OASIS seeks clarity on SOA

Help is on the way for anyone who may be confused about what exactly constitutes an SOA.

OASIS on Tuesday is announcing the formation of a technical committee that will develop a reference model to provide clarity on the definition of an SOA, said Duane Nickull, chairman of the new OASIS SOA-RM (Reference Model) Technical Committee and senior standards strategist at Adobe. The reference model is intended for use by developers and IT professionals as a guideline for implementing architectures across service environments.

"This arose from the fact that SOA as a term was being used in a vast array of contexts, sometimes with conflicting definitions of exactly what it was," Nickull said. OASIS hopes to have its reference model completed by the end of the year and has been working on the project for approximately six weeks. A working draft document already has been published.

An SOA is generally regarded as an IT architecture that links loosely coupled services in an easily changeable fashion, usually based on Web services integration.There has not been unanimity, however, on a definition, OASIS acknowledged.

"Architecture is very difficult -- in fact, architecture is mostly a challenge for people, rather than technology," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink, in an e-mail response to an inquiry. "So, the SOA Reference Model will go a long way to helping people deal with the human aspects of making architecture work, but it will be up to companies to adopt and implement the reference model in ways that directly impact their businesses."

Some major IT vendors appear not to be on board with the OASIS effort, however, which potentially could cloud acceptance of the reference model by the industry at large. Neither Oracle nor IBM is now participating, based on an OASIS roster of participants and comments from OASIS itself.

OASIS cited BEA Systems, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems as participants, but it is unclear from the roster who is representing them. BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun did not respond to inquiries on Monday.

An Oracle representative on Monday afternoon acknowledged Oracle was not involved in the technical committee. In a statement released Monday evening, the company said: "There are a number of ways to build service-oriented applications using the basic principles of well-defined contracts, loose coupling, and metatdata discovery. Given the pace of standardization, profiling, and vendor offerings at this point, it is premature to converge on a single reference architecture. Oracle will continue to pay attention to the OASIS SOA Reference Model Technical Committee as well as other related efforts in this rapidly developing area."

"I wouldn't read anything too significant into the lack of involvement in these by larger players, as OASIS encourages small groups of vendors to put together ideas and run them up the flagpole," said Jason Bloomberg, also a senior analyst at ZapThink, in response to an e-mail. "It's just a sign that these initiatives are still in the early stages."

Among those participating, in addition to Adobe, are Boeing, Fujitsu, General Motors, Infosys Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Mitre, Unisys and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

OASIS with its SOA-RM effort seeks to prevent conflicting definitions about what belongs in an SOA, Nickull said. At OASIS, an SOA has several components, with the notion of services as a core principle, he said. Featured in an SOA are service descriptions that include subcomponents for policies, contracts, and a data model, Nickull said. Each subcomponent has an aspect pertaining to semantics and a mechanism to enable discovery, presence, and the availability of services, he added.

"This SOA-RM is an abstract framework for understanding significant entities and relationships among them within a service-oriented environment, and for the development of consistent standards or specifications supporting that environment," OASIS wrote in an abstract on SOA-RM.

"It is based on unifying concepts of SOA and may be used by architects developing specific services-oriented architectures, or for any standards or for education and explaining SOA," OASIS wrote.

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