Sunday, 24 February 2008

IBM WAS: Fast? Yes. Central to SOA? Only in marketing.

IBM recently issued a press release stating that "WebSphere Application Server, a key building block for services oriented architecture (SOA), shattered a popular industry benchmark for scalability and performance by more than 33 percent using technology that costs half the price of the competition".

First of all, Kudos to IBM for continuing to improve the performance of WAS. Anything that drives the performance of key bits of infrastructure has to be a good thing. However, that's not the thing that caught my eye about this article. Instead, my eye was drawn to the statement that WAS is a "key building block for services oriented architecture". Let's consider where IBM was coming from when they wrote this:

  • IBM WebSphere Application Server forms the foundation of IBM WebSphere Process Server, IBM's middle of the road (as opposed to specialised) 'SOA Platform' offering.
  • IBM WebSphere Application Server is the leading (in terms of sales, at least) J2EE platform.

Maybe this is where IBM were coming from. It's true that WPS has significant take up in the market, usually within SOA projects, so I guess you could argue that WAS is the foundation to something which acts as part of the integration infrastructure underlying SOA projects. Alternatively, perhaps they're considering WAS in its own right. It's certainly an excellent platform for building and deploying the business logic which drives the behaviour of service implementations.

But (and in my opinion, it's a big but) the key to SOA is hidden cunningly in the name. It's Service Oriented Architecture not service oriented application-server, service oriented platform or service oriented infrastructure. SOA is about structuring your solutions according to service oriented principles, governing these solutions to ensure that they all contribute to an enterprise-wide ecosystem of services. To me, a key SOA principle is to be globally independent of any one third part product, and understand before you start how you can migrate away from the platform in the future. Therefore, to state that a product is a central component of SOA as a whole is misinformation at best, and could if taken literally be very dangerous for the ongoing health of your company.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but there's method in my madness: If SOA really is The One True Way, then it'll outlive any product (and possibly several of the vendors) currently in the market. If you couple your SOA vision to an individual platform, then you risk creating yourself a huge migration issue, comparable to nothing you've seen previously when the market inevitably moves on to new products in the future.

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