The Merging of SOA and Web 2.0 - July 15, 2007
Darryl K. Taft


Dan Cahoon was looking for a way to streamline staffing operations at tax company H&R Block, the nation's largest seasonal employer. Rather than use traditional desktop-based software for the job, the senior systems architect at H&R Block was able to deliver SOA-connected AJAX portlets to more than 12,000 branch offices for temporary work spaces to meet the company's staffing needs.

Cahoon's example illustrates the growing trend of merging Web 2.0 technologies with SOA (service-oriented architecture) to address issues normally handled through PC-based software, resulting in faster, cheaper and more flexible solutions.

"Web 2.0 is used in many ways but predominantly has two aspects—one social, the other technical," said Cahoon in Kansas City, Mo. "On the social side, Web 2.0 is about a phenomenon of shifting the publishing power out to users and away from centrally controlled publishing processes. The ability for users to blog and syndicate their posts, the notion of a wiki as a collaboration amongst users, [and] the evolving idea of a mashup as something the user can assemble from existing Web parts and data are all examples of the power to compose being provided to the many."

Furthermore, Web sites and Web applications using AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to improve ease of use make it even simpler for users to compose blogs and assemble mashups, Cahoon said. Desktop-installed software increasingly is being displaced through the use of AJAX and services, he said.

"Google Docs and Yahoo Mail Plus are examples of this, substantially providing the core features of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook," Cahoon said.

Two of the industry's hottest buzzwords are combining to fuel one of the hottest emerging trends in the industry—the use of Web 2.0 technologies acting as front ends to SOA back-end environments.

This trend touches on RIAs (rich Internet applications), mashups, AJAX, RSS, REST (Representational State Transfer) and other Web 2.0 areas. Now being referred to as Enterprise 2.0, the Web 2.0 technologies are helping to create rich interactive front ends to SOA back-end systems. In addition, line-of-business users who typically are nondevelopers can take services and build mashups without IT involvement—a potential boon for productivity but also a possible problem without proper governance.

"What's really changing is the impact that Web 2.0 technologies are having on SOA—in fact, changing the approaches," said Dan Hushon, chief technology officer at EMC's Grid Business Unit, in Hopkinton, Mass. "Web 2.0 concepts and technologies may, over time, displace the WS-* stack in many cases.

"For example, where we used to see SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] and JSON [JavaScript Object Notation]/REST APIs to services—e.g., Google—we are now seeing mainly JSON/REST," Hushon said. "And, in fact, REST, with its more data-centric approach, may very well prove to be better aligned with the need for collaborating around data. However, systemic security remains an Achilles' heel for REST."

John Crupi, CTO at JackBe, which sells Web 2.0 solutions, said the wave of consumer technologies is driving into the enterprise.

"We're transforming from an application-centric enterprise to Web 2.0, which is putting the user in charge," said Crupi in Chevy Chase, Md. "Users can create, consume, customize, collaborate. They can access all information anywhere, anytime on any browser. I used to say the 'A' in SOA is AJAX; now I say the 'M' in SOA is mashup. Enterprise mashups are user-driven and user-focused."

Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink, said mashups complement SOA. "You're getting capabilities or functionality from a Web application and combining it with another capability, and mashups are made a heck of a lot simpler if they're made of services that are service-oriented," Schmelzer said. "It's also a plus because of the user interaction."

The new Web 2.0-enabled enterprise is sort of "like the long-tail approach—there is more opportunity in catering to a mass of niches than a niche of masses," Schmelzer said. Enterprises can use Web 2.0 and SOA to enable line-of-business staff to create hundreds of applications that will benefit many in their organizations. "The downside to all this freedom is the control," Schmelzer said. "The problem is, if you build all these services, how do you prevent people from doing harm?"

A potential answer

Nexaweb Technologies, in Burlington, Mass., has a potential answer. After studying the market, Nexaweb decided to partner with companies in such areas as systems integration, governance, infrastructure, service composition and business process management, and testing, said Nexaweb CTO Coach Wei. Nexaweb supports mashup assembly, development and processing. Yet mashups need governance, Wei said, and that's where the partnerships come in.

"We thought about it and said that mashups by their nature are against governance, and if you apply governance to mashups, it will kill them. But mashups need governance in the enterprise space," Wei said.

So Nexaweb implemented an SOA governance strategy and is taking the next step of establishing an enterprise Web 2.0 SOA ecosystem in which the company is trying to leverage capabilities already out on the market, Wei said. "This is just the first step," he said. "In the next few months, we'll continue to push partnerships and integration with a variety of SOA vendors. By combining our product with the SOA infrastructure, we can provide a robust environment."

Vinod Pabba, CEO of Inkriti, a Framingham, Mass., technology consulting company and provider of Web 2.0 solutions for customer-centric e-business, said his company rebuilt a Web site for The Sports Club/LA using Web 2.0 technologies and SOA. The Boston-based club wanted to launch a new Web site to improve interaction with its 30,000 customers around the country, Pabba said.

The club's Web site communicated data to the company's CRM (customer relationship management) system via Web services, and "there were a ton of Web 2.0 technologies," Pabba said. "The entire site is heavily AJAX-driven, the forms are very heavily AJAX-driven and the Web services are called via AJAX interfaces. And the AJAX pieces of the system were done with Nexaweb's technology."

Pabba said that in most of Inkriti's Web 2.0 implementations, users are aware of key Web 2.0 trends and specifically ask about areas such as content and community. "But they don't specifically ask for Web services or SOA," he said.

Eugene Ciurana, director of systems infrastructure of LeapFrog Enterprises, in Emeryville, Calif., said Web 2.0 focuses on using computing resources in more community-oriented applications rather than displaying information in a flat, disconnected format. Yet users "in the wild" are also familiar with sites such as YouTube and Digg, which provide community and interactivity features via Web 2.0 technologies, Ciurana said.

Enterprises are beginning to integrate applications in mashups and following examples from the consumer world, Ciurana said. In many cases, the mashups' data or information sources have incompatible formats so integration becomes a problem. "Thus, [by] applying SOA technologies such as ESBs [Enterprise Service Buses], adapters, transformers, and lookup services like UDDI [Universal Description, Discovery and Integration], it becomes possible to create enterprise mashups," Ciurana said.

LeapFrog's technology platform is a mashup of commercial and open-source technologies, Ciurana said. "LeapFrog is expanding its Internet presence by enabling many of our products to be Internet-ready," he said. "The applications provide a number of services in the form of data that gets mashed up and presented to the user."

LeapFrog designs, develops and markets technology-based educational products. "Our first mashup is the Fly Fusion pentop computer system. It can work stand-alone and download content and applications from the Internet," Ciurana said.

Fly Fusion interacts with the Internet through a desktop computer and uses several Web services to communicate with its dedicated site, an on-line store and educational materials, Ciurana said. The site and materials are fed by a content management system. The online store is a mashup of a dedicated Wicket application, hosted by LeapFrog, and a third-party order-and-payment-processing system running over SOAP. Everything is connected using the open-source Mule ESB as the backbone, Ciurana said.

"There are a few enterprises trying these things out, but I suspect it'll be between 18 to 24 months before we see wide adoption in the enterprise or in the mainstream e-commerce sites," he said. "If you look at the Big 3 online retailers, for example, Amazon and eBay are already mashing up content and applications with—or for—third parties."

"More conservative retailers like are still a single destination with few Web 2.0 features in the front end but have probably adopted SOA for their back-end systems, creating an 'enterprise application mashup' from all the heterogeneous systems and integrating them over ESBs and other backbones rather than point to point," Ciurana said. "It's coming [but] just not quite there yet."

Hal Stern, a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems, in Santa Clara, Calif., said he sees "a nice intersection of Web 2.0 things and the amalgamation of more classical enterprise-scale applications. You have to think about the concept of RESTful SOA. On the client side, there's typically some RESTful architecture, but there are typically multiple options there."

Governance is key

Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink, said SOA is not about connecting things but, rather, enabling business processes and continual change. The goal is to allow users to build applications out of services, Bloomberg said. "We're really talking about service automation," Bloomberg said. "Service-oriented business applications [SOBAs] are composite applications [made up] of services that implement a business process."

SOA puts greater power into the hands of the business user, and "SOBAs are most appropriate when the business requires exceptional flexibility," Bloomberg said. "What's happening now in the SOA world is we're reaching the services tipping point—from a focus on building services to consuming services. This has given rise to the mashup. A mashup is a flexible composition of services within a rich user interface environment."

Governance is key to the enterprise mashup, Bloomberg said. Without it, mashups are dangerous. "Without SOA, mashups are toys," he said. "Some business users will build mashups as tools mature. The tools are still too technical. There will be an expanding role for business analysts, but for now IT will do the mashing up for the business. The majority of business users will not do any applications."

JackBe's Crup said the real reason SOAs emerged was that integration costs were too high. "Business doesn't care about SOA," Crup said. "Business doesn't care if it's two cans and a string holding their stuff together. Business wants to be able to bring their stuff to the market."

JackBe enables development of Enterprise 2.0 applications with its Presto family of solutions that leverage SOA and Web 2.0 technologies.

Thomas Kurian, senior vice president of development for Oracle's middleware platform products, said there are three key trends in the market: SOA, Web 2.0 and grid computing.

"[With Web 2.0,] the way users access enterprise applications is changing," said Kurian in Redwood Shores, Calif. "It uses a common UI that combines transactional behavior and collaborative behavior, and this is through a browser."

Chris Morino, CEO of SnapLogic, said there is a REST interface between each component in the SnapLogic platform. SnapLogic, of San Mateo, Calif., makes open-source Internet data services.

"We're taking the data and putting it into a form that looks like RSS," Morino said. "We have a UI that looks like Yahoo Pipes except it's not just for RSS. It's like Yahoo Pipes for enterprise data or Yahoo Pipes for everybody's data."

Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for IBM Software, in Armonk, N.Y., said, "When SOA meets Web 2.0, it brings the people impact into the picture. We're leveraging things like RSS and Atom for this. We think there's tremendous leverage around Web 2.0. People need to get at information in real time, and personal impact is going to have a big impact on SOA technologies."

The classic Web 2.0 examples of creating mashups from diverse content are what users think about, Mills said. "This is where the information assets and people productivity issues come together," he said.

John deVadoss, director of architecture strategy at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., said SOA and Web 2.0 are two sides of the same coin: Both leverage services and messaging and interact with composite applications. In addition, deVadoss said, Web 2.0 delivers search, rich content, services management and collaboration, while, on the SOA side, Microsoft's BizTalk Server enables service orchestration.

Microsoft brings three perspectives to the equation, deVadoss said. One is that the .Net Framework enables the use of WS-* and the more commonly used REST model. ASP.Net and SharePoint bring in the consumption angle and enable search and discovery, as well as collaboration. Then there is Microsoft's Web 2.0 and SOA tooling, which includes ASP.Net AJAX—the company's AJAX tool—and Silverlight for RIA development, deVadoss said.

"The Web 2.0 model is able to consume and interact with business services, and with Silverlight these can be [RIAs]," deVadoss said. "This integration is how you make SOA come to life."

Even Microsoft's simple-to-use mashup tool, Popfly, has a role.

"Composition is the classical theme from an application-model perspective for the [foreseeable] future," deVadoss said. "I see a spectrum of composition—from lightweight mashups to Office Business Applications. We'll cover enthusiasts all the way to professional developers."