The service-oriented-architecture hype of the past year seems to have made believers of the most vocal skeptics. SOA has had an almost mystical aura as the savior of IT and most stagnant business operations.
The concept of an SOA has let corporations focus inward on their business processes rather than outward on their customers. In doing so, corporation executives have come to realize that technology is an ally rather than an enemy and that information finally has become an asset rather than an expense.
More than a decade ago it was predicted that the management and mining of corporate information would change the way companies viewed their customers and products. Today, with the advent of master data management (MDM), this vision has materialized. IT now becomes the repository of critical information with respect to customers and their behavior, partners and their offerings, products and their performance, assets and their use, and locations and their readiness.
Customercentric information about partners, products, assets, locations and accounts feeds the MDM information base, along with such corporatecentric information as customer account activity, customer correspondence, historical product performance/maintenance, product sales/manufacturing/inventory and support services corporate workflow. This information confluence creates an MDM that for the first time enables accurate real-time and marketing analytics.
For corporations, this accomplishes two major SOA business-cost initiatives: improving operational efficiency and reducing time to market. It helps generate more revenue by lessening the risk of customer defection, improves the accuracy of cross-sell and up-sell recommendations - encouraging customers to buy complementary or related products/services, or higher-priced ones - and leverages or increases corporate assets. With the MDM, information becomes a service, reusable and manageable.
Implementing an MDM within an SOA is the responsibility of an information repository called an information server. Using a metadata management structure, the information server must discover, model and govern information structure and content; standardize, merge and correct information; combine and restructure information for new business processes; and synchronize, virtualize and distribute information for use.
The creation of an information server to implement MDM adds more critical functionality to the enterprise services bus (ESB) within an SOA. As such, the ESB becomes the control plane for the IT application and the spinal cord for corporate business processes. This makes the ESB SOA function increasingly critical to the corporation from a communications perspective. MDM virtualization and synchronization of information demands network reliability, security and accessibility.
Coupled with the real-time requirements for corporate analytics, this necessitates low latency and high-bandwidth network connectivity. Collaborative applications can exist using a federated database model for MDM implementation, but real-time capability requires a clustered or centralized database.
Today's demand for storage networks pales in comparison with the requirements of an SOA using MDM. What was once viewed as a physical means of storage connectivity or cost control through the of storage now has greater IT significance and corporate business impact.
Storage networks must become part of the ESB backbone of the corporate SOA. Every aspect of their configuration, performance and operations management must be visible as services to the MDM as well as IT applications.
Corporate business processes, though divorced from storage networking technical nuances, must dictate their operational performance/ security policy criteria. The concept of an SOA is evolving, not only by embracing additional communications services such as voice and video, but also by integrating information services using MDM.
Corporate adoption of information as a service is the next leap into the SOA pond. Beware - the network implications are subtle but have significant corporate impact and need to be assessed before putting that first toe in the water.