget about e-mail. Once you start to get this stuff in production - the volume of activity that will need to be managed, the kind of bandwidth and the processing you'll need - it can be overwhelming. It's very important that it be designed correctly. You can design this stuff and it will work, but if you design it poorly, if you have bloated messages running around, at that scale it will come back to haunt you.

How is IBM helping its customers with its products?

We have brought out a portfolio of offerings, services and software. There is native support of standards in the software portfolio. As transformative as it is for business, it's very disruptive to the IT industry. We are on a journey in terms of componentizing our own software portfolio, as well as offering our own asset based services that leverage the components in a high degree of re-use.

How can companies avoid a poorly designed SOA?

They need to assess their current business services. If you have a claims processing service, you need to assess how well designed is it. You need to develop a capability around service modeling. How do you take a business activity and how do you understand the subroutines in that activity. Then how do you divvy that up and understand the different steps involved in that business activity. You are trying to look for how you align the current business activity with the goals of the business so that you can improve the business process flow. It's not good enough to just take what you have and automate. It's very important to realize a set of business services at the outset. -- Network World (US)

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