SOA city, surburban angst?

People often say SOAs will, or should, evolve just as cities have been evolving. What about suburban sprawl?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

People often say SOAs will, or should, evolve just as cities have been evolving. What about suburban sprawl? Perhaps that is analogous to SOA as well.

As a resident of the exurbs of the Philadelphia-New York megacorridor, it frankly seems like there isn't a whole lot of planning going on to achieve functional communities.

Don't get me wrong; I like the analogy of SOA development to city development. In a recent post, Phil Windley points to an article by Richard Veryard and Philip Boxer, posted on the Microsoft site, that makes this comparison. Britton and I have used the city planning analogy a number of times at this blogsite. The bottom line in both city planning and SOA governance is the establishment of core standards by which growth is channeled, but allowed to flourish along natural paths.

Phil also points to an earlier article by Microsoft's Pat Helland, entitled "Metropolis," which "explores the idea that information technology is evolving in a fashion similar to how American cities have evolved over the last two centuries. The opportunities and pressures of the technological revolution have driven our metropolises to adopt new frameworks, models, and patterns for commerce and communication."

Windley observes that "SOA governance calls for a careful balance between central power and distributed development and operation. The central power must enable interoperability without destroying the benefits that are gained from distributed, loosely coupled services."

Let me throw this into the mix: Perhaps, the idea of loosely coupled components networked into logical flows, but no longer dependant on the central core, mirrors the suburban-exburban phenonemon. There is a natural tendency toward decentralization, and a tendency to eschew central planning. Anyone who has seen urban and suburban governments at work knows how long-range plans are laid out, then put away and ignored for ten years, until it's time to pull them out again for updating. The grand boulevards and greenways are displaced by instant communities quickly coalesce around expressway entrances, and big-box shopping centers. Edge cities now reign as commerce centers, forming decentralized economic power centers around metro areas.

The flow shifts, and shifts again. Politics takes over; people get mad at each other; commercial interests, fiefdoms and pet projects take priority. Projects get underfunded, or left on the shelf. Sounds an awful lot like SOA. Both SOA and cities can be messy and chaotic, and will alternately threaten or lavish riches upon vested interests. Parts will die, while other parts will flourish in unexpected places. Everything is unmanageable, but somehow everything keeps running, even if it is inefficient.

But it's that managed chaos, that messy, daily pulse of energy and commerce, that makes some cities pretty exciting places -- and great hotbeds of opportunity. SOA development can, and should be, just as vibrant. Maybe it's better if SOA is somewhat messy and chaotic as it develops.

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