Idiots guide to Service Orientated Architecture (SOA)

Lost in the hype around Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) is the fact that the idea is really really simple. It’s all based on the idea that most applications (and that includes websites) are built either to be used by people , or used by computers. The pictures below (a free preview from the Enterprise Java Briefing) show what I mean.

In a ‘normal’ application, such as a online banking website, we need to remember what the user did last (are they logged in, what account are they looking at, are they in the middle of making a payment). If we didn’t , the user would get annoyed about having to repeat themselves every step of the way. It would also make for pretty complicated screens, to allow the user to enter all the information in one go. Instead , we allow the user to enter information in several steps, and remember where there are each time.

Soa Client

In an application designed to be used by computers, we don’t have to worry about this. We can force the computer to give us all the information required all in one go – username , password, bank account to take money from , bank account to give money to, date to execute transaction. For a computer , this is actually easier ; we make one call to our banking service and we are told it has succeeded or failed. It’s also easier for us to build our service:

  • Each service (transfer money, book flight , execute share trade) only does one thing.
  • Because each service ‘forgets’ after each call, we don’t need to worry about trying to remember what we were doing before.
  • Because we have no memory, services are very scalable; we can make several copies of the same service and put them in a pool. Any client can talk to any service – no waiting for a particular server to become available.

Soa Service

So that’s Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) : programs that do one thing (a bit like a function call to a method) exposed that other computers can call. So what’s the big deal? Like all good ideas , a simple concept goes a long way.

Take a look at the picture below. It’s like a Visio diagram, but in fact it’s drawn by the Eclipse Based JBoss IDE. It shows a workflow for an online commerce store – pretty easy to understand. This example uses JBoss Java Business Process Managment (jBPM), but companies such  Tibco, Cape clear and Oracle BPEL have similar products.

soa workflow

Here’s the clever bit; each of these steps is executed by one of the services that we talked about earlier. This means that if the business process changes (and it will), then all you have to do is re-arrange the diagram ; little or no coding changes should be required.

This abilility to mix , match, combine and remix services leads us to a lot of other good things (and we’re only scratching the surface here).

  • Because our services don’t have to run on the same machine, we can use SOA to create a distributed application. This is the concept behind the BPEL (Business PRocess Engineering Language)
  • Services tie well to Ajax and Web 2: Our Ajax web page or portlet can call as many services as it requires to get the job done (it’s one of the reasons Tibcom is sponsoring the open source DWR project)
  • We can call many services at once. If these this service calls are xml based ,or we send these calls as a message then we can filter, duplicate, pass and other distribute these calls as we set. These are the ideas behind Apache Synapse, Apache Servicemix and the  Enterprise Service bus (ESB) in general.

What do you think? Is SOA useful , or over hyped?

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6 comments

  1. Pingback: O'Reilly ONJava Blog
  2. pLuc · March 22, 2007

    It’s “Oriented”. Not “Orientated”.

  3. Iain · March 22, 2007

    Of course, if you really want to simplify it, you could just look at http://soafacts.com.

  4. admin · March 22, 2007

    pLuc: your spelling is correct. But the blog did carry the warning that it was an idiots guide!

    Iain: Very true. Especially the spelling of edumacated (see previous point).

  5. Pingback: links for 2007-03-23 | Urubatan`s Weblog
  6. Stuart · April 19, 2007

    Actually the terms are interchangeable, since many countries use “orientated” instead or “oriented”, it is in the use of English.

    I must say that perhaps the time wasted on bickering about terms at that level helps one understand why IT has such a bad rep.

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