The Merging of SOA and Web 2.0

Dan Cahoon was looking for a way to streamline staffing operations at tax company H&R Block, the nation’s largest seasonal employer. Rather than use traditional desktop-based software for the job, the senior systems architect at H&R Block was able to deliver SOA-connected AJAX portlets to more than 12,000 branch offices for temporary work spaces to meet the company’s staffing needs.

Cahoon’s example illustrates the growing trend of merging Web 2.0 technologies with SOA (service-oriented architecture) to address issues normally handled through PC-based software, resulting in faster, cheaper and more flexible solutions.

“Web 2.0 is used in many ways but predominantly has two aspects—one social, the other technical,” said Cahoon in Kansas City, Mo. “On the social side, Web 2.0 is about a phenomenon of shifting the publishing power out to users and away from centrally controlled publishing processes. The ability for users to blog and syndicate their posts, the notion of a wiki as a collaboration amongst users, [and] the evolving idea of a mashup as something the user can assemble from existing Web parts and data are all examples of the power to compose being provided to the many.”

Furthermore, Web sites and Web applications using AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to improve ease of use make it even simpler for users to compose blogs and assemble mashups, Cahoon said. Desktop-installed software increasingly is being displaced through the use of AJAX and services, he said.

“Google Docs and Yahoo Mail Plus are examples of this, substantially providing the core features of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook,” Cahoon said.

Two of the industry’s hottest buzzwords are combining to fuel one of the hottest emerging trends in the industry—the use of Web 2.0 technologies acting as front ends to SOA back-end environments.

This trend touches on RIAs (rich Internet applications), mashups, AJAX, RSS, REST (Representational State Transfer) and other Web 2.0 areas. Now being referred to as Enterprise 2.0, the Web 2.0 technologies are helping to create rich interactive front ends to SOA back-end systems. In addition, line-of-business users who typically are nondevelopers can take services and build mashups without IT involvement—a potential boon for productivity but also a possible problem without proper governance.

“What’s really changing is the impact that Web 2.0 technologies are having on SOA—in fact, changing the approaches,” said Dan Hushon, chief technology officer at EMC’s Grid Business Unit, in Hopkinton, Mass. “Web 2.0 concepts and technologies may, over time, displace the WS-* stack in many cases.

“For example, where we used to see SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] and JSON [JavaScript Object Notation]/REST APIs to services—e.g., Google—we are now seeing mainly JSON/REST,” Hushon said. “And, in fact, REST, with its more data-centric approach, may very well prove to be better aligned with the need for collaborating around data. However, systemic security remains an Achilles’ heel for REST.”

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John Crupi, CTO at JackBe, which sells Web 2.0 solutions, said the wave of consumer technologies is driving into the enterprise.

“We’re transforming from an application-centric enterprise to Web 2.0, which is putting the user in charge,” said Crupi in Chevy Chase, Md. “Users can create, consume, customize, collaborate. They can access all information anywhere, anytime on any browser. I used to say the ‘A’ in SOA is AJAX; now I say the ‘M’ in SOA is mashup. Enterprise mashups are user-driven and user-focused.”

Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink, said mashups complement SOA. “You’re getting capabilities or functionality from a Web application and combining it with another capability, and mashups are made a heck of a lot simpler if they’re made of services that are service-oriented,” Schmelzer said. “It’s also a plus because of the user interaction.”

The new Web 2.0-enabled enterprise is sort of “like the long-tail approach—there is more opportunity in catering to a mass of niches than a niche of masses,” Schmelzer said. Enterprises can use Web 2.0 and SOA to enable line-of-business staff to create hundreds of applications that will benefit many in their organizations. “The downside to all this freedom is the control,” Schmelzer said. “The problem is, if you build all these services, how do you prevent people from doing harm?”

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