Friday, June 08, 2007

BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Analysts on Defining the New Role of 'SOA Architect'

Edited transcript of weekly BriefingsDirect[TM] SOA Insights Edition podcast, recorded March 23, 2007.

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Dana Gardner: Hello and welcome to the latest BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition, Vol. 15. This is a weekly discussion and dissection of service-oriented architecture (SOA) related news and events with a panel of industry analysts and guests. I'm your host and moderator, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, ZDNet software strategies blogger and Redmond Developer News Magazine columnist.

Our panel this week consists of Jim Kobielus. He’s a principal analyst at Current Analysis. Welcome to the show, Jim.

Jim Kobielus: Hi, Dana. Hi, everybody.

Gardner: Also joining us from the U.K., Neil Macehiter. He's a research director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton. Welcome, Neil.

Neil Macehiter: Hi, Dana. Hi, everyone.

Gardner: Also joining us today we have Steve Nunn. He's the vice president and COO of The Open Group. Welcome to the show, Steve.

Steve Nunn: Thanks very much, Dana, and good morning, everyone.

Gardner: Also joining us is John Bell, an enterprise architect at Marriott International. Hello, John.

John Bell: Hello.

Gardner: We're going to be discussing the role and concept of what’s becoming defined as the "SOA Architect." This is a different role, as we’re finding out, than the enterprise architect, but certainly seems to be part of an evolution of the role of architect within the enterprise and within IT in general.

We’ve invited a representative from The Open Group, in this case Steve Nunn, to join us, because The Open Group has taken some steps to try to define the role of the SOA architect, has created some certification around that role, and is trying to get in front of this role in terms of what will be required in the marketplace. That is, to try to encourage more people to step up and understand this role and to certify themselves, so that the progress and maturity of SOA practices can continue and not face a human resources crunch.

So, with that, why don’t we hand it off to you, Steve? Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about what The Open Group is doing and why?

Nunn: Thanks, Dana. The Open Group and its members have been working in the architecture space for over a decade now, primarily developing something called The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), but, as you’ve mentioned, we're running certification programs in two specific areas. One is in relation to TOGAF, but perhaps more relevant to this discussion is our IT Architect Certification (ITAC) program.

I guess that sets a caveat at the outset. The terminology around what type of architect it might be -- IT architect, enterprise architect, SOA architect -- is still very much settling down as a topic of debate in its own right, but our program that I can talk about is the IT Architect Certification Program, which is a broad skills- and experience-based program. It's aimed at creating a vendor-neutral program by which individuals can be certified. It provides them with a transferable qualification in the industry, and it enables employers to know that if they prefer recruiting certified individuals, they would be getting somebody who has been through an accreditation process.

Briefly, the process would be that a resume is compiled, which can be quite extensive, up to 52 pages in some cases.

Gardner: Wow!

Nunn: Yeah and then there’s a peer review by a panel of three certified architects themselves who would probe a little on the resume, ask questions of the candidate, and conclude whether or not that individual meets the conformance requirements.

Gardner: Is this process already up and running, or is it something you're still pulling together in terms of how you want to approach it?

Nunn: No, this is up and running. We launched this in July 2005, and as of today, we have just a shade under 2,000 individuals from all sorts of companies and all over the world who are certified under this program.

Gardner: This is the SOA Architect Certification?

Nunn: This is actually what we call ITAC, the IT Architect Certification.

Gardner: I see.

Nunn: It has several levels and covers various disciplines. The SOA-specific part of it is one that we are still working on. We have various horizontal levels under this program. The conformance requirements for meeting those levels have been agreed upon. There’s an entry level and a higher level. We are working on the highest level right now, but what’s also going on is work on the individual aspects of that certification, of which SOA is one. What we’re quite proud of in this program is the conformance requirements for the overall program, and what we're now focusing on are the conformance requirements for the individual disciplines.

Gardner: Perhaps this is a good time to go around the room, so to speak, and see if we’re in some agreement that an SOA architect is fundamentally different from an enterprise architect and why? Why don’t we start with you Jim Kobielus. Do you see these as significantly different roles?

Kobielus: Not really. You have to be an IT architect to be an SOA architect. It seems to me that an SOA architect, or that discipline, is a subset of the overall enterprise architect. I would like to know precisely what other disciplines or practices that one needs to be certified in to be a SOA architect, versus just an overall enterprise architect, I’m still unclear on that.

Gardner: When we hand it back to you, Steve, one of the helpful concepts for me in understanding this was the notion of the "city planner" or "town planner" role. The analogy is that an SOA architect needs to like a city planner, looking at all the resources and infrastructure and how the entire community comes together, managing constituencies and political relationships, whereas an IT architect might have a smaller role. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Bell: Actually, an enterprise architect from my perspective would have the view of the town planner. When they’re looking at the entire city, they're looking at how the various neighborhoods, how the various business zones, etc., fit into that city. The SOA architect, from my point of view, is really more interested in, "Hey, how does that underlying infrastructure allow different neighborhoods to communicate with each other and exchange messages? How are health services delivered across neighborhoods?"

So, it’s more interested in, "Okay, I’ve got a firehouse. Can the fire truck get to the house before it burns down?" The vision of the SOA architect is more associated with the communications pieces within the community.

Gardner: So, the hierarchy might be that the enterprise architect is in the town planner role, the more holistic, oversight uber-architect role, and then a subset of that is making sure that the communication channels between and among these different facets of resources and functionality are behaving well and conforming to what needs to happen.

Bell: Conforming to the standards so that they’ve got a consistent set of standards for exchanging information, those kinds of things.

Gardner: Okay. Neil Macehiter, what you make of this?

Macehiter: In that that classification of the difference between enterprise architecture and the SOA architect, it sounds to me that the premise is that the SOA architect is focused primarily on the plumbing. From a bottom-up perspective, the challenge that many SOA architects face is more around understanding what the services are that need to be delivered in a business-meaningful way, not just about communication and plumbing. It’s also about understanding the high-level, business-meaningful services.

There is a business strategy, there are business processes and priorities, and there are the services we need at a business level. Then, there's a handoff to what’s currently defined as the SOA architect, who will actually define how those services are deployed in technology terms. So, the distinction is quite blurred. A service-oriented approach is one of the methodologies and the approaches that you can utilize to deliver or to support an enterprise architecture initiative. So, I still find a distinction difficult.

Kobielus: I second what Neil’s saying. I’m uncomfortable with just reducing SOA to the plumbing. In the three-layer stack that I carry in my head, the plumbing level is the enterprise service bus, and then SOA refers to development and reuse practices within the development organization to enable maximum sharing and reuse. Then, there’s the layer above that, which is the applications, services and data -- the business processes.

I’ll put enterprise architecture at that very top layer, concerned with the end-to-end set of resources: app services, data, etc. The SOA architect would be the middle layer of the development and reusing. The layer below that, the enterprise service bus (ESB) or whatever, I call that "IT architect" in the sense that it's the infrastructure architect.

Bell: And to be fair, I didn’t mean to imply that the SOA was limited to the plumbing. My intent was saying that the enterprise architect has a much broader spectrum and scope that they have to deal with than your SOA architect has to deal with. Putting it into that city paradigm, you kind of limit it as to how to describe some of the roles. I try to clarify that by saying it’s not just how they communicate, it’s things like, "Hey, where’s the fire station? Do you have a fire station? Where’s your police station? Where are your schools? Where are all those pieces that are providing services to that community and are they adequate for providing the services to their community?" That’s a subset of what a city planner has to do but it’s still an important city-planning kind of function.

Gardner: John, you’re in the trenches, you’re an enterprise architect in a large global concern. How do you see this hierarchy and is this really the right discussion that we’re having?

Bell: My view is that the enterprise architect is at the top of the hierarchy, and at some place, working with the enterprise architect is an SOA architect, and their focus is on, "What are the services that are being delivered, how am I delivering them? What’s the infrastructure I am using to deliver it? Do I need – using that town model -- a police station? Do I need a fire station? Do I need a school? Do I need a museum? And, if I do, how do I get that service out to the community or to the entire city, not just an individual neighborhood?"

So, from my perspective, using a city planner paradigm, the role of the SOA architect, is identifying what are the services that need to be available to the city and how to deliver those services out to the city.

Gardner: Back to you, Steve Nunn. It seems to me that there needs to be a fair amount of flexibility, enterprise by enterprise, and circumstance by circumstance, as to how this SOA architect role pans out. How much standardization and methodological consistency can we bring to something that, in fact, will probably be dealing with huge variability from organization to organization?

Nunn: Something that we’ve had to address in putting the program together is that there are huge differences. Even taking the frameworks that might be used in implementing an enterprise architecture, there are huge differences among organizations. Some organizations are required to use a certain framework. Our approach is not to specify exactly how enterprise architecture or SOA architecture is done in the certification program, but more about the experience of the individual who's implementing it.

It doesn’t seek to define a particular way of implementing the architecture, but is more about the skills and experience of the individuals who are playing that role inside an organization. They could be part of a team in larger organizations, or could be one person in a much smaller organization who is playing this role. The whole idea of raising the value of the architects of various titles in the organization is what we are seeking to achieve with our efforts in the certification program. It’s about raising the standards of that role, and getting people to understand that it’s a valuable role and, apart from anything else, it should be compensated as such.

Macehiter: Dana, could I chip in with a quick question there?

Gardner: Certainly.

Macehiter: It’s about the approach and the experience, rather than framework, and I agree completely with that. Given that the SOA discipline is currently within the IT architect certification, to what extent do you look at the approach and experience in terms of the interface to the business, business understanding, or collaboration with the business? I think that key elements of the SOA architect role are skill and capability, as well as the more IT-oriented skills and capabilities.

Nunn: Well, that's not so different between SOA and enterprise architecture. I’d say exactly the same about the enterprise architect -- that ability to translate the business need into the systems underlying or delivering the needs of the business. It’s something the enterprise architect absolutely needs to have, and that’s why we think there’s a special set of individuals who play this role. So, there isn’t really a difference in that respect between the SOA architect and the enterprise architect.

Kobielus: I like what you do. Thinking about the whole notion of certification, there are two ways to go about it. One approach that you can easily take -- and this is the way it’s usually perceived -- is when you are certifying a CPA, you’re certifying somebody as a skilled in an established and knowledgeful body of practice, be it law, medicine, whatever. But when there’s no consensus body of practice that everybody agrees upon -- for example SOA, which is still evolving -- a certification in that regard is more like when somebody is applying to college. You’ve got to send in your transcripts, write essays, and you also might have to go and do an interview in the admissions office. They look you over and say, "Oh, this is a smart person. Yeah."

So, they consider the sum total of everything you’ve done and who you are in certifying that. They say, "Yes, you’re good enough to be admitted into this college," and then proceed from there. That’s sounds like what you’re doing. You’re certifying the competency of a particular individual in this general field called a enterprise architect (EA) or a SOA architecture.

Nunn: That’s right, Jim, and it’s not a bad analogy at all. It's about assessing the individual. It’s a relatively young discipline in its own right. One of the things that we look at in a conformance requirement is the role that those individuals have played in the projects that they have been involved in, and whether they had been in a lead role or support role, or a combination of the two, but it certainly is about the individual, rather than the specific approach that they take or any particular body of knowledge.

Macehiter: Just one other quick comment on this, if I may. The other dimension for this, I think, is rather than thinking about the role, thinking about SOA as an approach. Then, thinking about how that approach applies to different types of architect. What I mean by this is that a lot of the emphasis and focus on SOA today has been around application development and integration, when, in fact, there’s a broader perspective that really extends across more traditional IT architecture and other disciplines, for example, a service-oriented approach to infrastructure architecture and the service-oriented approach to the operations and operational management of IT.

So, there are two dimensions that a body such as The Open Group might want to think about. One is the role of a service-oriented architect, and the second is how service orientation impacts other architecture disciplines and other IT functions or operation capabilities. If we don’t do that, we risk driving SOA into a particular stovepipe focused on application development and integration, and aren't thinking about it more broadly as an approach that it is an enabler of whatever the enterprise architects are driving out.

Gardner: Thanks, Neil. I suppose, too, that the role of the SOA architect will shift, as the maturity of SOA principles and methods evolves inside of an organization. They might have to start out a bit more focused on application development and deployment issues, move up toward being mindful of the business issues, and then move up more toward being the communications conduit between the fire house and the police station, for example. Does that make sense?

Macehiter: Absolutely. It’s about gradually extending through the life cycle.

Gardner: One of the reasons we are discussing this is that we’ve seen some warnings from analysts and others saying that we are moving toward SOA, but we really might find ourselves without the people with the background and abilities to move this. So, we’re worried a little bit about a dearth of qualified people, which might, in fact, stifle the progress here for SOA.

Do you see that is the case, Steve Nunn? Do you have any sense of numbers and what the demand is going to be? The second part of the question is, if there aren’t enough people, aren’t these roles going to fall upon the enterprise architect anyway?

Nunn: Dana, what we’re hearing is there aren’t enough enterprise architects to start with. So, I think it’s a given, therefore, that the SOA specialists are in short supply too. We’re hearing from our members that if they spot a good enterprise architect or somebody they think has potential for that, then they try and grab them. They’re pretty few and far between right now in terms of folks with experience.

Obviously, there are other folks that we just talked about with the college analogy who might well be groomed into that role in the future. So, certainly there is a shortage right now. That's what we are hearing from our membership. I don’t have specifics on numbers, but the message we hear is that demand is out-stripping supply right now.

Macehiter: This is not new. We’ve been through this with every major technology advance or discipline advance. You used the word "potential" there. I think there are individuals within organizations that have the potential to fulfill that role. Part of the benefit of this certification approach, providing conformance and definitions of what constitutes the role, is that it will help organizations identify the individuals within that company that have that potential, even if they don’t have the 50-page resume that demonstrates that they have been there and done it, because the key element in a service-oriented approach, and an enterprise architect more broadly, is an understanding of the business.

If you’ve got individuals within the organization that understand how the business works, have been around, and know the right individuals to talk to, that that can be of much benefit in terms of enabling effective EA and SOA, as can be going outside, finding someone from a different vertical market or different industry, and bringing them in because they’ve done six SOA projects elsewhere.

Gardner: Thanks Neil. Let’s take that point back to John Bell. Now, as an enterprise architect with Marriott International, I assume that you’re going to be in the position of having to hire or find SOA architects in this climate of scarcity. Where do you think these people will come from and what kind of backgrounds would you look for?

Bell: I think what we are going to have to do -- fortunately or unfortunately, however you look at it -- is end up training our own people. A lot of it goes back to what was just said about having to have an understanding of the business. You have to know the people in the business. You have to understand what the business of the business is. You have to have a lot of domain knowledge in order to create an effective SOA environment.

Because of that, when you pull somebody from outside, they may understand the technology, but they have to come up and learn the business, which is harder to train than somebody who has a general technology background, but knows the business pretty well, because he has been working in the business. Marriott happens to be a company that retains employees for years and years on end. So, in our IT department we have people who may already have 5, 10, 15 years of experience working directly in the business. And we can’t afford to lose that.

Gardner: Do you find that a developer is a fast-track path to SOA architect or a business analyst, even though it makes great sense to have someone with longevity in your organization? Is there particular type of role that they would have played that seems to conform to this need for SOA process management and evangelism?

Bell: In our experience, we are finding developers, as they move through their technology career path, since they have been developing within the context of the business, if they take that broader view, they understand the basis for the SOA architecture that’s installed in this particular company. They tend to make a good SOA architects with the proper training, and sometimes that training isn’t the technology training; it’s the people training -- teaching them how to conduct interviews, how to talk to people, how to get information from people, particularly in a company like Marriott where the business is not technically oriented.

Kobielus: This is all very good, but it doesn’t address the need that many companies have which is, "Hey, we need to hire people straight out of college who have some background in architecture, and where are we going to find these people and how are they going to get certified?"

Everything I'm hearing says that, an EA or a SOA architect is somebody who has experience and, by definition, somebody right out of college doesn’t have experience. So, is this the kind of thing that we can actually train in school or does somebody have to be in their career for 5, 10, 15 years before they’ve been steeped enough in all of this architectural infrastructural development and integration stuff to the point where they can be certified?

Bell: I’m also an adjunct faculty member at Towson State University, and this is an issue that we’re dealing with at the university level so that the university can provide the skills that the local businesses in the Baltimore area need. So, at the graduate school level, we are looking at what we offer in the way of architecture courses that take architecture from an enterprise or SOA perspective, so that we can enable our students who are finishing graduate school to be more and better prepared as they enter their new job market.

Gardner: These are excellent points. Steve, you and I discussed, when we spoke about some of these issues a month or so ago, that you were also trying to encourage universities to create the curriculum and the definition of these jobs. Can you fill in our listeners a little bit on what you’ve seen?

Nunn: That’s right, Dana. Something The Open Group launched at the end of January this year was the Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA), which really is -- the analogy here is the one somebody used earlier with attorneys or CPAs -- to do for enterprise architects what the Bar Association, for example, would do for attorneys, all joking aside. I think one of the things that we’re trying to do is partner with various types of organization in creating this community and this professional association.

One of those groups is the academic community, so we are putting out feelers to various universities to explore the possibility of getting enterprise architecture on the curriculum. There is one university that we are aware of where there is actually a TOGAF module in some of their courses. Obviously, changing a curriculum is a multi-year project, or multi-year plan. It’s not going to happen overnight, but in the interim, one of the categories of membership for the association is students.

So, those who are on a course of some description inside the university or even working in a job and doing part-time study, can join the association, be part of the community, get the information that’s available there, be on the news groups, maybe take part in the local chapter, or whatever they want to do to start building up some experience.

I had somebody come up to me a couple of weeks ago, after a talk I gave, and said, "This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, because in my organization I’m quite junior and the people above me really aren’t that interested in enterprise architecture, and certainly not SOA, but they won’t listen to me because I’m too junior. So, I need to get some experience or immerse myself in this field. Some kind of virtual community that allows people to do that is going to be a great help to me."

So, that’s one of the thing we’re trying to do. There are various membership categories, and student is just one of those.

Gardner: Now, it does seem that we have a climate of opportunity here. There’s the track for developer to move above that role and embrace more business understanding in domain expertise, and that would be a track. We’re looking at more universities preparing people for these types of roles. We’re probably going to find, again, variety within organizations in terms of business analysts or non-tech people coming into this role, because it requires influencing and consensus building, and so forth.

Usually, in markets, when there’s opportunity and there’s scarcity -- and these are probably well-paying jobs -- we would expect for the supply and demand to even out at some point. For those in the field like yourself, John Bell, am I overly optimistic that this supply and demand is going to mesh, or are we looking at something a bit more serious in terms of the next three to five years where there’s going to be a serious deficit of talent?

Bell: I think that the supply and demand will eventually mesh, but there may be a gap in the next year or two. I don’t know if it will carry out for three to five years.

Gardner: Well, thank you very much. Let’s move on to our next subject of the day.

In March an announcement came from the consortium of large IT vendors including SAP, IBM, Oracle, BEA, and Cisco. They have formed a series of proposed standards, the Service Component Architecture (SCA) specification and the Service Data Objects (SDO) spec. We are not quite at the standards level, but that seems to be the goal, to take this approach through OASIS, which is the organization that’s overseeing the Web services specifications and standards, WSDL, UDDI and SOAP and so forth and all the WS-* specifications.

It seems that the vendors have stepped up and said, "Listen, we need a level of standardization. We are going to do some heavy lifting, create some specifications, and then we are going to hand them off to the standard organization." This strikes me as an important juncture in the maturity and real-world applicability of SOA, and I wanted to test that hypothesis on Jim Kobielus.

Kobielus: Yeah, it’s very important. It’s clear that the SOA paradigm requires ever more high-level abstractions to enable easy development of very complex, orchestrated, end-to-end services. The SCA and SDO specifications – the initiative has been being going on for a couple of years – have come a long way and they’ve got pretty significant support throughout the industry. Microsoft is one of the few important holdouts. It's not only the high-level abstraction for developing competence services, but also, especially, in my area, the SDO, the high-level abstraction for working with heterogeneous data. I see the SDO, in itself, becoming potentially the standard industry framework for what’s called the semantic layer for any data integration.

So, I’m very keen on the potential for SDO, for example, within the business intelligence space, the data warehousing, and the enterprise, information, integration space. The fact that now OASIS will be taking over ongoing development of SDO, puts it on a very important fast track. Hopefully, we’ll get some of the business intelligence (BI) vendors like Business Objects and Cognos behind it. That’s one of my fond hopes.

Gardner: Jim, you’re tracking the data management side on this quite deeply. Do you think that SDO has the potential to become the ODBC/JDBC of SOA in terms of what those things enabled and empowered for distributed architecture?

Kobielus: It’s quite likely, because it’s leveraging the whole WS-* stack and the whole notion of semantic web that’s been kicking around for long time. Tim Berners-Lee keeps this going. It’s really a utopia of interoperability, where the semantic layer is the resource description layer for describing metadata. If you look at the so called semantic web’s specifications like OWL, RDF and a few others, they have not achieved takeoff velocity in the data management world. I can count on one hand the number of the BI or data warehousing vendors that are implementing OWL, for example. The semantic web has not really gotten any traction with standards or specifications where it counts.

With SDO, I still don’t see significant traction yet in the whole BI space, but the fact is that every BI vendor is SOA-focused and enabled and getting ever more so. That’s one of the clear gaps I’ve been seeing in the whole enterprise information integration (EII) side of it all in terms of distributed master data management (MDM). Every vendor, including Business Objects and the others, have their own semantic layer. That’s what Business Objects calls it.

As yet, there is no federated semantic layer specifications, but customers are asking for federation of say, Business Objects, Teradata, Microsoft, Oracle, and I believe that at some point BI and EII will converge around a common set of standards. I’m getting further and deeper into SDO, and it really looks like this is a strong potential framework for them all to work together going forward.

Gardner: A framework for a common and federated metadata approach, is it not?

Kobielus: Yeah, exactly.

Gardner: Now, the politics here struck me as a little bit interesting. Ed Cobb of BEA, who was on the call describing the movement of these specifications to OASIS, said that he hopes that this does for SOA what J2EE did for n-tier in distributed computing, which is to create a climate of growth with application server vendors coming together and ISVs building applications that take advantage of these. That sort of exploded during the mid- and late-1990s into what is now a predominant architecture for enterprise applications, as well as large Web commerce and online commerce types of applications.

Neil Macehiter, what do you make of the politics here? If J2EE did for distributed computing what they hope this does for SOA, why aren't SDO and SCA going into the Java process?

Macehiter: You've hit the nail on the head there. I think there are a couple of issues here. First is, if it went into the Java Community Process (JCP), you’re talking about SOA based on purely Java. As my colleague put it at the time, it’s like a three-legged dog running in a race. If you’ve only got Java, then you’re not really addressing one of the core propositions of SOA -- that it is about heterogeneous interoperability, with services based on multiple languages.

Gardner: What happened to "write once, run anywhere?" Wasn’t that heterogeneity and interoperability?

Macehiter: One programming language, and that’s the distinction. The SCA and the SDO are multi-program, multi-language.

Gardner: So, an abstraction above Java their pointers will make sense?

Macehiter: Yeah. Actually, the second point is that, in part, the creation of SCA and SDO was motivated by the frustration with the J2EE process. Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs) and things like that never really took off. Some of the lightweight programming frameworks, Spring and Hibernate, were just taking great chunks out of J2EE in terms of deployment.

Then there was a significant amount of discontent among the Java community around the support for Web services, which is clearly one of the key enablers of SOA. Those three things, plus what Microsoft was doing with the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), and the work they’ve been doing around it, caused the big J2EE players to think, "Well, actually we need to do something different." That was the motivation.

Gardner: I suppose it’s water over the dam at this point, but perhaps if the J2EE and a variety of Java framework specifications had moved into a standards organization like OASIS five years ago or so, the SOA specifications and the Java specifications could find themselves in the same organization. That seems now not to be the case.

On the other hand, if Microsoft has been the holdout in terms of embracing SDO and SCA, and is focusing more on .NET Framework -- but OASIS was a place where Microsoft felt comfortable going when it came to working with folks like IBM on the Web services standards -- do you think that this might move the hearts and minds of Redmond, Washington toward a bit more SOA compatibility and the programmatic approach to SOA, rather than just the interoperability approach?

Macehiter: My gut feeling is "no." And the reason is that Microsoft has collaborated with the likes of IBM, BEA and others, its historical competitors, up to a certain level up the stack. But the level at which SCA and SDO are operating is at the level where Microsoft has a massive investment, and a significant proportion of its business has been driven out of this at the programming model level.

So, I think it would take a lot for Microsoft to move to support SCA and SDO within the composition framework that they have, which is fundamentally around Visual Studio. Whether we are talking about BizTalk or Sharepoint or Office, it’s all around that programming model, which is tied into WCF and Windows Workflow Foundation. So, I just think the battle line is drawn at that level.

Gardner: What we are facing is perhaps an important decision within enterprises and service providers, software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, and ISVs as to which role you perceive for .NET playing in Microsoft’s tools and process runtimes. Are they a subset of SOA, or are they in fact the master -- and the rest of the SOA componentry is the slave?

That would be one way of looking at it. The other would be that .NET should be just another spoke in the hub of all SOAs. Jim Kobielus, do you think we are going to be facing this sort of a face-off between the role of Microsoft as the hub or the spoke?

Kobielus: I think Microsoft has gotten much more open to being just one spoke. But I wouldn't use the hub vs. spoke analogy here. They’ve become more comfortable with the notion that they’re just one node in a vast mesh on the Internet in terms of Web services and SOA. So I don’t see Microsoft in face-off mode in the SOA world, or where SCA or SDO are concerned. A couple of years ago it might have been different, but it has changed.

Gardner: How about in terms of the role of their communications, their ESB, WCF (the former Indigo) and the role of BizTalk? It seems as if they are happy to be a spoke on one level, but they’d also like to be where business process is coded and logic is instantiated, and therefore become "the place" where SOA is driven, the dashboard from which SOA is driven.

Kobielus: Well, pretty much every BPM vendor wants to be that hub, that business-process hub, and Microsoft is not alone. Companies like TIBCO with ActiveMatrix, are interesting, because basically what it is doing is it is virtualizing the app server or the integration server, so you can run your .NET logic and your J2EE logic, and so forth in different containers on the same platform. That kind of architecture is more where the industry is going. In that case, TIBCO necessarily isn’t trying to be the one and only integration and logic hub out there. It is simply trying to be the hub of all hubs, but one of the hub of many hubs federated to each other.

Gardner: Is it that you don’t agree with Neil then, that if Microsoft is a bit more ecumenical on this, would we expect them to embrace SCA and SDO? Is that what you expect?

Kobielus: It’s a relative thing -- getting ecumenical. They get ecumenical when they are good and ready, like they’re doing right now in the identity space, with this whole notion of user-centric identities. It’s taken them a couple of years of sitting back, watching things like OpenID and Higgins develop. And then finally they make a token offering that says, “Okay, we’ll implement OpenID in the next generation of the Vista Card Space."

And, once again, my sense is they’re going to wait quite a period of time, at least a year, before they make any public pronouncements on the extent to which they are going to work with OASIS on SCA and SDO. It’s just their nature, and they are going to pursue their proprietary approach, as long as it holds out, and as long anybody will implement it.

Macehiter: I’m not suggesting that this a face-off. What I am suggesting really is that it comes down to the point of control that an organization or vendor has. Microsoft does not want to be denigrated to the plumbing, even if that’s interoperable plumbing. The point you raised about TIBCO with ActiveMatrix is that it’s actually using the SCA programming model in order to provide this abstraction.

So, ultimately in that environment who’s controlling it? TIBCO is becoming the master, and it will be the same in an IBM environment. SCA may be under the hood, but ultimately there will be a point of control that IBM wants to wrest for its process server for its development tools, and that’s what Microsoft wants to do. The challenge is that SCA and SDO are trying to do the same thing as Windows Communication Foundation and Microsoft tooling around .NET and SOA.

Gardner: To wrap up, it seems that it's not a face-off, but perhaps there are, as Jim points out, a lot of vendors who would like to be that over uber-dashboard, point of control. Some are BPEL-focused and others are taking different tacks. SCA seems to be playing a role for many of them, and Microsoft would like to play that role as well -- but perhaps thinks that it has an advantage through the way it’s architected up to this point. The market will, I suppose, determine who the ultimate winner is.

Macehiter: I think a lot will depend how quickly the tooling comes out around SCA and SDO, as an alternative to Visual Studio.

Bell: The other piece too is, as Microsoft tends to build those kinds of capabilities in as part of the operating system, other vendors tend to create them as standalone products and infrastructure pieces. If you are a small company, having it built into the operating system is a value to you, but in large, heterogeneous environments that can be costly to you. So, that’s always been used by Microsoft. If you look at CORBA versus COM and DCOM, it’s the same story.

Macehiter: Absolutely.

Gardner: You’ve been listening to yet another BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition, Vol. 15, for the week of March 19, 2007. We’ve been joined by Jim Kobielus, principal analyst at Current Analysis. Neil Macehiter, a research director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton. Steve Nunn, the vice president and COO of The Open Group, and John Bell, enterprise architect at Marriott International.

I'm your host and moderator, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks everyone, and thanks for listening.

Listen to the podcast here. If any of our listeners are interested in learning more about BriefingsDirect B2B informational podcasts or to become a sponsor of this or other B2B podcasts, please fill free to contact Interarbor Solutions at 603-528-2435.

Transcript of Dana Gardner’s BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition, Vol. 15. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2007. All rights reserved.

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