Why SOA still matters

A regional bank in New Orleans takes a hard look at itself and adopts SOA as part of a major transformation

I confess -- I am still a believer in SOA, even though it's popular to say the trend by that name has faded into oblivion. Why am I still faithful? Because SOA is all about using common sense to rationalize existing infrastructure and extend capabilities while laying the groundwork for future change. Yeah, that's a mouthful, but if you ask me, that's the canonical definition of IT modernization.

I had a chance last week to talk with Stan Limerick, director of technology strategy and architecture for Whitney National Bank in New Orleans. He gave me a great example of what he calls a "straightforward" SOA implementation, which began last August and should be complete in spring 2011.

[ InfoWorld's Dave Linthicum keeps the SOA discussion alive in his Cloud Computing blog. You can find a great example in this challenge to SOA vendors. ]

I would call this a textbook example of SOA, because it began with a top-down look at the business, with business management fully engaged (as opposed to "technology-led initiatives," which Limerick believes "rarely turn out where you want them to be"). Limerick, CIO Frank DeArmas, and business management began with a "functional decomposition of the bank as it was."

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Everyone sat down and looked at where the $12 billion regional bank stood and where they wanted it to be. They examined the application portfolio. They did a market study. And they looked at potential gains in efficiency from the point of view of both IT and business operations. Ultimately, the company decided it would replace the core banking system and implement SOA at the same time, driven in large part by the desire for "better customer service, faster turnaround for customers, and better information for management."

Under the hood, that meant some housecleaning. A key IT goal was to cut the application portfolio by half and vastly reduce the number of proprietary data integration interfaces from a whopping 850 to something more manageable based on Web services standards. Those standards had to be supported by the new core banking application. And of course, they were part and parcel of the SOA-specific infrastructure, which came courtesy of IBM: WebSphere DataPower appliances for service management and security; WebSphere Process Server for the ESB (enterprise service bus); and the WebSphere Service Registry and Repository for exposing service metadata and policies.

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