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IBM walks the SOA walk

Over the past decade, IBM has trimmed down its own internal portfolio from 16,000 applications to 4,000, thanks to standardization and service-enablement.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

As we’ve seen in recent months, IBM has been quite uber-eager to deliver SOA to the enterprise world, with countless product and service announcements. Big Blue talks the talk, but does it walk the walk? As a matter of fact, IBM has been service-orienting itself, and in a big way. 

Recently, I was given a glimpse inside IBM’s own SOA initiatives, courtesy of Howie Miller, IBM’s vice president for enterprise architecture.

Miller told me that Big Blue currently has 77 shareable and reusable services in production -- ranging from authentication to order fulfillment -- as part of its service-oriented architecture. The most notable outcome of IBM’s internal SOA efforts is the fact that Big Blue was able to reduce its inventory of 16,000 applications in 1998 to 4,000 applications today.

The secret sauce to streamlining down to a quarter of its applications was governance, Miller explained. “The governance model helped us achieve that nice statistic. Over the past decade, IBM has trimmed down its own internal portfolio from 16,000 applications to 4,000. It’s how we plan to go from more big integrated spaghetti code applications to more component-based Web services. That same governance model will be part of what gets us moving forward to the SOA-based approach.” Decisions about new technology investments are vetted through an Enterprise Architecture Council and Investment Review Board run by the CIO (Miller's boss). 

IBM’s CIO's office is leading the SOA charge internally at IBM, but doesn’t have a central bucket of money or huge staff to plan and build SOA. Instead, Miller, said, the office -- which has 10 architects -- plays a role in influencing Big Blue’s annual internal $4 billion annual technology spend. "About 28 percent of our investment of our total IT spend is what we call 'transformational investment,' or new development.” That's where SOA comes in.

“What we do, through roadmaps, standards, and target architecture is try to influence the behavior of the way that our development teams are doing transformation initiatives to spend their money.”

Miller described three of the 77 services IBM now maintains:

Web identity service: This is an authentication and authorization service for end-users accessing IBM applications. "When an employee or partner signs into a Web site, they have a single user ID and password for sign-on," Miller explained. "It used to be, every time I used a different application in IBM, I had a different user ID and password. Now, all these applications call the Web service to validate the user ID and password. This common Web service is callable from any application.”

Factory in a box: IBM's semiconductor group built a set of services called "semiconductor factory in a box.," Miller said. "It has enabled us to do is invest, acquire, or divest, or outsource manufacturing plant very quickly. If we divest a manufacturing plant, we had to rip out all the connections to various systems. Or, to acquire a new company that comes with a manufacturing plant, we had to integrate them into our systems. The process used to take several weeks -- now it's two hours.”

Customer order and tracking system: IBM's customer order analysis and tracking system (COATS) "was a big spaghetti-code application, all integrated into one big app," said Miller. The huge application was being overwhelmed by order volumes, which "were causing problems with performance with the application." MIller's staff decomposed the entire application into 13 separate components. "We found that the logjam in the application was only in a couple of the pieces of the app. We pulled out that application code for those two pieces and wrapped them as Web services. It was a way to rewrite a legacy application in pieces, without having to go do the full 13 big chunks of functional capability."

Miller says SOA enablement didn't happen overnight, even for IBM. "A lot of time, when we talk to folks about this stuff, they say, ‘oh my gosh, I could never do an enterprise architecture of that size, with the complexity of my company. It must have taken you years.’ The answer is yes, it did take years," he related. "But you can start in a corner of the business, business unit or functional area, and work it out from there."

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