The importance of SOA for business intelligence

BI can no longer be implemented as a stand-alone application, users want it to be part of the world in which they work

Business intelligence tools have become mission-critical and, as a result, there is growing demand for wider accessibility across the organization.

In fact, business users want BI to be part of the world in which they work -- to integrate with their company portals and enterprise search capabilities and be accessible via mobile devices and embedded in process flows and other applications.

That means one thing: BI can no longer be implemented as a stand-alone application for individual groups. It must fit into existing, varied and complex infrastructures.

But that is difficult to manage effectively given multiple applications, platforms and data sources must be taken into account when implementing BI. The best bet is to use a service-oriented architecture to ease integration.

SOA is an approach to software design based on seven key principles that map nicely to the needs for efficient, reliable, agile enterprise BI solutions. These principles help unlock the value behind enterprisewide BI deployments.

An open, standards-based architecture

First, SOA is open and standards-based. Web standards such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Service Description Language (WSDL), and Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) are key to achieving integration.

The SOA standards provide organizations using an SOA-based BI solution the flexibility needed to leverage their existing IT infrastructure without having to duplicate functions, such as security, or deal with issues associated with proprietary application servers. An SOA-based BI solution can run on any Web server and complies with existing routers and firewalls. A single application program interface (API) ensures the solution integrates easily with other programs and can be extended to meet business needs that transcend BI.

Platform neutral and location transparent

SOA is platform neutral and can leverage any existing infrastructure. Organizations can run SOA-based software on existing hardware, databases and application servers.

SOA also is location transparent, meaning services can be located anywhere on the network. This type of flexibility is important considering the nature of BI means reaching data and users dispersed across networks and geographies. For example, IT might want to locate query services close to large data centers to avoid network latency when processing incoming requests. With location-transparent services, IT adopts the most efficient deployment strategy to optimize solution performance based on the unique characteristics of the users and data and the infrastructure.

Peer-to-peer and loosely coupled

With SOA, there is no master service, so every service is capable of complete fault tolerance. Any request can be handled by any service of the same type on any server in the system.

With no single point of failure, IT can deploy BI with confidence. This type of reliability builds the trust the user community needs for broad adoption.

These peer-to-peer services are loosely coupled, so no service needs to know how the others do their jobs, what they are doing at any time, or even where they reside. Business logic is kept separate from underlying infrastructure, so many data sources can easily be integrated.

For example, the BI tools of organizations that have identified SOA as a key requirement operate in a peer-to-peer mode, so their IT function has the flexibility it needs in deciding how services are distributed. Organizations that wants to manage reliability during peak periods of usage can leverage their development and test environments for those few days a month when they need to accommodate the increased demand for processing power. As a result, they can meet their service-level commitments without having to invest in additional hardware.

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