'SOA' dead as of January 1st, analyst says

'SOA' dead as of January 1st, analyst says

Summary: Say it isn't SOA? Anne Thomas Manes declares 'SOA' a casualty of a slow economy and failure to deliver ROI

SHARE:

Say it isn't so.

Or, more aptly, say it isn't SOA....

Anne Thomas Manes says that service oriented architecture -- at least in the form we've known it -- has finally hit the wall. It hasn't been delivering ROI, and organizations need to move on to better and faster initiatives. She says the current economic downturn has driven a stake through the heart of a methodology that was, in her opinion, already barely clinging to life.

'SOA' a casualty of failed expectations, or of semantics?

Anne posted the following "obituary" for service oriented architecture:

"SOA met its demise on January 1, 2009, when it was wiped out by the catastrophic impact of the economic recession. SOA is survived by its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS, Cloud Computing, and all other architectural approaches that depend on 'services.'"

I started this particular blog back in November of 2004, and have heard SOA declared dead over and over again through the ensuing years. (My favorite phrase -- "SOA is DOA.") Indeed, SOA has received more than its share of overblown hype, vendor over-promising and oversimplification, and market confusion. Are things any different now?

Anne says companies have been fiddling with SOA for some time now, and to little or no avail. SOA "turned into a great failed experiment—at least for most organizations. SOA was supposed to reduce costs and increase agility on a massive scale," she explains. "Except in rare situations, SOA has failed to deliver its promised benefits. After investing millions, IT systems are no better than before. In many organizations, things are worse: costs are higher, projects take longer, and systems are more fragile than ever."

In her post, Anne adds that the "people holding the purse strings have had enough. With the tight budgets of 2009, most organizations have cut funding for their SOA initiatives."  I haven't seen any data that says this is so, even in recent months, and Anne doesn't point to any. Economic turmoil could drive companies the other way -- to seek better ways to leverage existing and align IT assets.

One of the challenges with SOA is that a successful implementation is a multi-year process, since not only do systems and interfaces need to be changed, but development methodologies and incentives need transformation, and the business itself needs to drive the process.  Definitely not overnight stuff. As I understand from what I've heard about Burton Group's own investigations, SOA initiatives show a lot of potential when they are first launched, but tend to fizzle after a year or two.

Anne points to the apparent failure of SOA to upend the rest of the business. "Successful SOA (i.e., application re-architecture) requires disruption to the status quo. SOA is not simply a matter of deploying new technology and building service interfaces to existing applications; it requires redesign of the application portfolio. And it requires a massive shift in the way IT operates. The small select group of organizations that has seen spectacular gains from SOA did so by treating it as an agent of transformation. In each of these success stories, SOA was just one aspect of the transformation effort. And here’s the secret to success: SOA needs to be part of something bigger."

Well put -- successful SOA is part of a transformative process that changes the way organizations are managed and do business. And some organizations just seem to "get it" right away. For many companies, however, what they may see as SOA is more JBOWS (Just a Bunch of Web Services) architecture. SOA is a methodology and philosophy. The mix of technologies and approaches employed to work toward SOA will shift. A few years ago, Web services was seen as the way, yesterday it was REST and Web or Enterprise 2.0, and now it's cloud computing. The beauty of SOA is that it is meant to be independent of the underlying technologies or protocols.

What it comes down to -- and Anne stresses this -- is the term "SOA" itself gets in the way.  (Acronyms really do tend to be counter-productive.) Organizations need to focus on delivering appropriate services to address business problems -- and not be distracted by trying to deliver "SOA" as an end-all and be-all. Fix those inconsistent customer data issues, and use service-oriented architecture principles to deliver enterprise-focused services to the users that need them.

It's all about the services. And the best way to deliver them most efficiently to the parts of the business that need them. But I don't know about declaring SOA "dead." SOA is a philosophy, methodology, and set of best practices or patterns that shapes the way enterprises and government agencies address problems through IT. You can kill off the associated technologies and products, but not the ideas and practices. It would be like declaring the sudden death of Agile development, business process management, data integration, re-engineering, or zero-based budgeting.

Topics: Software Development, Browser, Enterprise Software, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

30 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Silly

    SOA is an architectural philosophy that will likely endure the economic downturn. Companies are not going to rewrite their suite of applications to use SOA, but you can bet many of the new applications being developed will have it in mind.
    bmonster
    • I think she addressed that.

      SOA the buzzword is another one of these stupid IT marketing terms with no real concrete under it. Its something you throw around to sell consulting services that don't produce anything. The idea of SOA is really nothing new. Vendors will continue to get smarter about activity between systems. Businesses will "do" SOA whether they know it or not.
      storm14k
      • Perhaps SOA has become so ubiquitous...

        ...that its no longer something "special" or one-off; it's a standard part of enterprise IT -- just as the Internet is.
        joemckendrick
    • Just don't say it's SOA

      I agree. SOA is just a good set of Architectural principles to stand by, and it also helped to foster a lot of great technologies.
      When the next project comes up, just don't mention that it is SOA.
      Nic B
    • SOA and the downturn

      And it's probably safe to say that most, if not all, new applications either purchased or being built support an SOA approach. And application projects usually are looking two to three years out, beyond any short-term pain.
      joemckendrick
  • RE: 'SOA' dead as of January 1st, analyst says

    My response:

    http://technoracle.blogspot.com/2009/01/soa-is-not-dead-but-complexity-is.html
    technoracle
  • SOA marketing

    Well, to a lot of people, there is a good deal of skepticism about SOA. We've seen a lot of sales pitches, but most of those seem to be centered around selling a Consultant as opposed to any other product. SOA could be replaced by "SAP", "ERP", "cars", "musical instruments right here in River City" and not alter the pitch other than the one specific place where the name of the product is mentioned. SOA is a MacGuffin for Contractor Sales.

    Another reason for resistance is that SOA is not tailored for budgets. It is "transformative" which is pretty much a phrase that means "we need lots of $$$$", but IT is generally the last place people put money into and certainly not a large increase *in addition to* their current existing budget and service requirements. "We want to change everything and have nothing break" because.. well.. bad IT implementations and decision have bankrupted companies before and they will again. That generally means concurrent systems as you need a fallback in case the new one is slow to be implemented or does not work properly.

    Then, there is a matter of business case. If you spend $100 million and only gain an improvement of $8 million a year, it is questionable whether it was worth it.

    Let's look at one of the buzzwords.

    "transformative" nothing to see here. Nothing scary about completely re-architecting your entire business. Is a low risk proposition. Certainly not expensive.

    SOA is being pitched at a nice bright big powerpoint slide as a "paradigm", but some poor IT person about 5-6 layers below the TLA level is going to have to find out some way to transform that powerslide into something that works and is going to be under the gun, under pressure, and underfunded. Nor will the IT person be allowed to let the current environment fail.

    SOA gets really expensive at that level. That's where the costs are in implementing it. Someone has to determine the current working environment, determine the final product, then the path between. People will need to find the resources to do all of this. It the IT department is already sized to where the staff is doing 90% of their work on just maintaining their existing environment, then they really don't have the resources to launch a new project. And companies that cut their IT staff down to that size are generally not the sort who spends money.

    Maybe the soft sale and focus on some big fluffy picture down the road is another major problem. This is not an easy migration. Too many people seem to gloss that over. Start selling the steps of the transformation as much as the final product. Make business cases for each step of the way. Start drawing some connection between the size of the migration or development and the budget and income of the companies. Adjust the timelines to match budgets.

    SOA is neither dead or alive. It has mostly been undead since birth as it is a niche paradigm and architecture that needs so many specific preconditions to exist, it really has not managed to reach mainstream yet. Parts of it will move out and get implemented. But, this isn't something that is going to be done by a lot of companies as a whole transformative step in one big project.
    rijrunner
    • IT's mission...

      Is it possible we are putting too much of a burden on IT? SOA -- in its most transformative state -- calls for a great deal of organizational upheaval. This seems well beyond the capability, training, organizational resources and mandates for IT. Plus, as you state, IT is underfunded and stretched thin handling day-to-day maintenance.
      joemckendrick
  • BPM not SOA offspring

    Good post Joe and I would add that Anne might be burying the wrong thing (although I don't see anything on her list that won't evenutally dominate the IT scene).

    She's mixing up the buzzwords as if they all were like things, But:

    BPM is a value proposition; been around 100 years or more (see http://www.ebizq.net/blogs/bpminaction/2009/01/bpm_viewpoint_so_where_does_th.php.)

    SaaS is an IT delivery method; been around for 50 years

    Cloud computing is a way to configure IT infrastructre (I prefer "timesharing system" which has also been around for 50 years)

    Mashups is portal integration; been around for 10 years

    SOA is just what it says it is, an architecture; been around for 20 years

    Almost all packaged application software will be written to SOA principles by about 2025 (just as the switch from monolithic to C/S that began in 1990 was complete by about 2005).

    Once all pacakged applications are re-architected to SOA, the rest of IT will fall into place.

    -- Dennis
    DennisByron
    • Thanks, Dennis

      I like your point that SOA is the latest stage of a multi-decade evolution of IT progress. I do recall many pundits declaring "client/server" dead and "middleware dead" back in the 1990s. Of course, this is all still with us in various 21st-century forms.
      joemckendrick
  • Agile, Iterative Integration

    If it involves SOA great but it doesn't have to and in fact,
    should not always do so.

    I've been doing integration for 25+ years and it's not really
    changed. Yes, I know that is a cliche but it's simply true.
    Look at the poor end user today. Still using DOS apps, Still
    using mainframe apps, now using GUI, JAVA, Web, Adobe,
    Silverlight.. ALL RICH FAT clients in disguise (Browser). Our
    economy was built on these techs and they work. Doesn't
    matter if they are served up as SOA or subroutines. As long
    as there is re-use when it's needed.

    Perfect what we have (all those techs above) and help the
    Business end user first and then IT can do what they like.

    I blog about Desktop Productivity and in 2009 the quick
    ROI's are there. http://blog.tmcnet.com/desktop-
    productivity/
    francis.carden@...
    • SOA's last mile?

      Thanks, Francis. I've written before on the rise of mashups and Web 2.0 at the desktop -- the possibility that these emerging approaches make SOA "real" to business users. They may not understand or be skeptical about what SOA can deliver behind the scenes, but when they can build their own interfaces that take advantage of access to back-end services, then it works for them.
      joemckendrick
  • "Multi-year process"? Ditch it

    "One of the challenges with SOA is that a successful implementation is a multi-year
    process..."

    If SOA were a substantial architecture, you would be able to use it quickly, add
    services independently, and get them deployed within a year. Otherwise you might
    as well use RMI/JMS, or RPC, or DCE. Those are all multi-year implementations, too.

    I hope Anne is right. Managers and stakeholders keep chasing buzzwords rather
    than really leveraging technology specifically for their business processes - old and
    re-engineered. Maybe 2009 will see thoughtful and discerning use of technology
    rather than media-driven posturing.
    AWolfe_II
    • Re: "Multi-year process"? Ditch it

      Many companies need to get their ducks in a row to see SOA through successfully. The initial projects may deliver some marginal benefits, but these benefits increase over the long term as economies of scale grow (more applications leveraging cross-enterprise services).
      joemckendrick
  • RE: 'SOA' dead as of January 1st, analyst says

    Thanks, Duane -- great post. I agree that architecture -- and that is the 'A' in SOA -- will be even more important to businesses seeking to leverage services.
    joemckendrick
  • SOA will not solve incompetence issues

    The problem with IT not delivering ROI is not acronims, architectures or anything technical. The problem is human, like HAL said in Space Odyssey: It can only be attributable to human error.
    I have been in the IT industry since I was a little kid, and for 13 years as an adult. The only successful projects that I have seen were the ones where smart people worked in a creative and positive way. The OS, the programming language, the architecture did not really matter... The Project Management and the people did.
    So whatever the next thing afer SOA, if you spend money on the thing, instead of hiring the smartest people, the next big thing will suck for you, too.
    What do you think, was it the methodlogy/architecture/best practice whatever that made George Lucas successful or was it Mr Lucas' genious that made him what he is?
    BiroTom
    • RE: SOA will not solve incompetence issues

      I absolutely agree there!
      Atul Kale
  • RE: 'SOA' dead as of January 1st, analyst says

    A very irresponsible and misleading remark from the Lady. How can one declare a death of a concept? Is OOPS dead too?
    Atul Kale
  • Big frickin' shock

    Yes SOA is dead. Is anyone really surprised? Just another example of IT manangement looking for the "silver bullet" to solve all its problems. SOA, AGILE, Cloud, SCRUM, SAP, etc. The core fundamentals of effective IT has not changed in 40 years. Hire good people who know the difference between text book and real world and how to apply :solutions: not just technologies. Listen to what they say and get out of their way. It's really quite simple.
    ddmattison
    • Agreed, SOA not silver bullet

      Well said. There is no silver bullet except good, sound management, and letting people pursue innovation. As Peter Drucker always said (greatly paraphrased here): worker, manage thyself... manager, get out of the way.
      joemckendrick