Microsoft Advocates Real-World Approach to SOA for Increased Business Value
Oct. 04, 2006
Q&A: How businesses can incrementally leverage Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) and Web services to address business challenges

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 4, 2006 – Service orientation is a means for building distributed systems. At its most abstract level, service orientation views everything – from the mainframe application to the printer to the shipping-dock clerk to the overnight delivery company—as a service provider. Service providers expose capabilities through interfaces, and service-oriented architecture maps these capabilities and interfaces so they can be orchestrated into processes. The service model is "fractal": the newly formed process is a service itself, exposing a new, aggregated capability.

While there are different perspectives on Service Oriented Architectures (SOA), there is widespread agreement that it is not a product or a technology but an approach, a style of architecture that uses the service model to enable integration across diverse systems, encapsulating the idiosyncrasies of diverse and often proprietary platforms, technologies and protocols.

Microsoft this week hosted its annual SOA and Business Processes Conference in Redmond, where customers and industry partners met to discuss a "real-world" approach to SOA, and how it can be used to solve troubling business challenges. PressPass spoke with John deVadoss, director of Architecture Strategy at Microsoft, about the company’s SOA-related work and how its support of Web services has helped make Service Orientation mainstream. DeVadoss’ team is responsible for Microsoft’s Architecture Strategy and helping customers, and partners create business value from their technology investments

PressPass: Why should a business person or an IT professional care about SOA, and do they share the same view of SOA’s importance and its role in business?

DeVadoss: The first and probably the most important thing to note is that Service Oriented Architectures are a means to an end. At its most strategic level, SOA enables IT to meet the changing demands of businesses and to exploit new business opportunities. To developers and architects, service orientation is a means for creating loosely-coupled, distributed systems and applications. To the IT manager, service orientation is a means for effectively integrating the diverse systems typical of modern enterprise data centers. By providing a model for aggregating the information and business logic of multiple systems, service orientation allows diverse and redundant systems to be addressed through a common, coherent set of interfaces. To the CIO, service orientation is a means for protecting existing IT investments without inhibiting the deployment of new capabilities. By encapsulating a business application behind capability-based interfaces, the model allows controlled access to mission-critical applications, and creates the opportunity for continuous improvement of the implementation behind that interface. But keep in mind that the end goal is create value for the business.

PressPass: What is unique about Microsoft’s approach to SOA, and why does Microsoft recommend a different approach from what is currently the industry norm?

DeVadoss: There is really no such thing as an industry norm – especially for the loosely defined architecture style that is SOA.

There is, however, a preponderance of what I call the top-down, big-bang mega approach – which is often guilty of trying to "do SOA" as opposed to delivering business value. The fundamental problem with the big-bang mega approaches to SOA is that they almost always end up being out-of-sync with the needs of the business. This approach has been a key factor in fueling industry discussions around the lack of alignment between business and IT on the topic of SOA.

Microsoft advocates a real-world approach to SOA – one that exploits rapid iterations of design, implementation and re-evaluation – resulting in solutions that are more closely aligned with changing business conditions.

The real-world approach to SOA also emphasizes time-to-value. In the business world, time-to-value is a critical value measurement, even more important than return on investment (ROI). ROI is a long-term goal. Any project, regardless of how poorly organized, how over-budget, and how miserably aligned with the business requirements can claim a good ROI, as long as the project costs are amortized over a long-enough period of time. The question is, can the business survive long enough to realize the return? With our real-world approach to SOA, time-to-value is much more immediate.

There are a number of things that set Microsoft apart from many others in the industry. We were an industry leader with respect to creating and evangelizing the Web services model, in creating and driving industry-wide adoption of the standards that make SOA real. I would argue that our broad platform and tool support has truly made Service Orientation mainstream.

Today, however, I want to highlight one area that is critical to the business – where we are the undisputed leader – and that is in empowering people to bridge the world of structured and unstructured processes. The question is often asked: what do you get after you have an SOA? The reality is that the rubber meets the road when you have consumption of the services – with our innovations in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, .NET Framework 3.0 and BizTalk Server we are poised to empower the masses to bridge the transactional and the collaborative capabilities, empowering people to drive business success.

PressPass: It sounds like there are a lot of things to consider. What is Microsoft’s guidance to customers on how to implement a SOA strategy?

DeVadoss: It is quite simple really. We think of this as the Expose/Compose/Consume model.

First, you need to service-enable your existing assets. SOA is not about rip and replace, it is about leveraging your existing assets.

Second, it is about composing these services – people call this orchestration or choreography, and sometimes workflow – but the key idea is that you have the infrastructure to empower your people, employees, customers and consumers, to use the services in the real-world.

At this point you have an SOA – but it is still infrastructure, it is still plumbing. The rubber meets the road when you enable consumption of the services, and so you have what we think of the consume layer.

There are cross-cutting concerns such as security, management and governance – but that is pretty much all you have in the real-world SOA implementations.

With respect to how you start –

  1. Make sure that you have sound business drivers. Oftentimes we see customers struggle to justify their SOA projects – it is almost always because they are trying to "do SOA" as opposed to addressing a business need.

  2. Top-down, big-bang mega approaches do not work in the real-world. Bottom-up approaches are not manageable. But there is an approach that we see successful customers adopt – what we call the middle-out approach. These customers all have something in common--they start with clear business challenges and focus on creating business value

  3. Try to avoid subscribing to what I call "the build it and they will come" approach. They spend 18 months to 30 months building a services infrastructure, and eventually, when they reach the service consumption layer or what is called the user-experience layer, they find that the business has moved on. That what they have built is something that made sense for the business at a point in time in the past, but by the time their solution was ready for prime-time, their business needs had changed and their investments were all for none. We recommend customers partition their use cases into small sets and build out the entire use case end-to-end, from the data through to the consumption. You don’t learn by planning – you learn by doing. Partitioning your functionality helps you track changing business needs much more effectively.

  4. Demonstrate value in rapid iterations. Time-to-value is a critical metric, a healthy metric. The trust-me approach is not a healthy model for customers that want to be successful leveraging SOA.

  5. Last, but not the least, successful customers use what we call a "snowball" approach. How do you build a big snowball? You start with a small snowball. This is probably the most important take away with respect to leveraging SOA to drive business value.

PressPass: How long has Microsoft been involved in the SOA space?

DeVadoss: It was September 1999 when Microsoft first announced the Web services model and kicked off a wave of innovation that has fundamentally changed the application architecture landscape. Beginning with version 1.0 of the .NET Framework, our investments in tools together with the intrinsic support for Web services in our platform have helped make Service Orientation mainstream.

Microsoft recognized that the economics of Web services had the potential to make Service Orientation practical and working with other vendors such as IBM and BEA, we invested in authoring a set of specifications referred to collectively as the WS-* architecture.

Shortly thereafter, in order to promote interoperability across platforms, operating systems and programming languages Microsoft worked with IBM to develop the Web services Interoperability Organization (WS-I). Since it was created, WS-I has grown to roughly 150 member companies and has created Web services that address areas such as interoperability, security and the reliability of messaging.

PressPass: How have customers been responding to this real-world approach to SOA?

DeVadoss: To be honest, it was our customers that helped us refine this model and get it to where it is today. Across the board, successful customers are those that leverage a real-world approach to SOA. Customers and partners realize that big-science projects don’t create value for the business. The "build it and they will come" approach to SOA has failed the business – customers and partners understand that you don’t learn by planning for months and often years, but rather that you learn by doing.

We are proving that it is the incremental, iterative, real-world approach that helps you correct your course and deliver value to the business in a meaningful way.

Read More: