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Mashups and Service-Oriented Architecture

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) has come to be associated with Web Services, but at its core it is more mindset than methodology. The "service" in SOA shouldn't be thought of in terms of a particular technology, but rather as a business task. The tasks are implemented in an environment that facilitates loose coupling with other services. This combination, in turn, fosters an atmosphere where developers can create new applications that reuse and recombine existing functionality. Because the services are based on open standards, they can be consumed equally well across independent development platforms.

The promise of SOA is that it addresses the Sisyphean18 labor of building duplicate, siloed functionality across the enterprise. Better yet, you don't have to build services yourself; you can discover and use third-party solutions. SOA is the equivalent of a home improvement store for application development. You simply fill up your shopping cart with all the raw materials and glue and nail them together in your basement to create a shiny new product. Using a traditional development mindset would place the burden on you to chop down trees for lumber or smelt the iron for nails.

The Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) was an early stab at implementing SOA—so early, in fact, that it predates the Internet explosion of the mid-1990s and even the SOA acronym itself. The level of complexity required to work with this technology was often found to outweigh its benefits, and while CORBA struggled to find its footing, newer technologies such as SOAP, XML, and Java (Enterprise Java Beans) arrived on the scene. They began to address the problems associated with CORBA's steep learning curve and security shortcomings.

Web Services emerged as a technology-agnostic interoperable solution based on open standards such as XML, WSDL, UDDI, and SOAP. Although far from perfect,19 SOAP-based Web Services have become the industry-preferred method for implementing SOA. The most popular method for exposing SOAP services across the enterprise is via a custom infrastructure known as an enterprise service bus (ESB). The ESB can provide additional data transformation capabilities, security, transaction support, and scalability, all while simultaneously reducing the degree of complexity exposed to service reusers. In an attempt at product differentiation, some ESB offerings service-enabled existing corporate resources (such as databases) and were themselves progenitors of the data mashup.

One point should be clear: SOA is not a revolutionary milestone but an evolutionary one. Open communication and technology standards, combined with the ubiquity of the protocols that power the Web, have finally helped SOA reach a level of maturity where its benefits exceed its costs.

Mashups represent the next leap in reuse. They initially came about when developers combined the published APIs of different Web applications to create interesting new content. The limitation of this approach was that resources had to be "mashup ready." Robust SOA environments were a hothouse for mashup growth, as they exposed componentized functionality that could be mixed together to provide new services.

You may be wondering if mashups are the latest harbinger of SOA, or the beneficiary of it. The answer is a resounding "Both!" With most vendors now using the terms "SOA" and "Web Services" interchangeably, it has become obvious that for most corporations, implementing a successful SOA will require the service-enablement of their existing applications. Mashups are a completely valid method of accomplishing this (see the "API Enabler" section in Chapter 4 and the discussion of the Quick Proof-of-Concept pattern in Chapter 7). Most mashup products allow you to create and publish Web Services either directly or via a third-party application container (e.g., WebSphere or JBoss). Likewise, mashups are voracious consumers of Web Services. Mashups gladly leverage the Web Services that SOA-centric organizations already have in place. Because mashups can produce services with the same agility that they consume them, they are a valuable addition to any service-oriented environment.

How do SOA patterns and mashup patterns relate to each other? SOA generally focuses on server-side architecture and internal corporate resources, whereas everything is fair game with mashups. Because of SOA's maturity and association with Web Services, it has achieved greater clarity regarding its capabilities, protocols, implementation, and use. This allows SOA pattern discussions to focus on high-level abstractions. Indeed, several excellent Web sites and books20 discuss the process of SOA-enabling the enterprise. Mashup patterns, which remain in a nascent stage of development, must focus on more practical examples. This will drive broader adoption, which in turn should to lead to consolidation and standardization similar to what SOA has achieved.

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