SOA Management vs SOA Governance

This article was originally published in VSJ, which is now part of Developer Fusion.
Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is very popular with most architects, offering a clean and organized way to arrange IT assets while at the same time improving ties to the business. But many companies find themselves struggling to make sense of the huge barrage of messages coming from vendors, analysts and publications on the subject. One noticeable area of confusion is the heavy usage of the buzz-phrase SOA Governance. For some time now, SOA Governance has been prominent in marketing literature and sales pitches across the world. Vendors are flocking to join the bandwagon, trying to force their offerings into the topical pigeon-hole. However, on digging deeper into the subject, there appears to be great confusion between SOA Governance, and SOA Management.

Governance is all about defining expectations, granting and controlling powers and measuring results. Common sense says that this is an important area when trying to ensure the proper running of a business, and there is definitely a close tie-in to SOA. After all, SOA is about providing services that are directly related to business operations, and therefore defining how they are to behave, who can use them and how they are performing is pretty important. But this is where the confusion starts. After all, access controls, security and performance monitoring are all areas usually associated with systems management. So does SOA governance encompass SOA management?

The best way to clear up this confusion is to consider the main users and uses of governance and management respectively. Governance is often the responsibility of the audit team within a company, or perhaps senior management or even the CFO. It is about having the proper processes and procedures in place to ensure the business runs properly, within regulations and good business practice. So SOA Governance should certainly cover understanding and implementing the procedures controlling the creation, usage and authorization of new services. SOA Management responsibility will lie with the IT operations and support teams who are more concerned with SOA administration, such as creating new users and authorising users for the appropriate services, SOA configuration and deployment, and SOA performance. In particular, operations teams will be looking for warnings of any exceptions in system behaviour, and support teams will be hoping for problem determination and resolution assistance.

Using this mindset, it becomes easier to clear up some of the grey areas around governance and management. For example, consider service-specific service-level agreements (SLAs). Do these fall in the province of Governance or Management? It is reasonably clear that SLAs are part of governing a system’s performance expectations. However, based on the spirit of Governance, the provision for defining SLAs at the service level, or indeed the requirement to do so, and the related procedures are the pieces that seem to belong to Governance. The tools to make this happen at an IT level, allowing the SLAs to be defined and monitored, seems to be of more interest to the operations and support teams – that is, part of the Management discipline.

Looking at vendors claiming to offer SOA Governance solutions today, most are actually offering SOA Management tools. Based on the previous positioning, offering tools to define service SLAs does not qualify a vendor as offering SOA Governance solutions. A general rule of thumb is that SOA Governance solutions are likely to be more about professional services offering education, guidance and planning assistance, while SOA Management solutions will usually be based around product sets that enable SOA to be administered, monitored and secured, both at the business service and technical execution levels.

Steve Craggs and Dr Ronan Bradley, Lustratus.

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