The benefits of an open source SOA

Open source is as stable, secure, and well supported as proprietary solutions while also providing simplicity, openness, and affordability

Service-oriented architectures are helping companies do everything from automate business processes to increase agility, but implementing the technology is not necessarily forthright.

SOA requires the integration of many varied processes, applications, and technologies that are difficult to mesh seamlessly, meaning incompatibility, scalability, and flexibility issues often arise. The license-fee structure of traditional software can also limit options and add cost. Turning to open source technology can help alleviate these issues and accelerate deployment, as well as business adoption.

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Open source has become a staple of enterprise-class IT as concerns about stability, security, and support fall away. Open source is as stable, secure, and well supported as proprietary solutions, if not more so. In addition, open source SOA solutions provide:

-- Simplicity. Open source solutions are easy to find and easy to implement, with many architects and developers being familiar with the core mechanics of the technology. Open source developers are motivated by their communities to deliver easy-to-use frameworks and platforms. It also enables enterprises to rapidly create solutions to deliver tangible, measurable benefits.

-- Openness. The flexibility inherent in open source allows for more freedom and personalization of the solution than proprietary offerings, and means that an organization will see more value relevant to its operations from the installation.

-- Affordability. The open source subscription model makes SOA products less expensive than proprietary tool sets.

The benefits of open source SOA solutions can be realized in each of the six stages of the SOA evolution: 1) business process understanding; 2) IT assessment; 3) SOA design/determination; 4) SOA service enablement; 5) SOA integration and governance infrastructure; and 6) process orchestration/composition.

For the first three steps, work efforts are focused on the business processes, current IT design and SOA design, and the open source subscription model offers a more affordable and flexible pricing structure than traditional SOA solutions. That helps the SOA design work proceed more quickly without concern about per-CPU license fees.

The advantages of open source solutions are particularly evident during the final three steps in the process.

In the fourth stage, SOA service enablement, organizations must determine how application and data services will be developed and deployed. Enlisting an open source application server and/or data services platform gives great flexibility. While enjoying the same level of support and security as a commercial offering, architects and developers can more easily develop and deploy platforms that enable greater developer productivity and speed to solution. Additionally, the community model drives feature and quality requirements into these platforms that these architects and developers look for.

The fifth step of the SOA evolution is integration and governance infrastructure, the "glue" of the entire deployment that makes it work. Architects need to choose how services, applications and users will interact and communicate with one another. One major decision usually made in this stage involves the choice of an enterprise service bus (ESB), essentially the intelligent integration fabric in the SOA deployment.

Here again, open source proves to be a good and affordable option. The flexible and scalable nature of the technology, from embedded installations to small or large installations, means if the scope or another criteria of the project suddenly changes, the key components of the open source SOA implementation (the ESB) will not have to be thrown away and reselected.

The final stage of SOA is to understand how business processes and rules will be developed and deployed using the SOA services and integration fabric. Process orchestration automates the workflow and business rules of the business process, bringing the SOA to life. Adopting an open source SOA platform that accommodates multiple integration paradigms -- such as enterprise application integration technologies, ESB or event driven architecture -- provides additional flexibility and cost savings when it comes to business process automation because it helps ensure components can be reused.

An open source SOA platform allows for use of the widest range of current and future integration, messaging and component model technologies.

How exactly do these benefits apply to a real-life example of an SOA implementation? A telecom company realized its existing billing and service-order management platform could not handle the processes required for more complex telecommunication services, and decided to bridge the gap in data/process flow between its autonomous data sources and applications using SOA.

The company selected an open source solution for its SOA implementation needs, choosing an open source data services and SOA platform for the integration of the new billing system. IT needed the flexibility and scalability of open source, as well as freedom from licensing costs, to be able to scale the implementation according to the size of regional operations.

After deploying the open source solution, the company experienced an immediate, major improvement in productivity and a reduction in operating costs. The architect points to the open source solution as the reason, which now allows the company to provision 80 percent of its orders automatically, with little or no human intervention. The SOA also has reduced service provisioning time from weeks to minutes, increasing both user and employee satisfaction. 

When considering an open source solution for SOA, remember the acronym also stands for Simplicity, Openness and Affordability. These are the biggest benefits that open source brings to an SOA implementation, with a lightweight footprint, flexible and scalable architecture, and little to no cost associated with the technology itself. Open source is a proven winner in enterprise deployments -- now it's time for SOA architects to realize how much open source has to offer to them.

Fricke is director of product line management, SOA products, at Red Hat.

Network World is an InfoWorld affiliate.

This story, "The benefits of an open source SOA" was originally published by Network World.