Seemingly the hottest topic in insurance technology circles these days, cloud computing has received so much ink that many insurers are uncertain how—if at all—they will take advantage of this means of software delivery.

However, many insurers already have experience and knowledge on handling the finer points of cloud, especially if they have been working with service-oriented architecture in recent years. In fact, many proponents see cloud computing as an extension of service-oriented architecture (SOA) best practices—invoking trusted, reusable services from third-parties that may or may not be outside the firewall.

Dave Linthicum, analyst with Booz Allen Hamilton, and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide, is one such SOA-to-cloud proponent. Linthicum says SOA and cloud are part of the same package. The key to success, he says, is to stay focused on enterprise architecture to manage both types of environments.

I recently had the opportunity to join Linthicum, along with VP of product strategy for AmberPoint, in a Webcast that explored the transactional issues seen in both SOA and cloud computing.

Without SOA, there would be no cloud computing, Linthicum argues. "SOA and cloud computing are related one to the other," he says. "Service-oriented architecture is all about sharing services and sharing information, processes, and agility integration and governance. And cloud computing is all about providing architectural options, such as Software-as-a-Service, database-on-service, and platform-on-demand."

Cloud formations require the same enterprise architecture and governance—encompassing technology, people and processes—that companies are now putting into place to manage SOA. If your organization has put an effective SOA governance structure in place, then this structure will also guide your efforts with cloud services, Linthicum says. Otherwise, he warns, “if you don’t have a strong runtime governance infrastructure, you're going to have a hard time implementing your system within the platform of the clouds.”

Cloud computing provides new architectural options on top of an SOA-based infrastructure, Linthicum adds. “Instead of just looking at complete on-premise solutions, where we’re binding and placing systems and services just within our data centers, we now have architectural options,” he says. “We now have cloud providers that are not only providing platforms, such as composites and processes, but also providing services.”

In trying to make all these things work together, “Make sure you have a sound enterprise architecture to make sure you're leveraging service-oriented architecture correctly in the context of your architecture,” he adds. “You need to have a governance strategy that builds policies around those services, and manage those services within a context of a larger enterprise. This is probably one of the most important aspects of service-oriented architecture, and one of the most important aspects of cloud computing as well.”

The bottom line is that if your organization has been doing a good job of delivering services via SOA, then moving to cloud-based services will be a fairly natural transition.

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