IBM: Open source, SOA born of same roots

Frustration over closed IT systems helped propel the open-source movement and the emergence of service-oriented architectures, says an IBM executive.

Open source and the service-orientated architecture were born of the same frustrations that IT users face with closely-knit software, says a top IBMer.

By making source codes publicly available and highly flexible, the open-source software model ensures developers can build software and systems that interoperate seamlessly. This objective is similar to what a service-oriented architecture (SOA) aims to fulfill, said Jason Weisser, vice president of asset and integration technologies at IBM Software Group. One of the creators of Microsoft's .Net SOA framework, Weisser has been managing IBM's SOA technology since 2002.

With Web services as the underpinning technology, SOA is an IT infrastructure model designed to enhance interoperability between disparate systems. It allows specific functions of backend systems to be decoupled and used independently, or alongside tools from other systems to perform computing tasks.

This, Weisser noted, was not possible before the advent of SOA--a concept that existed many years ago, but has not taken off in a big way until recently.

He added that the open-source movement only came to life when developers got frustrated with systems that were too closed, he said. "They could not break applications apart, to only use the pieces they need," he explained.

"Customers are fed up with being charged for features that they do not need," he said, supporting a common view that the majority of Microsoft Office users only use 20 percent of the software's features.

Weisser added that customers want agility and flexibility, which "hardened, tightly-integrated software offerings" do not provide.

"For businesses to survive, they need to have agility, without which they will fail," he said. "So, over the last few years, businesses have forced vendors to drive (their product development) toward standardization and interoperability."

Weisser said open source dominates in software architectures such as the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) stack, which have well-connected components. "Open source is not so much about Linux. My two-cent's worth about where open source is heading--it's componentization."

He added that the IT industry is shifting into a new paradigm of software components, rather than integrated applications.

"ASPs (application service providers) had the potential to be incredibly successful, but they failed because they didn't deliver the flexibility that was promised," he said. "They were trying to provide integrated applications, which businesses did not require."

But despite SOA perceived rewards, Yeow Shih Yeh, general manager of Hitachi Asia's IT center, said that its concepts are still "confusing".

"IBM has tried to sell us the (SOA) idea, but it's not applicable to us at the moment," Yeow said. "It’s just a way for vendors to sell more of their existing products."

Last month, IBM bolstered its SOA efforts with new products and services such as its WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus, which allows connectivity and integration for Web services applications and services.

Weisser dismissed efforts by vendors who tout the benefits of their SOA development framework over others. Each infrastructure model is good and bad in its own ways, he said. "What's the difference between C# and Java? It's just a difference in the way the machine perceives code and turns it into binary characters," he noted.

According to Gartner, most companies will adopt SOA frameworks for new applications and have the infrastructure required for wrapping legacy applications and integration across processes by 2007.

Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority revealed that 14 percent of businesses in the country have deployed Web services, an increase of 8 percent from 2003. The technology helped generate US$265 million in revenue last year, creating more than 290 jobs in the island-state.