A 15-Minute Guide to SOA and ECM

I was browsing the EMC website the other day and ran across this document, “A 15-Minute Guide to Service-Oriented Architecture and ECM“. I was intrigued so I checked it out. This is one of a new series of documents that EMC is putting out around IT Management aimed at quickly educating the IT Professional. I am not their target as this is aimed at end-users.

Nice Filling

What we have is a 10 page document with three pages spent on the cover, contents, and contact information. Two pages cover SOA and two more cover how Web Services fit as part of the SOA world. Since most of the actual content talks about SOA independent of ECM, I thought I would talk about it.

SOA represents the broad set of best practices that enable companies to hide the complexity of the underlying technology while at the same time providing an agile set of resources to the business.

That is the initial definition in the Introduction. Luckily for the reader, they go into much more detail, and offer different viewpoints on the definition of SOA. When taken as a whole, I think they get it correct. They set out four basic characteristics:

  1. SOA is a component-based architecture
  2. Components are loosely coupled through the leveraging of standards
  3. Components are used to build composite applications
  4. SOA is a joint initiative between IT and business

Not bad. An executive reading this may actually learn the important aspects of SOA.

They then go into the relationship between SOA and Web Services. They actually get it right. They go out of the way to say that they are not one and the same. They use this section they lay the groundwork to say that by using Web Services, the Documentum suite is standards-based.

A Hidden Definition of ECM

In the middle of a little sales talk of why SOA is good, EMC slips in a discussion as to what ECM is and what ECM suites deliver. This was a little surprising and is something that I am going to have to look a little deeper into later this month. As to what it is:

ECM refers to the category of software that helps you manage all of the unstructured information – or content – in your enterprise. ECM brings many different capabilities to the organization across the content lifecycle, including content creation, management, archiving, collaboration, publishing, and more.

Nothing new or exciting so far. Then the following shows up:

Traditional ECM suites tightly integrate these capabilities, providing value to the organization at the expense of agility. ECM Documentum, however, exposes enterprise content services to simplify development of new composite Documentum applications and content-enabled existing applications.

Good stuff. Now, I’m not going to try and match this vision to their execution today. What is important is that this vision for ECM is pretty darn good. Execution, and license cost efficiency, is what is going to matter in making this a reality.

The Actual Topic

So now we get to the three pages that I actually cared about when I saw the document. What a bunch of marketing fluff! They basically say how much work they put into the product to make it the ideal solution for the SOA world. Forget about right and wrong for a minute. They don’t really dive into the how. They let the SOA discussion carry forward into the ECM section and basically says, Apply all of that to ECM!

They do have a pretty diagram that shows how their services, as defined, fit into the Enterprise world. However, it just isn’t enough. I guess after the “detail” in the SOA section, there would be more meat talking how ECM fits into SOA and not an appetizer of EMC and SOA. I guess they used up their 15 minutes talking about SOA and just didn’t have enough time to properly prepare the main course.

Lots of Work to Do

After being initially pleased with the SOA discussion, and pleasantly surprised, my mood hit rock bottom. Let’s face it, when you go to a good restaurant and have great atmosphere, a great beverage, and a mouth watering appetizer, it is a little disappointing when your steak comes out like a piece of coal.

It also shows that I have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of feedback that I need to start providing to EMC. I need to encourage others to do the same. I can’t expect EMC to change for the better on their own, and I can’t depend on other’s to do it for me. I’m not saying that I can actually get them to do anything or that the change won’t occur without me, but if I want to see changes, I need to get on the ball.

2 thoughts on “A 15-Minute Guide to SOA and ECM

  1. Chris Campbell says:

    I noticed the link to the paper, so I stopped reading your blog entry and read it myself, then went back to your blog entry so I would try to be unbiased as possible. I have to say, that I agree with your conclusion. The paper does a great job explaining what SOA is and the possibilities, but then ends with a whimper.

    I’ll critique this like any high school essay. From the foreword, I’m expecting the following key points to be addressed: 1) What is SOA? 2) What benefits does it give me? 3) How does it fit in with ECM? This guide actually does a pretty good job doing that.

    However, the next paragraph seems like it’s from a previous draft, because it restates differently the key points: 1) What is SOA? 2) There are 5 key benefits it gives you. 3) The relationship between SOA and web services. 4) How SOA fits in with ECM. 5) How has EMC used SOA *principles* to redesign its content management platform? (I’ll touch on why principles is a key word.)

    So, now there are 2 extra points that are going to be covered. Overall, the guide covers 1 through 4 pretty well. It’s point 5 that is glossed over. Fluff is an accurate description. By the next to the last page of the guide, I’m pretty sold on the idea of SOA. In writing an essay or in marketing, usually your last point is going to be your strongest. The is the point where if you haven’t been already convinced, this last bullet point is going to seal the deal.

    Problem is that it ends up being a summary of what has already been told. “SOA is great!” So where is the info on how EMC redesigned the platform around SOA? It’s just one sentence: “In terms of content management, EMC has completely re-architected its Documentum applications programming interface (API) to meet the requirements of a services architecture.” And? And?!? I’m left hanging.

    That’s where I’ve been suckered by marketing speak. The answer to Point 5 is really, “Yes. We used SOA in D6 by following the principles you just read.” Using that magic word “principles” a marketing guy can then put up a diagram that illustrates the “principle”.

    I’m not exactly sure where the actual link to the guide is on the EMC site (the PDF is in the software section, but is the link in Marketing or the Developer section? I’ll check later.) but perhaps the problem is that the audience for this guide isn’t or shouldn’t be directed at the developer. It’s a good primer on SOA to be sure, but I see it more as marketing material rather than an actual white paper.

    I’ve got my own thoughts about SOA and Documentum that I’ll post later (or I should just start my own blog). Overall, a great summary of what SOA that your boss can read or to help others understand what you’re doing, but to those who were expecting a peek into some of the actual API and structure exposed, you are going to be disappointed.


  2. leecsmith says:

    Good comments. I read the paper this morning and felt like it was bubbling up into something interesting and then fell off the edge of the cliff somewhere with a very sudden stop. I would have liked to have seen more discussion on what they have done and some rationale around the granularity of the services which they have exposed.


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