As delivery of service-oriented computing proliferates around the globe, the networking architectures of the Middle East are realigning to embrace this new trend. Adrian Bridgwater examines the issues at hand.
That service-oriented architecture (SOA) is here to stay will hardly be news to networking professionals across the Middle East.
At the network level, SOA can provide a higher level of unified services in a secure form even when these services stretch outside the core datacentre.
Internet-driven services from basic YouTube videos to more sophisticated web 2.0 features and location-based mobile services have ensured that 'packaged' technology resources in the form of identifiable and reusable units (or services) are becoming the accepted norm.
What is crucial now, as we sit in the calm before the storm, is how this development scales to operate at the network level and delivers thousands of times over at a quality that individuals and corporates will be willing to pay for.
Defining the term
Typically, SOA is defined as a collection of principles that describe an architecture where 'loosely coupled' services exist to feed a defined interface between service providers and service consumers.
At the network level, this means that SOA can provide a higher level of unified services in a secure form even when these services stretch outside the core datacentre.
Defined by Cisco as SONA (or service oriented network architecture), it is both users and software applications themselves that should be regarded as users or ‘consumers' of these services.
While SOA is still essentially a 'theory' as opposed to a proven concrete mathematical fact, the Middle East's nascent (and in many cases relatively young) economic and technological foundations are well suited to being gently re-aligned to take advantage of SOA-based networking where benefits can be identified.
Key to building effective SOA for the network is the fact that service delivery must be simple and unencumbered by the need to accommodate different architectures.
It should also be capable of working in different types of heterogeneous computing environments and handling different protocols, operating systems, policies and boundaries.
"We are seeing organisations of all sizes embarking upon this architectural approach."
"Cisco is working closely with customers and channel partners in the region to ensure that the benefits of SOA networking are understood and that it is taken into account for both existing and new projects," says Chintan Patel, business development manager for emerging markets technology at Cisco in the Middle East.
A new world of collaborative business
"Building a service-oriented network not only establishes a cost-effective, scalable foundation for the emerging collaborative nature of business interactions, it improves communications and strengthens customer loyalty."
"By optimising the network, an organisation can accelerate the creation of business value. Specifically, it can increase the flexibility of internal processes - reduce costs through standardisation - foster innovation inside and outside the company - improve the value created by enterprise applications and boost adoption of web 2.0 technologies."
The entire foundation of this new business model is reliable, manageable and operationally robust dynamic services, which can be delivered only by a strategically architected network.
"Our customers in the Middle East are setting the standard when it comes to embarking on this approach," added Patel.
Nortel Middle East has been established in the region for over thirty years and the company has a long track record of working with new installations and older more established operations.
There are several advantages to the service-embedded network management approach. There's no waiting four to six months to begin getting meaningful network statistics and reports.
The company takes what it calls an LTE (long term evolution) approach to networks that focuses on delivering strategies such as FMC (fixed mobile convergence) and the bringing together of applications regardless of the kind of network the consumer is connected to.
In the future, FMC will be able to provide the capacity needed to support an explosion in demand for connectivity from a new generation of consumer devices tailored to new mobile applications that rely on services to deliver both consumer and business content.
Arguably, this will increase the Middle East's appetite for SOA as much as any other factor.
The 'process-aware' network
"The network is becoming business process-aware and this means that the guiding principles of SOA are shaping the way new networks are built and legacy systems are brought up to date."
"No organisation will want to pull out all the plugs and start again, so it's important for us to offer migration paths towards service-oriented networking to our customers," says Stuart Mathieson, senior manager for architecture, Nortel Middle East.
Across the breadth of the Middle East a proliferation of ‘hyper-connected' devices that are constantly ‘aware' are making huge demands on existing local networks.
Nortel says this will create potential bottlenecks if the architecture of the supporting networks is not built with the idea of and an inherent appreciation for services-oriented delivery in the short and long term.
These SOA network trends are being seen at every level across Middle East economies and particularly in the hospitality and financial markets. The health market is burgeoning too as the Gulf is increasingly recognised as a medical-tourism destination.
"Quality of service is no longer an issue, what is key now is ensuring that the service's attributes are maintained and upheld. It's about looking inside the service if you like - and potentially applying different charges for different services depending on customer needs or mission criticality."
"Organisations here are definitely moving down the SOA path and in many cases (especially where there are little or no legacy systems to overhaul) networking architectures are being built by firms to embrace a services-driven environment," says Nortel's Mathieson.
Critical success factors
According to Louis Helmbold, senior consultant at HP ProCurve Networking Middle East, "IT organisations experience a range of challenges as they move from tactical web services to enterprise SOA and business services."
These challenges involve build-, deployment- and run-time issues.
Business services are designed to perform a business-level function and be reused across organisational boundaries.
"So it is crucial to have a mechanism for guiding how and when services are built, ensuring that the services meet basic technical criteria for interoperability and identifying and avoiding unnecessary duplication of services."
Once a service is published to the SOA network, users of that service come to depend on it as a reliable IT asset so it's important to establish a controlled process for 'provisioning' services to SOA.
"This includes checkpoints and approval mechanisms to ensure that services conform to both IT and business policy and best practices. Business services are often composed from multiple underlying businesses and IT services."
"IT services in the context of a service model are virtualisations of physical services, such as application servers, brokers, databases etc."
"The interdependencies of these services and the higher-level business services are manually mapped and recorded within a service catalogue."
"ProCurve Networking is constantly reviewing its Adaptive EDGE Architecture enabling the Ethernet port to poll centralised services regardless of location and requirements," adds Helmbold.
Reuse of services and elimination of redundancy are important business benefits of SOA networking. Some early adopters of SOA estimate savings of US$30,000 for every service that is reused rather than needlessly reinvented.
When business analysts, architects and developers build new applications or implement new business processes, they need a well-known, systematic way of finding business services that they can reuse.
New SOA network construction is not without its challenges. Adding an additional (management) application to the network increases traffic that is competing with other network traffic.
Since the server where the network traffic statistics are stored and analysed is somewhere in the enterprise network, accessing that information puts additional strain on the corporate network.
This 'bandwidth tax' can be as much as 20% of available bandwidth, thereby reducing the bandwidth available for other applications.
To combat this reality, some companies in the Gulf and the rest of the Middle East are bringing in a service-embedded network management layer.
There are several advantages to the service-embedded network management approach. First, all session header information is mirrored inside the provider edge router as the application is taking its normal path through the network.
"Because the application is not re-directed, or 'touched' in any way, there is no impact on the network traffic and therefore no impact on latency."
"Second, because the session header information is mirrored and recorded at the provider-edge ingress and egress points, the service is always available at anytime without any equipment or integration effort required."
"There's no waiting four to six months to begin getting meaningful network statistics and reports."
"The service is simply ‘turned on' and the session header traffic is recorded for viewing at anytime," says Tony Hurtado, global marketing manager of Masergy.
A new dawn for SOA networks?
Clearly there needs to be extensive analysis, planning and controlled change management programmes for SOA to be successfully deployed at a network architecture level.
As security loopholes are potentially opened up, a degree of IT governance must exist in equal measure.
A clearly defined path for total lifecycle management of mission-critical applications within the network must be put in place - and a supporting level of investment in hardware resources must also be present for enterprises to gain the most from the various new enterprise networking architectures.
The road to SOA networks - how to get there?
Embarking upon this architectural approach is a voyage and there will be various obstacles to overcome as progress is made.
Many of the stages will be naturally occurring fundamental technology 'must haves' and other elements will be dictated by the specific demands of the business. Here are NME's ten top tips for a smooth journey on the road to SOA networking.
1. The concept model: Paint a picture of your perfectly networked SOA system; this will help you build towards (if not reach) your end goal.
2. Requirements analysis & planning: a thorough and methodical look at what your SOA network must achieve to serve your customers' needs is necessary.
3. Configuration and change management: A prudent technology planner will assess the size, scope and nature of the resources already in place before even considering moving forward with a new computing architecture. Before you change, configure - after you configure, then change, but keep managing that change.
4. Consolidation and convergence: this comes into play when IP becomes the communications standard within the business and it is focused on reducing redundancies and inefficiencies.
5. Virtualisation: this is carried out to try and achieve better utilisation of resources and is of particular relevance for enterprises spread across large geographic areas and also supporting multiple applications on its systems.
6. Infrastructure services provisioning: this involves all of the technology services that work together to support business applications such as firewalls or authentication.
7. Application delivery and services: this involves technologies that support application delivery and optimisation; these solutions extend the scalability and efficiency of an IT environment.
8. Collaboration: by combining IM, e-mail, web and voice/phone services on a scalable, reliable and secure network platform, your collaborative applications - and any other IT services that may utilise them - can support growing business demands.
9. Governance: ensure your systems are constantly developed with an adherence to best practices to maximise revenue so that your shareholder accountability is covered at all times.
10. Application lifecycle management: remember, an SOA network is for life - and it will need care and attention everyday - so ensure an ongoing, regular and exhaustive sets of checks and tweaks become as regular a part of your IT system management as your morning cup of coffee is.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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