CIO's Rich Levin points to what is increasingly becoming a point of confusion in an already confused market: When does SOA become Web 2.0, and vice-versa? And what exactly is SOA anyway?
As Rich points out, not only is there disagreement about what SOA is, but we can't even seem to come to agreement on how to pronounce the thing -- 'so-ah' or 'ess-oh-ay'? (Note: An informal poll over at ebizQ, conducted last October, found more support for the 'ess-oh-ay' pronounciation.)
Then there's the whole concept of "service," which Rich says is a "horribly overloaded" term. "There are Web services, Software as a Service, Service Oriented Architecture... How many times has someone confused SaaS with SOA? The two can be and often are mutually exclusive." He goes on to discuss the fact that SOA and Web 2.0 are, right now, on different wavelengths in the enterprise:
"Many on-demand and Web 2.0 apps are, in truth, classic information silos with nary a SOA as far as the eye can see. Yet the two service-oriented approaches are often associated conceptually in conversation, but rarely in implementation, much to the detriment of Web 2.0. Likewise Web services, which, contrary to popular sentiment, are not a prerequisite for a SOA (donning asbestos suit, powering up shields, writing last will and testament)."
There have been attempts to fuse SOA and Web 2.0 together, most recently under the term of "Web Oriented Architecture." But SOA seems to be a term that is sticking, and I don;t know if we'll be talking a lot about WOA anytime soon. And Web 2.0 is still clearly something different (definitions below).
There are also plenty of examples of how the two concepts get crisscrossed in discussions. For example, I just saw in an otherwise excellent article on Web security this Web 2.0-ish definition of SOA: "Other new technologies are also laying businesses open to danger. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is one such technology. It lets companies use gadgets, widgets and mashups on their sites to create new applications, and to use Web applications to conduct their business."
This may still be a stretch for SOA, which is better defined as the creation, deployment, and management of standardized, loosely coupled services that expose new or legacy applications and can be reused or shared across the enterprise or between enterprises. Web 2.0 is the set of technologies or services that employ the Web as the platform for building communities and lightweight, on-demand applications.
Of course, the vagueness and confusion around SOA is fertile ground for opportunity. Rich calls the potential $52-billion market for all things SOA-related (or at least pretending to be SOA-related) the stimulus of a "vendor feeding frenzy the likes of which we haven't seen since Sun was the dot in dot-com.... that's one big honkin' slab of red meat dangling over a pool of hungry piranhas."
The good news for companies is that means there will be plenty of choices in this market. However, the bad news is that "vendors are settling into different camps with different agendas, different technological approaches, and most important, differing views of what constitutes a SOA, and why SOAs fail." He asks: "Is SOA doomed to suffer the same fragmented fate as other like-minded approaches of the past?"
Well, there have been like-minded approaches in the past, but few have garnered so much support across the board from just about every vendor. Yes, there are agendas, there are ESBs, and there are standards some vendors will not have any part of, but overall, the industry is fairly united behind the vision.
And, there is an inevitable convergence taking place between SOA and Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is playing a greater role at the front end of SOA, or what some analysts refer to as the last mile to the client endpoint. For one, the ability of users to create mashups, which are essentially composite applications, will speed up the creation and linking of services. REST offers a lightweight alternative for rapid deployment of services. Hype aside, Web 2.0 has the potential to help make SOA real to business users. But there's now incredible hype around both SOA and Web 2.0. Let's just hope the hype doesn't overtake the promise.