November 4, 2004 1:03 PM PST

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IBM has launched a consulting services practice around services-oriented architecture--issuing a vote of confidence in the revenue potential of the emerging software development approach.

Big Blue's consulting arm, IBM Global Services, said Thursday that the practice will be designed to help corporate customers create large-scale business systems around a services-oriented architecture, which is a method for writing business applications in a modular fashion.


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Just as businesses gradually adopt new computing models--like client-server computing in the 1980s--companies are now investing in services-oriented architecture (SOA) designs because the approach allows them to save money on development time and share data between applications more easily. Industry analysts say providing the building blocks for SOAs will become an important battleground among enterprise software vendors in the coming years.

A services-oriented architecture represents a way of designing a company's software so that programs and data can be more easily shared between different business divisions. For example, a company could write a program for authenticating a person's network access and use it in all of that company's business applications--rather than relying on several separate authentication processes, or services, for each application.

Standardized programming tools and protocols, called Web services, are aiding the adoption of services-oriented architectures. Web services management tools are designed to ensure that applications don't crash, are secure and meet performance targets.

IBM's new consulting service, called SOA Management Practice, will address the operational aspects, such as security and administration, of running applications. As part of the practice, IBM is recruiting niche Web services management companies for customer engagements.

Big Blue's first partner is application security specialist Digital Evolution. In this arrangement, IBM will resell software from Digital Evolution and other niche providers, said Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services for IBM Global Services. IBM already has a reseller agreement with AmberPoint, a Web services management company in Europe, he said.

Like IBM, other large infrastructure software companies, such as Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems, have developed software to build and run Web services applications and tools for building a services-oriented architecture.

IBM's approach to SOAs emphasizes consulting. One year ago, the company set up an SOA Center of Excellence, which was meant to create a central point of consulting expertise and information for systems that have more interoperable Web services components.

IBM's decision to create a consulting service specifically around SOA management indicates that the market is maturing, said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink, a research company that focuses on SOA and Web services. He predicted that there will be more SOA projects that include larger services components, which would indicate that the applications are more than relatively simple pilot projects.

 

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