The company is set to make an announcement Wednesday about services-oriented architecture, an IBM representative said. The announcement will focus on new products for its WebSphere line of Java server software and on services from IBM's Global Services consulting division, according to sources.
A services-oriented architecture, or SOA, is a way of designing software to make it easier to automate business processes
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Analysts predict that business customers will adopt SOAs over the next few years as standards mature and companies gain a better understanding of effective design practices. Technology vendors that supply the infrastructure software to build and run corporate applications are trying to update their products to meet SOA requirements.
IBM's rival in Java server software, BEA Systems, is expected to provide further details next month on Project Sierra, a plan that describes the business benefits of an SOA. Oracle earlier this week introduced Java development tools to promote a services architecture. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Indigo project, an integral part of the upcoming "Longhorn" version of Windows, is meant to enable SOAs.
Next week, IBM also plans to reveal further detail about its long-term plan for providing the tools and services to put SOAs into practice. The company is expected to introduce consulting services from IBM Global Services intended to help companies make the transition to the new systems design, sources said.
IBM's consulting-driven approach to services-oriented architecture reflects the company's belief that SOAs represent a significant shift in computing systems designs, said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at research company ZapThink. Much like earlier shifts to client/server and Web-based computing, SOAs require companies to rework how they design, build and run their business applications.
"IBM has realized that architecture is really one of those things you can't get with a product," Schmelzer said. "There's going to be a more holistic view of their product lines and a tighter connection between products and services."
IBM late last year also opened an SOA Center of Excellence to promote its expertise in consulting and research and to drive sales of SOA-related contracts through the Global Services division.
Big Blue is also looking at additions to its WebSphere line of software. The company has already updated its WebSphere Java server software to work with Web services and has introduced tools for automating complex business processes through Web services-based work-flow software. Next week, the company will be introducing enhancements designed to allow technology professionals to more easily make adjustments to custom-written Web services applications once they are running, according to sources.
Many companies are using Web services standards to improve interoperability between disparate systems. But because many standards, such as those for security and business process automation, are immature, there is often a need for professional services to implement large-scale business applications around an SOA, said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner.
"There's clearly a need for services and software, and that plays to IBM's strength," Smith said.