Enterprise Software

Ten examples of SOA at work, circa 2008

In the past year, many companies have finally moved on beyond the experimentation and pilot stages when it comes to SOA. Joe McKendrick presents stellar examples of where and how SOA made a difference for some companies in 2008.

 

This is a guest post from Joe McKendrick of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Joe on his ZDNet blog Service Oriented, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

What has changed about SOA over the past year? Well, many companies have finally moved on beyond the experimentation and pilot stages. As Judith Hurwitz would put it, there are a lot more SOA implementations now than ever before. In writing the next release of her team's book, SOA for Dummies, Judith observed they were able to document 24 live examples across nine verticals. Just two years ago, for the first edition, most people were still trying to grasp what SOA meant.

In that spirit, here are some stellar examples of where and how SOA made a difference for some companies in 2008. These stories are culled from my "SOA in Action" site over at ebizQ, where I document working examples of service oriented architecture.

To modernize 'special' applications with limited reuse potential. Allstate Insurance moved to SOA to standardize a generation of "special" systems it had built over the decades. Anthony Abbatista, Allstate's vice president of technical solutions said the company managed to automate most of its systems and processes in the 1960s and 1970s with hand-crafted and hand-coded "special applications." Everything from policy administration to underwriting was captured on the company's array of mainframe computers. However, the company needed to embark on a more consolidated, service oriented architecture if its systems were to continue to deliver value. Areas being modernized include claims processing, which was spread across nine different mainframe-based silos tied together by custom-built middleware. The company employed an enterprise service bus to handle claims processing through a single interface across the entire enterprise. Another initiative was to establish a common integration layer for the company's fast-growing data environment. To address 'simple' problems, and grow from there. OppenheimerFunds first leveraged SOA to get duplicate data entry under control. Then things took off from there. The company took this initiative to think long term, and not only deal with the data entry, but then to also launch a long-term effort to take down the silos and eliminate redundant processes. After an address-change service was leveraged, another service was created to update bank information, then to enable electronic imaging of paper-based documents. Today, there are 22 legacy applications used, in various combinations, by customer service agents. (Source: ITWorld) To underpin new cloud-based offerings. Service-now.com, begin in 2004 as an on-demand IT Service Management solution provider, recently launched a cloud-based offering that combines the best of everything - ITIL v3 with Web 2.0 technology and SOA - to provide a rich user experience to address a firm's problem management needs. For Service-now.com, SOA means extreme competitive advantage.  According to the company's founder and president, "there were no alternatives, no decisions to be made. There was no other way than with a SOA mindset." (Source: CIO) To support Extreme Transaction Processing. The ability to capture huge data flows is what's been powering business at a leading Canadian online bookstore site, AbeBooks.com, which has harnessed the power of XTP as part of its service oriented architecture. Abebooks.com manages a database of more than 110 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books via Web services links to 13,500 booksellers. Previously, transactions hit the back-end databases directly. "We're in the first stages of design and implementation of service-oriented architecture," according to Leith Painter, manager of development at AbeBooks. "We're sponsoring it from an IT level. We've got some initial services we've developed in a design phase, and we're currently developing design principles." (Source: SearchSOA) To modernize a 40-year-old system. Until recently, both Lufthansa and United Airlines - part of a consortium called the Star Alliance - were using a 40-year old reservation system, written in Assembly language. The airlines migrated their green-screen-based systems, which couldn't integrate with other systems and services to SOA, which covers the product suite for reservations, inventory and passenger check-in. The mirgration as the equivalent to a "heart transplant," according to Shama Patel, business program manager of the SOA effort for United and Lufthansa. Eventually, Lufthansa and United plan to roll out a common platform that can also be used by other members of the Star Alliance. "The modernization project will impact 20,000 people in 350 locations in a three- to four-year time frame, and it will touch 20 company divisions." (Source: CIO) To increase logistics efficiency. A $5 billion logistics and trucking company ought to know plenty about economies of scale. It may cost $1,000 to ship one refrigerator from New York to Los Angeles, but cost a penny if it's intelligently bundled with another shipment. Con-Way has been applying this multiplier effect to its information technology infrastructure, with significant paybacks over the long run. Con-Way set out a number of years ago not knowing how much services would be reused - but this was very much their design goal. "When we built services at that point in time, we built every piece of functionality as a reusable piece of code," said Shibashis Mukherjee, Con-Way lead enterprise architect. "We had no idea whether it was going to be reused or not." However, reuse across the company's various business lines took off. "You don't generally see the benefits in the first project you do. We also had executive management buy-in and we had a long-term vision. So as project after project is done, our development time was cut as we reused components built by the previous projects." (Source: SearchSOA) To speed up mergers and integrations. Dematic, a $1.5-billion global logistics company, recently replaced its core IT architecture in 72 days with a platform built on SOA and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Sound implausible? The company's IT department was given a 90-day mandate to integrate its systems when Siemens sold the company to Germany-based Triton in late 2006. CIO Allan Davies said the company saved money by abolishing legacy systems which Davis said chewed up a considerable amount of cash. "Our expense management system, hosted with Siemens, required four daysa month of manual data entry into our enterprise management system," he said. "SOA lets us basically plug and play. I know how painful legacy systems are and this means we don't need to mess around because we need to be very responsive. We have a lot of feeds from our systems that have to be managed and we tended to write a lot of interfaces - we have eliminated the legacy systems." (Source: CIO) To cut IT costs through reuse. At Delta Airlines, SOA is cutting the cost of ownership by half for its various applications and systems. "Reuse is one of the big drivers for our SOA environment," said Bret Martin, principal enterprise architecture for Delta Technology Inc. Delta's SOA, for example, is reusing the same customer and operational data across a range of systems, from the Delta.com Website to ticketing kiosks to ticketing counters and gate systems. "It allows check-in to happen in a uniform way," he explained. Another way services are being leveraged are by exposing services to vendors and partners, such as American Express or operations companies. To help plan regional natural resource consumption. The Southwest Florida Water Management District originally managed data and transactions on a mainframe system, but in planning for is Water Management Information System (WMIS) - designed to automate and streamline the paper- and time-intensive well-construction permitting process - it was decided to move off the mainframe and onto a distributed system developed to support SOA approaches. The new system will better automate the permit application and approval process, while providing Web access and supporting geospatial data. The District reports that 86% of its 17,000 annual permits for well construction are now handled electronically, and 35% of Web services applications are reusable across the agency. (Source: Redmond Developer News) To prevent black holes from tearing the space-time fabric. It doesn't look like CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has produced any black holes (unless you count the stock markets), but it's nice to know that the European Organization for Nuclear Research is employing state-of-the-art technology to keep things in check in case a black hole does accidentally form. CERN is employing SOA-based software to monitor and manage potential Large Hadron Collider (LHC) emergencies. CERN employs an enterprise service bus to form the communications backbone of its Technical Infrastructure Monitoring (TIM) system, which collects, evaluates, stores and distributes data about 2.1 million items every day from 150 different systems and 60,000 different measuring points. The ESB unites disparate data and systems without hampering CERN's research efforts by underpinning their ability to get systems back and up running as quickly as possible in the event of a fault. "It's all about speed of detection and action - we can stop and restart systems in a matter of seconds with the software," said Eric Lienard, CERN technical infrastructure manager. (Source: ITPro)
4 comments
Justin James
Justin James

All of these highlight SOA on massive, monolithic projects. It is telling that nearly all of the examples were replacing mainframe (or mainframe-like) systems that had organically grown over DECADES. Where are the examples of SOA in average, day-to-day style shops? I bet they're a lot harder to find, simply because it makes little sense to write something at the level of resuability and robustness that SOA requires for most smaller projects and organizations. J.Ja

Saurondor
Saurondor

Justin two examples of SOA applied to simple small or medium businesses that worked with: -Small budget sites that are developed by teams with different skills and/or are outsourced teams. I had the opportunity to work on a project in which one team had ASP skills and the other Java skills. The ASP team did a new web site and the Java team did the ecommerce modules and new shopping carts for another site that already existed. By exposing the billing service the Java team (which was also inhouse and had access to more confidential stuff) could provide the other site with a means to do online payments. By standing in between the database and bank the module defined an easy interface to use and one that was validated. So SOAs in small business allow for different technologies to interact even when both projects are brand new. -Desktop SOAs. Nothing limits SOAs to big datacenter systems. Web service based desktop apps(NOT web application) can allow you to breach certain limitations like amount of concurrent users and access times. Example of this is an Access based application developed on Access because the people who were going to use it had Access experience and were not getting any training in anything else any time soon. Now imagine a scenario like teacher-student training room. You can quickly see how you'll run out of connections to the Access database file or simply bring its performance to a crawl. A web app would work if you didn't require a desktop GUI client, but we did. By splitting the client into two and leaving the data access part on the teacher's machine. You can provide a web service through an embedded http server on the teacher's machine that is both faster and less of a resource hog than direct dbase access. The web service also adds a level of authentication/authorization that could not be achieved by Access alone.

Justin James
Justin James

... does not make it SOA. The big difference is in the concept of "architecture." It is pretty easy to turn something into a Web service, but the SOA folks want a lot more than that. Without being there, I can't tell you if the projects you are talking about really meet what the SOA folks would say SOA is, but I know from reading them, SOA is really just another way of creating a monolithic architecture, to allow applications to be easily written. The problem as I see it, is that monolithic systems are never finished before the underlying business logic and assumptions radically change anyways, so they tend to be worthless. It's the systems that organically grow that tend to actually cover all of the bases, but unless they are driven by a common vision and strict, pre-definined practices, they typically grow in a way that makes little sense and has little structure. :( J.Ja

Saurondor
Saurondor

Totally agree. I have the same concern as you do regarding monolithic projects. There seems to be a lot of definitions of what SOA is and is not. The one I like the most includes words like loosely-coupled, integration and external. SOA should help move from an all in one solution to a set of possible elements available for use to solve a need. Leading like you say to a more organic growth. You start with a system that does A. When you need to do B, but that requires some functions from A you use them without creating a system that does both A and B. Then you could have D on its own and C that requires stuff from A, B and D. You could write a brand new C that does A, B and D or rely on A, B and D. Of the two examples given the first one abides more to this idea. When it was initially implemented the future uses where not known so a standard interface was created. As long as the external applications respected it all would be well. This in theory leads to the organic growth you mention. Which I believe is a better way to go and addresses the changes you mention a project suffers as it matures. That's what I like about the "loosely-coupled" aspect of SOA. You can radically change the underlying business logic, but as long as the service interface remains the same all is well. The second example, while not being truly SOA, does show that the tools and principles used for SOA can be used for small scale projects. As food for though I think the small application/desktop application equivalent of SOA is "Program to interfaces not to implementations(classes)". If its too tightly coupled you're missing the point of SOA. Thoughts?

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