SOA-I – what? Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
Information technology (IT) has had to reposition itself on an ongoing basis. The evolution has gone from centralized mainframes to client/server, Windows and Web services to what is now known as “service-oriented architecture and infrastructure” (SOA-I). SOA-I is a paradigm change in that it’s a framework and mind-set that links required business needs to IT resources. Simply put, SOA-I is an approach to IT design where IT services are assembled from reusable technology components that are available on demand. To some, that may be enough information for a full understanding of SOA-I. To most, it is more computer jargon that begs for additional explanation.

“I like to use the comparison of a custom-service restaurant to a high-quality buffet to easily explain SOA-I,” says Omar Yakar, CEO of Agile360 Inc. “Imagine being hungry and going to a nice restaurant where there is no menu, and you order anything you like. The chef must prepare the meal, perhaps going out for ingredients that may not be easily available, which could take a long time. However, a high-quality buffet lets you choose just what you want from available items — and you get to eat right away. Which one do you think is more economical and satisfying?”

Smart Business talked with Yakar for further clarification as to what SOA-I is and what it can mean to a business.

How do you analogize SOA-I to a high-quality buffet?

Before SOA-I, you could go to your IT staffers and give them a problem to solve or tell them what you wanted to accomplish with technology. They would most likely design a solution that would do just what you wanted, but would be incremental to your other IT systems. This approach is like the fancy restaurant. You get what you want but it might take awhile until you can start eating, and it’s really expensive.

You choose one item to be your appetizer, one as your salad and an entrĂ©e. The waiter takes your order back to the chef so he can custom prepare your meal. If one of the ingredients in the menu description is not in the kitchen, the chef has to send for it and wait. If he doesn’t know how to prepare that item, he tries his best. Customization takes time and adds to the cost of the meal without ensuring quality.

SOA-I is like the high-quality buffet. The restaurateur individually prepares each of the items on the buffet and you just dish up what you want and sit down to eat it. If you don’t want lamb, you don’t pick it up or dish up anything containing it. If you want prime rib and a salad, you just add it.

With SOA-I, various technology components have been de-coupled. You pick what you want, plug it in and start using it as a service.

How does this help the company?

It costs the restaurateur more to custom prepare each meal and to have numerous ingredients on hand. It also takes more people to custom prepare each meal. If the kitchen runs out of a particular ingredient, the food preparers either have to send someone out to get it or disappoint you by not filling your order.

The same goes with the old paradigm of custom filling any IT needs.

With SOA-I, the buffet operator has already prepared different items ahead of time and placed them on the buffet table to satisfy a variety of diners. You decide what services you need such as remote Web access, processing power, storage, security or regulatory options, or any other services desired to fill an order. The information needed to fulfill the order may be supplied from various applications, all seamlessly working together without the cost of customization.

Service-oriented companies can show significant savings in maintenance, personnel, software and hardware costs while providing technology solutions that are agile and can rapidly change to fit their customers’ needs and potential emerging markets.

How do we automate so business analysts can order off the buffet themselves?

It starts with the SOA-I framework, or mindset, where the IT provider publishes individual technology components and the business analyst picks only what he or she needs to deliver a new application. We call this provisioning — connecting technology components to turn on a business service. At the buffet, the end user provisions the meal. In SOA-I, the end user provisions software as a service.

With clear goals, you can dramatically improve time to value, drive down costs and improve business agility.

OMAR YAKAR is CEO of Agile360 Inc. in Irvine. Reach him at (949) 253-4106 or