How SOA enables transition of companies into cloud service providers

A leading bank leverages service oriented architecture to deliver reliable, robust services to partners.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

All the discussions and proclamations about the "revolutionary" aspects of cloud computing may be actually missing the most revolutionary part of the whole story.  Sure, it's great that companies and their end-users can quickly tap into applications and systems from a third party and pay by the sip.  And virtualizing systems through an accessible service layer as part of private cloud is something that is sorely needed.

Leading bank leverages SOA to deliver reliable, robust services to partners.

But the big story with cloud is the opportunities for businesses and IT departments to craft entire new lines of technology-focused business services that they can provide to their partners or customers. Organizations are not only becoming cloud service consumers, but cloud service providers.

Of course, as any cloud provider currently in business knows, you can't provide cloud services willy-nilly to partners.  It takes a solid service oriented architecture underneath to ensure that services are properly designed, tested, secure, reliable, documented, and ready for outside consumption.

This point was driven home in a discussion I had with Jon Meyer, VP and manager of electronic channels and payment for First Citizens Bank, part of First Citizens BancShares, the 45th largest depository institution in the US (it may even have risen higher up the list, as it's a fast-growing operation).

One of the interesting thing about First Citizens is that the bank not only provides services to its own customers, but also to about 20 other institutions. "We really function as an IT services company," Jon says. "Everything from check imaging, check processing, to outsourced customer service to bank in a box. We can give a community-sized bank everything they need to be up and running."

No, the bank doesn't call it cloud computing, and Jon refused to attach that label to its service offerings. But the bank is offering, via electronically delivered services, a range of capabilities that are contracted by customers.

What's underneath the efficient and reliable delivery of First Citizen's delivery of electronic services to customers?  Service oriented architecture, Jon says. "My view of the world is that the customers interact as business applications, and business applications ride on an infrastructure. Our service oriented architecture plays a role in letting those applications function. Customers could not use our applications if it were not for the services that support those applications."

First Citizen's services originate through CICS running on a mainframe, which Jon describes as a "giant Web server."  But being a bank, and being an IT service provider to the banking industry, a run-of-the-mill Web server wouldn't have been acceptable. "The very pleasing thing about that infrastructure is its remarkably stable, and its remarkably performant, in that it's very consistent. Consistency is the great hallmark of great systems," he says. "The results that we deliver, day in day out, extremely consistent response time from our entire back end. We can go a whole day and process millions of transactions, and maybe only have 10 to 20 that will take longer than two seconds to execute on our back end. The large majority of them, 98-99%, are performing in less than a second."

What's happening is a lot of companies that are able to deliver services both internally to business units and externally to partners and customers are becoming just as much of the "cloud" business as RackSpace or Salesforce.com.  This is the next natural evolution of service oriented architecture. Just don't call it "cloud."

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