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What exactly is a Service?

ServicebuttonWith the advancement in cloud technologies more and more companies are getting on the Anything-as-a-Service train but over the years the term services became so overloaded that people are having hard time understanding what it means. As any other technology term you hear lately some clarification may be required to understand what the person in front of you meant with "I sell services".

According to Wikipedia's definition of service (as a system architecture component) it is a set of related software functionalities that can be reused for different purposes, together with the policies that should control its usage. In today's cloud environment I would add two more things to the services definition:

  • Those functionalities must be exposed either through interoperable APIs or accessible via browser (i.e. must not be bound to a particular implementation platform)
  • And they must be accessible over the network (i.e. can be accessed remotely)
Although those characteristics should be enough to define what a service is, we really complicate the matter by thinking that everything that can be accessed over the network is a service. Well, for decades we've been accessing databases over the network - is it true to say that traditional databases are services? Comparing with the definition above the answer is "yes": it can be used for storing data for different purposes, one can use ODBC to access it from various platforms and languages and it is accessible over the network. Does that mean that by running my single instance DB on my home computer makes me Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) provider? Not really! Here are few more things that we need to consider when we talk about services:
  • Services are normally exposed to the "external" world. What this means is that you offer the services outside your organization. Whether this is outside your team, your department or your company it is up to you but you should consider services the offering that generates business value for your organization.
  • There are also multi-tenant - this means that the services you offer can be consumed by multiple external entities at the same time without any modifications.
  • They are always up - third party businesses will depend on your services and you cannot afford to fail them hence avoiding single point of failure is crucial for the success of services
  • Last but not least services must be adopted - if you do not drive adoption through evangelizing, partnerships, good documentation, SDKs etc. the services you offer will not add value for your organization

Transitioning from a traditional software product organization to a services organization requires lot of effort and cultural change, and the best way to approach it is to clearly define the basics from the beginning. 

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More Stories By Toddy Mladenov

Toddy Mladenov has more than 15 years experience in software development and technology consulting at companies like Microsoft, SAP and 3Com. Currently he is a CTO of Agitare Technologies, Inc. - a boutique consulting company that specializes in Cloud Computing and Big Data Solutions. Before Agitare Tech Toddy spent few years with PaaS startup Apprenda and more than six years working on Microsft's cloud computing platform Windows Azure, Windows Client and MSN/Windows Live. During his career at Microsoft he managed different aspects of the software development process for Windows Azure and Windows Services. He also evangelized Microsoft cloud services among open source communities like PHP and Java. In the past he developed enterprise software for German's software giant SAP and several startups in Europe, and managed the technical sales for 3Com in the Balkan region.

With his broad industry experience, international background and end-user point of view Toddy has an unique approach towards technology. He believes that technology should be develop to improve people's lives and is eager to share his knowledge in topics like cloud computing, mobile and web development.

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