Is SOA just the latest way for vendors to gouge customers?

SOA, in theory, is supposed to free enterprises from the shackles of vendor lock-in. But one open-source proponent says it may be just the latest in a long line of schemes to stick it to the customer.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Ross Mason, CTO of Mulesource and founder of the Mule Enterprise Service Bus, says vendors have been gouging enterprises too long on integration work, and the gouging continues unabated with service-oriented architecture.

Writing in Dr. Dobbs Journal, Mason identified the "Five Ways Vendors Gouge Customers on Integration," noting that "despite vendors' friendly talk about their approaches to SOA, ESBs, and integration in general, their practices are often predatory," he writes. "These tactics range from locking customers into proprietary standards and unnecessary or unsuitable features, to astronomical licensing and services charges."  (Thanks to SOA Digest for surfacing this article.) 

SOA, in theory, is supposed to free enterprises from the shackles of vendor lock-in. But Mason says it's just the latest in a long line of schemes to stick it to the customer.

There is a pattern of abuses Mason has seen over the years, which continues even in these so-called enlightened times of open standards, he says. Astronomical licensing costs have always been a bone of contention and unhappiness with vendors. Mason also observes that vendors keep enterprises locked in withproprietary toolkits. Use a vendor's technology, "and you have to use their messaging system, which has an associated skill set requiring significant ramp-up. It reaches a point where the business value is severely diminished by the technical resources and finances required." 

Then, there's the fact that many vendors make close to half of their money from ongoing services and support costs for their own products. But when it comes to SOA, the most grevious form of gouging is "feature overshot,"Mason writes:

"The downside of the SOA/ESB/WS-Star evolution is that to get an integrated stack where these things become meaningful and useful, you have to pay big money to single vendors.... "When you buy a vendor's SOA option whole-hog, you typically wind up paying for a ton of things you'll never use."

The solution to all this gouging madness, Mason said, is going with open source software. "Not only can you see the code and identify the problem, but you can also fix it directly...  In short, open-source integration platforms leave your options open, reuse your existing technology investment, and put you in the best position to be able to pick and choose complementary approaches."

But is this enough for vendor independence? The big vendors are growing some big hooks into the open source world as well. IBM has a Geronimo-based application server, as well as plenty of Linux-based solutions across its product line. Oracle now offers Red Hat Linux at cut-rate prices. And, often, companies don't want to get involved in fixing code, they'd rather have a vendor do it for them.

The combination of an open-source stack -- especially at the middleware/application server level -- and service-oriented architecture is progress toward vendor independence. If anything, these two converging trends can help to keep vendors on their toes and honest, because it's getting easier and easier to swap out components or modules with less expensive alternatives.

But with the complexity of today's systems, and trends such as Software as a Service, our reliance on specialized vendors has increased. And few enterprises are ready to go it alone when it comes to application development and support.

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