These days, it's all about the services, whether they're internal with SOA or external with SaaS or somewhere in between with your own Web services. And increasingly the question isn't do you use services or should you build services, but how do you manage all these services?
Judith Hurwitz, president of business consulting firm Hurwitz & Associates, pointed this out to me during our December interview. She spent much of 2009 studying the cloud, and was co-author of the recently-released "Cloud Computing for Dummies."
"The world is moving toward service orientation, and if you think about cloud computing, in most situations, you're not just looking at sort of one approach and one application, one environment, you're really looking across things like what platform of services do I want," she said. "It is not going to be a homogeneous environment. ... What you're going to see is that people pick and choose. I'm going to use Salesforce for sales automation, I'm going to use QuickBooks for some departmental accounting, I'm going to use Amazon for some access capacity so that I'm ready for the holiday season spike in demand, and I'm going to build a nice portal interface for my suppliers by using Google App Engine and then I'm going to put a private cloud infrastructure internally that captures and manages that data.
"Now, suddenly you're looking at, how do I manage all of these as though they're one common computing environment?"
How, indeed. One possible solution might be a convergence in the areas of BPM, SOA and cloud orchestration.
Forrester senior analyst Stefan Reid says cloud orchestration will be the next wave of BPM (business process management) and SOA integration, according to a Feb. 3 TechTarget article. The piece quotes a recent report Reid wrote on the middleware software market, in which Forrester predicts a "paradigm shift" happening in middleware that uses SOA as the foundation and BPM as a business process component. Forrester calls it the "business process platform":
In his report he concluded that cloud orchestration requires a 'next generation' of SOA and BPM products. Reid wrote that these new products will use data and business process pieces similar to how older products orchestrate systems within the enterprise. 'In the perspective of IT architects, the business process platform will be replaced by a consistent cloud orchestration platform,' wrote Reid.
Of course, it's generally accepted that SOA and BPM complement each other, with the business-focused BPM being a way to leverage the often IT-focused SOA. So Reid's prediction makes sense as more businesses look at moving to the cloud.
The article focuses on the SOA/BPM connection for the first half, so if you're familiar with how that works, skim ahead. For me, the new, meaty stuff starts about half way in with the cloud orchestration discussion.
The article also quotes ZapThink's Ron Schmelzer, who further explains how BPM and the cloud overlap and how the cloud can actually solve some of the integration, security and governance issues with sharing services:
Schmelzer explained how a large enterprise like a Walmart could have its smaller suppliers put their services on a public cloud. 'And a Walmart can manage the process if it can access those services on a cloud,' said Schmelzer. 'A small business doesn't have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to run a service if it wants to do business with a Walmart.'
One recent development that backs up the cloud-BPM-SOA connection is Salesforce's announcement last week that it will offer new services for BPM. The solution is called Visual Process Manager. The Software Development Times reports the solution will be able to access Force.com's "integration functionality" -- and it's telling that it links that term to a 2007 article about Force.com's SOA platform. It will also be able to invoke behind-the-firewall Web service-enabled applications, according to the article.
True to Salesforce's roots, it's clearly designed for business users, and includes a process designer, wizard builder, process simulator and a real-time process engine for a monthly fee of $50 per user. For specific ideas on how business uses, as well as a screen shot of the interface, check out TechCrunch's article on Visual Process Manager.
While it's always good to see vendors offering supporting solutions, it is important to remember that BPM is a discipline, not something you buy. So before embracing Force.com's new solution, you might want to find out more about successful BPM. Information Management's recent article, "Seven Major Guidelines for a Successful Business Process Management Project," is a good place to start.
To read my full interview with Hurwitz, see "Baby Steps and Integration Strategy Key When Moving to the Cloud" and "The Best Cloud Case: What Functions You Should-and Shouldn't-Consider Moving."