IBM Corp. Tuesday announced some new products and services that could help customers adopt a service-oriented architecture, but one expert says that the industry must agree on a definition before the term can take a more significant role in the enterprise.

Big Blue is releasing new products and updates to its existing products across its Rational, Tivoli and WebSphere lines that are designed are create greater levels of integration between them.

The WebSphere Integration Developer, for example, is an Eclipse-based tool to allow developers to build composite applications which can slotted into company-wide businesses processes. The WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus is designed to provide linkages between applications that are geared towards Web services.

IBM also released a new version of its Rational Application Developer product and will release updates of Tivoli software later this month.

The idea, said IBM senior vice-president and software group executive, is to provide IBM customers with alternatives that will allow them to reuse code where possible and stretch their development dollars even further.

“It’s rare to see a business with a true greenfield environment where they can start from scratch. Medium and large businesses run hundreds, if not thousands, of applications,” he said.

Mills added that businesses are also in a process of “deverticalizing,” or bringing in a greater number of outside partners and customers to participate in business processes. A greater reliance on open source and standards-based software is making this possible.

IBM is also adding services around SOA – training its channel partners and 11,000 of its own services personnel to consult with customers and provide best practices around SOA deployments. IBM said it will also help customers revise business processes and meet the governance issues that come with a service-oriented architecture.

“We’re offering, in summary, a whole set of capabilities and tools to enable customers to build out their service-oriented architecture, but we’re also offering them a lot of help and capability in terms of services so they can go along the journey,” said Robert LeBlanc, general manager of Big Blue’s WebSphere line.

LeBlanc said Staples, the office supplies company, is an example of an enterprise that has attempted to deploy an SOA into a retail model that encompasses multiple channels like brick and mortar, phone sales and online. In Staples case, it’s both business to consumer and business to business portals.

“They needed a new style of architecture to be able to support the market requirements and customer demands. They wanted to build the system once and reuse the pieces over and over again as they were bringing new services to their customer set,” said LeBlanc.

IBM has pursued a consistent agenda of revising product sets to meet criteria around SOA for several years, said Michael Kuhbock, co-chair of the Integration Consortium, a non-profit industry group pushing for standards around IT. But SOA is often in the eye of the beholder.

In general, the term refers to an enterprise architecture where applications can be more easily integrated and can share pieces of code, but vendors are all putting a different spin on what that means and how it can be achieved, he said.

“The issue with SOA is, there is no universally accepted definition of it is right now. You’ve got all the vendors jumping on all the bandwagons and letting their marketing departments run roughshod over what SOA is right now. Everybody is trying to claim a piece of the beach. There’s a lot of confusion out there,” he said.

Kuhbock likened the current situation with SOA to the status of Web services several years ago: vendors were scrambling to have their products identified exclusively with the term, leaving some users scratching their heads as to what it all means.

But, said Kuhbock, users have developed a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities of enterprise architecture in recent years and are able to see through vendor pitches.

The work IBM and other vendors are doing on SOA is “a good thing for the industry,” said Kuhbock. “We now, as an industry, need to put some reins on it and steer it in the right direction so we don’t end up in the Web services dilemma that we had before.”

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