As a science fiction buff and a Mr. Wizard wannabe, I have, in recent years, become fascinated with the amazing theories of quantum physics.
I’ve read books on the subject (not all of them sci-fi), searched out articles online, and generally tried to get a grip on this esoteric body of knowledge, only to realize that grasping it is like trying to grab a handful of jell-o. Small wonder that when I try to talk to my physicist friend on this topic, he just smiles politely as his eyes glaze over, then asks where he can find the barbecue sauce.
In fact, quantum physics is an area of science that is so counterintuitive and so shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding that a famous quantum physicist once remarked: “Even quantum physicists don’t understand quantum physics.”
Ironically, this is very much the same situation the insurance industry finds itself in when discussing our latest whiz-bang technology buzzword–SOA, known to us non-cognoscenti types as “services-oriented architecture.”
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It is no exaggeration to say that if you ask five experts for a definition of SOA, you will get five different answers. But, let me risk your eyes glazing over by distilling some of those answers in an effort to clear the murky waters.
A “service,” in this case, is a unit of work (collection of computer code) that has a specific function and purpose. This unit of work, once defined, can be re-used (and even modified) in a number of settings, thus it can be thought of as a multifaceted tool, maybe something like a Swiss Army knife. SOA, then, is a data architecture (structure) that provides such tools, which can operate across data platforms and standards.
Got that? Okay, there’s a little bit more. Those SOA resources (tools) can be made available as independent services on a computer network. No knowledge of underlying platforms is needed.
Finally, it is important to know that Web services are a common industry standard method to support SOA. According to Sun Microsystems, Web services are Web-based applications that use open, XML-based standards and transport protocols to exchange data with clients.
As you can see, my “simple” definition took a good three paragraphs to get out, and I’m betting that some of you are still a bit hazy on this subject–and understandably so. Fortunately, we have lots of IT experts who can provide more clear and concise elucidation. Or do we?