Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is ready to move from the testing phase into production. That's according to HP, speaking as it introduced software and service products to help businesses implement SOA in their organisations. Most of the software comes from HP's 2006 acquisition of Mercury Interactive.

"It's time for SOA to come out of the prototype stage and move into the mainstream," said Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP.

SOA is still an abstraction to some. It's an architecture to design services based on loosely coupled interactions between different types of software, so that services can be developed in a modular form. Companies can use and reuse different common elements of design for each new service, whether it's for web commerce, call-centre operation or managing an employee benefits plan.

Analyst Ron Schmelzer said whenever he's confused about what SOA is, he turns the acronym backwards: AOS. "I think it's much more helpful to think of it as architecture oriented towards services," said Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink.

Schmelzer thinks the HP announcement is the first indication of the strategy HP is developing from its acquisition of Mercury, which included a company Mercury acquired called Systinet. Mercury specialised in business optimisation software and Systinet in SOA governance and lifecycle management software.

HP listed three steps to implementing SOA:

  • Governance: SOA Systinet 2.51 software is a policy management system for services throughout their lifecycle, which can be reused rather than recreated each time a new service is created.
  • Quality: HP Change Impact Testing and Business Process Testing software to test proposed new services before they are deployed.
  • Management: HP Business Availability Center software helps monitor and manage a service once it's deployed. HP Services also shares best SOA practices with clients.

SOA is also a big opportunity for HP rival IBM. At an IBM event in Orlando on Monday, IBM announced establishment of SOA certification programs for IT professionals, an online portal of SOA information and IBM's own set of SOA software and services.

IBM has an advantage over HP in SOA, said Schmelzer, because HP doesn't own a middleware software company. That means HP can provide software and consulting to manage an SOA deployment, but they can't actually run an SOA-based service except by partnering with a middleware provider.

But HP sees itself as a management company, not a middleware company, said Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at Burton Group Inc. "They have no intention of becoming a middleware company," she said. HP partners with middleware vendors. By contrast, IBM tries to bundle its middleware software product tightly with its SOA offerings, contrary to the reality of data centres that have hardware and software from a variety of vendors.