Panel: SOA is Alive and Kicking

SOA disillusionment may stem from lack of planning and measurement
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

A few weeks back over at ebizQ, I hosted a panel discussion on the roots of disillusionment with service oriented architecture. With all the talk about the "death" of SOA as we've known it (or the Architecture Formerly Known as SOA), it seems timely to present the observations made by panelists on the current and future prospects and challenges of SOA.

SOA disillusionment may stem from lack of planning and measurement

Some interesting observations emerged from panelists. One is that enterprises that have been working with SOA practices and methodologies remain bullish on the approach, and recognize this is the way to go. There is a recognition that companies need to pursue an architectural approach that will support the proliferation and adoption of reusable services. Another is that SOA creates new issues that haven't been in the IT playbook; such as maintaining uptime and quality assurance for services outside of your domain. Finally, there is even agreement that perhaps the term 'SOA' should be left out of business proposals. (Link to online presentation here. Full transcript here.)

Members of the panel included David Bressler of Progress Software; Dr. Chris Harding of The Open Group; Chris Kraus of ITKO LISA, Jignesh Shah of Software AG; and Phil Wainewright, who is well known as the cloud and SaaS guru here at the ZDNet community. (And yes, there were vendor representatives on the panel, but these folks turned out to be the harshest critics of SOA in the group.)

One point that everyone seemed to agree on is that future SOA-propelled initiatives should not be sold to the business as "SOA." Rather, business problems need to be addressed, with SOA methodologies paving the way to the solution. "One of things that I've seen working with customers that have been successful with SOA is that when you're explaining, trying to sell SOA to the business side,  don't bother calling it SOA," said Jignesh Shah.

Jignesh was bullish on the idea of establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) that show if the solution is changing metrics relevant to the business. "Some of the KPIs that I have seen, and actually have been published by our customers, are things like what is the improvement in time to delivery? Or if these are external-facing services, what is the difference in time to market for new capabilities for customers and partners? Those are also quite relevant in terms of proving the value of SOA to the folks in the business side."

Phil also advised working closely with the business on service iterations. "The concept of SOA is not something that is alien to businesspeople," he said. "Because at the end of the day business is all about delivering services to contract, and SOA is all about IT delivering services to  contract.  You need to move away from the old waterfall approach to development, because pushing services out there is a learning experience. You need to push them out into the infrastructure and see if people are going to use them, and maybe you need to fine tune those services before you get the right granularity and the right set of features. SaaS providers have to iterate through several versions of their APIs before they get their integration story right going into the enterprise marketplace.  Being ready for change is part of the mindset adjustment to SOA."

Part of the sense of "disillusionment" with SOA may stem from the overpromising with SOA."Whether its disillusionment or not is just a semantic thing, but I think it's the kind of thing where vendors -- of which I am one -- go out and promise the world to people, saying SOA is going to solve all of your problems," said David Bressler. "So they brought in some stuff, they to one extent or another implemented an SOA, or some sort of SOA architecture, maybe they even modified some of the way they deliver IT to the organization. They combined technology with process. Yet, they still have the same problems they had before, and in some cases maybe even more of them. Because now, instead of having a packaged application where they can now go beat up a vendor, they now have ten services, and they have to beat up ten vendors."

Bressler also noted that SOA methodologies -- in which services are built for cross-enterprise consumption -- tend to run against the grain of project-oriented IT organizations. "The challenge becomes as you start to deploy that within an organization is, how do you do that if you have a project-oriented IT organization?  They count hours for what they are doing. They bill it back to some part of the organization. The people are motivated and promoted and judged based on well they deliver projects, and not necessarily how well they solved problems for future projects somebody else is doing."

Another topic I addressed with the panel is what does the year ahead hold for SOA. Is SOA fading, or is it taking on a new life?

Phil Wainewright says we're likely to see far less "Big SOA," but SOA itself will continue proliferating throughout enterprises. "I think were going to see less spend on SOA, but there will be more done with it," he said. "I think it's going to be the death of big SOA projects, and much more tactical adoption of SOA, and also tactical adoption of SaaS and cloud services." Phil said in a down economy, there will be greater interest in external services, in combination with SaaS and cloud computing.

As we come out of the other end of the downturn, we may see SOA methodologies have made an impact across the business landscape, said Chris Harding. "I think the recession will hurt some companies, but some companies will survive through it or perhaps even grow through it, and that's when perhaps when we come out of it, we'll see a world that looks a little bit different from what it looked like when we went into it," he said. "Maybe one of the ways in which that change will come will be the ability to use services between companies and SOA across companies, and not just within companies."

Chris Kraus feels the rough-and-tumble economy will help boost SOA as a practice, "because with all the mergers and acquisitions, and folding of companies together, the decoupled architecture of SOA will provide the perfect chance to be a little more nimble and do things a little faster," he said.  "SOA should be their preferred way to handle all these mergers and acquisitions that are going across the organization."

Are people suffering from "SOA fatigue?" Or are we simply moving on to a new phase? Chris Harding put this question in perspective: "I haven't yet heard anyone come up to me, or speak in the group and say, 'I'm disillusioned with SOA,'" he said. "What I have very definitely noticed is that there's no longer an interest in 'learning' about SOA. People are no longer seeing SOA as 'a great new thing' that they have to find out about. But they're still interested in working on how you use SOA, how you do SOA governance, how you integrate SOA into an architectural framework -- they're still interested in looking at those things. But what's disappeared is that SOA is a mystical new thing that we need to find out about."

(Link to online presentation here. Full transcript here.)

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