SOA has come a long way in recent years, especially in terms of its ability to map to business processes and provide closer to real-time event handling. That's the view of Roy Schulte, a Gartner analyst who has been tracking and speaking on developments within the SOA space for more than a decade.
What's different these days in SOA? First, there's a new drive to Event-Driven Architecture, or EDA, that is part and parcel of SOA. Related to that the drive to better support Business Process Management and Business Activity Monitoring, or BAM.
Roy keynoted a new series of Webcasts as part of the recent SOA in Action conference. (To hear Roy's complete presentation, click here and proceed to the "Conference Hall" to access the archives of Roy's keynote and eight other presentations, including one from yours truly on Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0. Free registration required.)
Roy sees EDA as part of "a dramatic acceleration in the business requirements for situational awareness:"
"Businesspeople more and more want near real-time visibility into their company, and into the external environment, so they can sense and respond more quickly. We're seeing business dashboards and Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) in general really taking off. Service oriented architecture and event driven architecture provide a foundation that makes Business Activity Monitoring more practical and more common."
BAM often is a catalyst for SOA, Roy states. "BAM doesn’t always require service printed architecture, but it usually does use it," he explained. The solution -- seen as a dashboard -- does not sit with the sender or receiver of the data, but instead resides with middleware. "The desire to have BAM is why many company start the process of building applications," he said. "And from that they are able to implement other things, like service oriented architecture."
He adds that BAM may be the only piece of SOA that "is directly visible to end users."
The incorporation of business process management into SOA are also giving rise to a mediation layer between service providers and consumers, Roy says:
"In plain old SOA... the interactions between the SOA consumer portions of the applications and the service provider portions of the applications tended to be simple and direct. Today we see mediation being used, so those interactions are much more sophisticated and complex. And business process management is probably one of the most advanced aspects of that mediation."
Service oriented architecture has come a long way over the past decade, and progress has been impressive. But issues around immature standards and proprietary platforms still make the SOA dream elusive -- and don't expect any significant progress any time within the next three to four years.
Roy offered some history that I was not aware of -- that the actual term "Service Oriented Architecture" was first coined by Alexander Pasik, then a Gartner analyst, around 1994.Roy and fellow Gartner analyst Yafim Natis published their first report on SOA in 1996, predicting that most companies would have adopted the paradigm for large applications by 2001. "That wasn’t quite right, we were off by three or four years," he recounted. "It took until 2004 or so until a third of large applications had some traces of SOA in them. A majority of applications today use some SOA in some part of their operations."
Now, SOA is part of a tide sweeping enterprises across the globe, he said. No matter what type of organization, "SOA is going to happen anyway, because there are so many factors pushing it," he said. "The packaged applications that are being offered on the market are SOA, so if you buy a package, you’re probably going to get SOA. The development tools tat are being offered by all the vendors are suitable for SOA, so people are going to be going to service oriented architecture at a fast pace."
However, interoperable standards development has slowed to a crawl, forcing companies to build or buy proprietary gateways and connectors to achieve some semblance of service-orientation across different systems. "It’s going to be more difficult to achieve heterogeneous SOA spanning different operating systems and more app servers than what we would like," Roy said. "We’re still going to have SOA, it’s going to come at a fast pace, but unfortunately, its going to be more difficult to have heterogeneous SOA than what we all had hoped."
Cooperative standards development is and will remain fairly stagnate for the foreseeable future, Roy added. "Between today and 2011, we’re not anticipating a lot of growth," he said. "The services that work today, the compatibility today is limited to fairly low-level interactions -- the kind of interactions that you would see taking place between the presentation layer of the application and the business logic layer of the application. In most cases we’re talking about a request and reply model, and we’re not talking about advanced quality of service features."
What is needed is server-to-server quality of service standards, Roy urges. "What we don’t have much in standards today is the server-to-server kind of traffic, where a service provider component talks to another service-provider component. This is where you would have a component doing business logic and data logic, acting as a consumer, talking to another component that’s doing business logic and data logic. For these kinds of interactions, you need other types of features -- things like quality of service, involving message queuing, publish and subscribe, and other kinds of capabilities."
Roy observed that it has almost taken five years "to get Reliable Messaging to be implemented by most of the vendors, though its not quite here yet. We are expecting that to happen by 2011."