BEA Systems is to release a set of software tools on 9 June that promises to help enterprises manage and maintain service oriented architectures (SOAs).
The company will reveal the first two products as part of its Free Flow project, which will eventually comprise about 50 software titles, BEA's chief marketing officer Marge Breya said in a presentation at the company's headquarters.
Free Flow provides an infrastructure to manage and deploy services in a web services environment both within an organisation and between partners.
"It's about putting together a services infrastructure that can scale," Breya said.
SOA is an architecture to build and maintain applications in an enterprise. Rather than designing applications from the ground up, SOA allows developers to reuse code between departments and combine resources from all over the company.
Using XML and standards from the world of web services, SOA will support both Java and .Net, as well as any of the standards-based integration platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP.
If one department has developed a module to convert foreign currencies in a transaction system, for example, the same code can be redeployed for the company's human resources department.
Services will pull data from various legacy and industry-standard enterprise applications, and present it in a customised portal tailored to the needs of the end user.
Although services look much like applications, Breya argued they should be treated differently. Services are harder to manage because they are not confined to the limits of a physical server.
Developers also require metadata about the service before they can use it for new applications, such as data about the level of security that a service provides.
And as more services are deployed, the connections between them will become harder to manage.
"When it gets whacky and you get more services, you're going to want to have something that looks more like a network. You need a service backbone," said Breya.
BEA also plans to provide security and authentication components that provide users with ready made modules that they can add to their services.
In the end services should be able independently to pull data from several applications to create custom reports. Business managers currently pasting data into spreadsheets will soon move on to such services, Breya predicted.
Although Breya acknowledged that there will be a learning curve for end users, she sees SOA-based reports as a natural progression.
"In five years' time it will be like somebody who doesn't know how to type or how to create a PowerPoint presentation. If you don't know how to use a service, you're going to be a dinosaur," she said.
SOAs will initially appeal to large corporations and governments because they can gain the most from reusing and sharing code internally. But Breya predicted that over time the technology will spread to smaller organisations.
BEA pioneered the development of the application server, but IBM has overtaken the software developer in the race for the number one spot in recent years.
IBM commanded 41.3 per cent of the application server market in 2003, according to data from Gartner. BEA saw its share drop that year to 27.5 per cent. The introduction of Free Flow aims to reverse the company's fortunes.
Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink, told vnunet.com that BEA is taking the right approach to building an SOA infrastructure.
He expects BEA's offering to be complete by next year, giving the vendor a lead over its largest competitor.
"IBM will continue to be [BEA's] number one competitor. It is much larger and has more customers, but it is also slower. BEA is more agile," said Bloomberg.
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