SOA, Rhymes With Noah

8/22/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

And now for a quick dip into the bubbling soup of acronyms within the software world, starting at the top. “SOA.” People say it as a word that rhymes with Noah.

“SOA” stands for “service-oriented architecture.” It’s the Big Picture for the software efforts of big companies. It’s especially enticing to companies wishing to untangle themselves from heavy, monolithic, single-vendor software systems.

Like the billing system, for instance. The historic grumble about cable billing systems goes like this: Ask for a change. Wait 18 months. Find a million dollars to pay for it.

That’s why you tend to hear of SOA when you’re with IT people. Here’s a usage example from a recent batch of notes: “We took a look at it and said, we need a SOA architecture, to let us to get time to market and productivity enhancements.”

Try this for fun: With a straight, calm face, suggest to anyone who works in cable IT that they’ll need to change out the billing system. Then try to find a way to share in the utter hilarity of the idea.

Here’s what SOA is: It’s tight, efficient little blocks of code, theoretically reusable, with consistent passageways between them.

In practice, SOA is seeing that 60% of your care calls about digital video result in sending a refresh command to the box. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to let customers initiate the refresh themselves, by pressing seven on their phone, or asking online?

Pre-SOA, pinging a set-top required a care agent to initiate that activity, by accessing the headend components of what were then General Instrument and Scientific Atlanta systems.

With SOA, pinging a set-top means abstracting that function into a chunk of code, then embedding that chunk of code into the other chunks of code that might need it — the interactive voice response system for the phone; the self-care portal for the online query.

The catch: Those “theoretically reusable” chunks of code. Say a “service,” as the chunks of code are called, moves into the domain of another “service” needing it. To the Web-care portal, in this example.

Oops. It only covers 80% of what the Web portal needs. The other 20% either comes from an add-on, or, just as often, a total rewrite.

Most of the larger cable MSOs are at least waist-deep in SOA, so it’s where your IT friends are headed. May they prosper.

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