Over the years, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) has increasingly become a “hot button” among CIOs and IT professionals inside the Department of Defense.  But what is SOA and how is it helping the DOD . . . ?

SOA emphasizes the flexible composition of distinct business functions—or services—into a complete business process. In its most recent and successful manifestation, SOAs have been developed around standards for web services. These build on widely used protocols and formats, such as HTTP (used for serving web pages) and XML (used for web content and increasingly for electronic office documents). Because these standards are not coupled to a particular hardware platform, operating system, or programming language, the business processes built using such services are insulated from the underlying implementation of any particular service.

When individual web services are developed to conform to standards such as the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Services Description Language (WSDL), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and XML Schema, they can be assembled into larger processes using a common tool. Such tools are available for most platforms and are integrated into many general-purpose application servers.

The WSDL document plays a vital role in the orchestration of services. This document is a machine-readable description of the interface provided by a particular service. It allows an SOA tool to understand what inputs are required by a service, what outputs it will provide, and how to communicate with the service. The tool can then generate any code necessary for the designer’s preferred software development environment to make use of that service. Without a common descriptive format like WSDL, system designers would be confronted with a bewildering array of different implementation technologies, communications protocols, and message formats.

Message formats are described […]