SOA reaches out to the cloud -- will business follow?

ZDNet blogging colleague Dion Hinchcliffe predicts 2007 is the year SOA will begin to open up more to the Internet cloud, and I'm inclined to agree with him. And I want to take this scenario a step further and look at what this means for the SOA business case.

ZDNet blogging colleague Dion Hinchcliffe predicts 2007 is the year SOA will begin to open up more to the Internet cloud, and I'm inclined to agree with him. And I want to take this scenario a step further and look at what this means for the SOA business case.

Things will be different than the scenarios imagined when Web services first hit the scene seven or eight years ago. Back then, during the frenzy of the dot-com era, it was thought the main purpose of Web services was to help smooth the friction of e-business between organizations or between suppliers and consumers. And, they have to some extent -- ask anyone who deals with Wal-Mart or Amazon.

But when talking about gelling those services into a service-oriented architecture, we're talking about integration and access inside the walls of the enterprise, limited to pilots, demos, or specific business process flows.

So, Web services started out as an external play, was turned into an internal play, and now things will be turned inside-out to once again. 

Dion cites a new survey that shows a lot of interest in extending services established within the bounds of enterprises to trading partners. A McKinsey and Company survey found that nearly half of CIOs (48 percent) are planning to open their SOAs “to the cloud” in 2007 — the cloud being “where their current and potential trading partners are.”

Dion's prediction raises some interesting questions around the ROI and business case for SOA projects. Right now, many SOA proponents are struggling with these issues, and regular readers of this blog have seen many of the arguments around what makes SOA worthwhile, or less than worthwhile. Reuse? Developer productivity? Lower-cost integration? Streamlining?

Dion, along with another fellow ZDNet blogger, Phil Wainewright, point to a convergence of SOA with software as a service and other Web 2.0 paradigms as internally shared services become externally shared services. “Once your software becomes a service in the cloud, it opens up the potential to link it up with other services that are out there. In many ways, the Internet cloud is one great global SOA.”

Thus, the business case for SOA may become very similar to that of SaaS -- avoiding large upfront investments in systems and software in favor of more incremental costs. SOA is SaaS behind the firewall, and will blend with SaaS in the cloud. It's about infrastructure, or avoiding infrastructure.

The business big picture -- the promised land of agility -- still remains a blur in the distance, as it does for internal SOA. The new efficiencies promised by e-business are well documented, and often debated. But how deeply can such efficiencies reach into the guts of the business?

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