"Pragmatic" is the overarching theme to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s recently announced service-oriented architecture (SOA) practice, called SOA Path. The idea is to help customers take incremental steps on their path to an SOA.
SOA Path will offer four services: SOA Jumpstart Workshop, SOA Opportunity Assessment, SOA Proof of Concept and SOA Center of Excellence. Sun said SOA Path is designed to enhance the delivery of products and services that support the Sun Java Enterprise System platform, and are based on SOA and Web services standards running on the Solaris 10 operating system. Employees from Sun's global enterprise Web services practice, as well as local Sun professionals, will work on SOA Path.
"We will try to partner where we can and where it makes sense," said Sun's Ashesh Badani, group marketing manager, SOA and Enterprise Software.
Sun is the latest vendor to announce a services practice around SOAs. "Vendors need to provide some guidance to companies that haven't figured out how to do [SOA] right," said Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC, of Waltham, Mass. "They will either have to offer [this guidance] themselves, or have good partnerships with other firms for delivering SOA expertise." For Sun, he said, the announcement is "a step in the right direction."
Although Sun is a "little late in the game," said Marianne Hedin, program manager, worldwide services and SOA at IDC, Framingham, Mass., "it's a good move. They're taking some very small steps; they're not doing any major comprehensive consulting. They're saying they'll take a pragmatic and focused approach on a small area they can help a client with. All the vendors in this SOA [services] space are telling clients to start small and build on that success, so Sun's approach is the right strategy."
Badani said customers should not expect SOA Path to be a "traditional large SI engagement" over multiple years. "We're not here to come into your enterprise and stay with you forever," he said. "We want to automate as much as possible and provide best practices. Our way is a less invasive way of having you build out an SOA."
The Jumpstart Workshop is designed to be "two to four days, and we'll look at a few projects we can help you get started on," Badani said. The Opportunity Assessment service will analyze key business processes and enterprise architecture alignment to "figure out a road map for SOA," he said.
The Proof of Concept service will help organizations "figure out what they can wrap and reuse, and get a pilot in place," Badani said. And finally, he said, the Center of Excellence "leverages our years of experience with Java to help build out SOA centers of excellence, and help organizations adopt best practices."
Unlike some of its competitors, Sun is not known for services and consulting. "This is fairly high-level consulting, a new area for Sun," Schmelzer said. "It's one thing to put your servers and storage devices in place and make it work; this is business-level consulting. They haven't proven yet they have the chops over IBM, HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.], or the other consulting firms."
"Sun is a technology company," IDC's Hedin said. "They're very IT focused, as opposed to trying to bridge the gap between business and IT." In contrast, she said, HP is also starting at the technical level, but is "hoping to branch out with a broader focus that encompasses business issues and strategy. That doesn't seem to be Sun's intention; I think they will stay more at the technical level, which is a good thing."
At the same time, Schmelzer questions "how will they [Sun] deal with heterogeneity? Sun's biggest threat is HP and IBM," he said. "They have to prove they can do SOA consulting in a heterogeneous environment right."
Sun's Badani said working in a heterogeneous environment is "part of a pragmatic approach. People have existing environments and legacy systems. We won't tell them to rip and replace; we will focus on wrapping and reusing. Our approach to SOA is an infrastructure approach."
He said Sun is committed to interoperability, citing involvement in standards efforts such as the Web Services Interoperability Organization's Basic Profile, and Sun's collaboration efforts with Microsoft around directory, identity and Web services management.
Going forward, Badani said business integration will be key, and pointed to Sun's involvement in the JSR 208 Java Business Integration specification. "We will have a fundamental shift in the way integration is done," he said. "We expect folks in SOA Path to be up to speed on that."