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SOA: A Primer For Small Biz

Curious about all the fuss? Our reporter puts it in plain business language.

Anyone who has been an active reader of computer trade magazines or online publications over the past few years has seen a steady increase in the number of references to things called "Web services" and "SOA." Indeed, more and more businesses are turning to these technologies to help improve their bottom line.

But what do these technologies mean to small businesses and sole proprietors? Can small organizations stand to benefit from SOA as much as Fortune 500 companies? The answer is difficult, if not impossible, for people to ascertain if they do not understand what the Web services and SOA technologies are, and what potential benefits they provide. This article will attempt to explain SOA in terms that a small business owner or manager can easily understand.

What is SOA?

SOA is an acronym for Service Oriented Architecture. SOA promotes a software development technique for creating modular components that perform very specific tasks, or services, within a software application.

For example, an "insurance eligibility" service would be a software module that a doctor's office would use to determine if a particular patient was eligible for a specific medical procedure. That "service" would be combined with other services--say, a software module that verifies a patient's current address when he or she checks in for an appointment. Or one that automatically updates a patient's medical record with the results of his or her latest lab tests.

To follow our example through, although individually, these services would just perform small, discrete functions, together they would automate every aspect of managing a small medical practice.

In other words, instead of software applications being huge, monolithic bunches of code--as they tended to be in the past--under an SOA they would be made up of all these different modules, each of which had its own, particular function.

The term "Web services" is often used interchangeably with SOA, but strictly speaking it is not exactly the same. "Web services" defines the most common type of programming techniques used to create SOA applications. Web services are implemented with Web-based technologies, including such things as HTML, HTTP, and SSL--yes, you couldn't get away from a discussion of Web services and SOA without the acronyms!--but you don't really need to worry about them. The important thing to know is that SOA is a more general term that includes, but is not limited to, Web services.

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