Shimmin On Software: SOA Gets Real, Virtually - InformationWeek
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Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin
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Shimmin On Software: SOA Gets Real, Virtually

Enter SOA virtualization. Well, almost. The notion of tricking a server into running various operating systems or databases within separate virtual machines may be old hat, but it's just now beginning make its way up the stack.

With so much talk recently about automated biofeedback monitoring and business rules within rules, you might think that an enterprise stands as much of a chance of optimizing its service-oriented architecture applications as it does launching a Saturn V rocket. And you'd be right.

Although they're equipped with advanced business activity monitoring tools capable of kicking off rules-based workflows designed to help IT architects identify and correct sluggish business processes, organizations are waiting on something, anything, to automatically react to changes within the network and within the applications themselves.

Enter SOA virtualization. Well, almost. The notion of tricking a server into running various operating systems or databases within separate virtual machines has been with us for some time. However, it's just now beginning make its way up the stack to embrace what is perhaps its ultimate justification: that loosely coupled and extremely unknowable universe of reused and often misused Web services.

We've come a long way since IBM's simple notion of "time sharing" on mainframes in the 1960s, to be sure. Products such as Tibco Software's ActiveMatrix Service Grid and BEA's Liquid VM have been "emerging" for some time and focus on virtualizing messaging servers, which marshal transactions that power broader Web services. These solutions can help you boot up an additional enterprise service bus to conduct stress tests or accommodate an unexpected traffic spike. They can even abstract disparate messaging standards (such as Java 2 Enterprise Edition and .Net), creating a single target for developers.

But what's missing so far is SOA virtualization that abstracts the entire notion of SOA process optimization away from the human element, thereby answering the question, "should I add another virtual Java messaging server to accommodate tomorrow's anticipated rush on Tickle Me Elmos?"

What SOA virtualization needs to do is behave more like service virtualization, where bandwidth emerges from the mist and vanishes just as mysteriously in response to provisioning rules and service-level agreements. That will come with time. Actually, it should happen shortly after systems management and SOA management efforts align, when a single set of business rules can evaluate CPU utilization, network capacity, and process latency.

But for now, IT architects can rest easy in the knowledge that SOA virtualization has just taken some tentative steps in this direction. Take the recent flurry of activity from both Red Hat and IBM, both of which announced virtualization solutions able to not just support but actually encourage SOA virtualization.

Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5 Advanced Platform supports an unlimited number of guest operating systems, each with its own performance and security settings. Though the company has yet to build an SOA rendition for Enterprise Linux -- as it has in this release for data center and high-availability enterprise environments -- Red Hat will undoubtedly do so in the near future. In the meantime, this release (along with Novell's earlier virtualization push with SuSE Linux) will undoubtedly put more companies in a position to virtualize their SOA installations as SOA vendors scramble to take advantage of the operating system's built-in capabilities. Quite simply, more virtualization-ready systems mean more virtualization-friendly SOA solutions.

More important, IBM recently announced its Advanced Power Virtualization technology for SOA. IBM has sold virtualization for quite a while with its IBM System p servers, but now the company wants to hand out a single solution that combines the p server with WebSphere middleware and Tivoli management software, as well as reference architectures, stack certifications, best practices, and even customer-use cases targeting specific SOA entry points such as process, reuse, and connectivity. This is important because it starts with virtualization as a fundamental facet of SOA, rather than treating it as something for consideration after the fact. Out of the box, Advanced Power Virtualization for SOA solutions will be able to move processing resources from one virtual partition to another (manually, of course). The trouble is that your trusty business process management suite won't be able to work natively with BEA, Red Hat, Tibco, or IBM's virtualization management software just yet. So the ideal of processes driving process optimization will have to wait.

Still, the power of being able to flip an SOA server from one virtual machine to another to accommodate anticipated traffic spikes, software upgrades, or a late-night Mercury LoadRunner performance testing session should bring a smile to even the most grizzled IT professional.

Brad Shimmin is a principal analyst covering application infrastructure with Current Analysis.

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