SOA too slow? Let the debate begin

In the words of one federal contractor: "You don’t want a Web service between you and your rocket launcher."

In these fast times, attaching the term 'slow' to a technology can be a death knell. But that's a perception about SOA that now lingers. Joab Jackson of Government Computer News recently posted some perspectives about the slowness issue.

This quote just about sums up the challenge: "Dennis Nadler, chief technology officer for federal integrator Merlin Technical Solutions of Greenwood Village, Colo., told us, 'you don’t want a Web service between you and your rocket launcher.'"

Yikes. Someone call Chloe at CTU and tell her to override the service -- or interject one, depending on who has the rocket launcher at the moment.

Will performance become an issue with SOA in the long run? I've posted frequently on the potential XML performance issue, but some say that by its very nature, SOA may not be well-suited for past-paced environments. Jackson quotes Grady Booch, chief scientist at IBM Rational, as observing that "Web services 'are best suited—and this is a gross generalization—for dealing with relatively large grained, low-frequency interactions, as opposed to high-grain, high-frequency interactions. The act of calling up a service for every transaction could be kind of burdensome when sub-millisecond transaction times are required.'"

Jackson cites other voices, however (paraphrased below), that say performance won't be a problem in the long run, however:

  • "A componentized approach could actually speed services, as the burden of executing tasks doesn’t fall on a single machine." - John DeVadoss, lead architecture, Microsoft Corp.
  • "The steady march of ever-faster processors will all but assure this year’s sluggish service will be rendered peppier with newer equipment." - David Vap, vice president of business integration solutions, Software AG
  • New SOA governance tools enable you “to establish policies for how your IT initiatives will be deployed.” - Gregg Bjork, senior vice president, WebLayers Inc.
  • New features, such as 'itinerary-based routing,'which enables intra-service messages to carry processing instructions, "eliminates the potential of the rules engine becoming the bottleneck of the system." - Dave Chappell, vice president and chief technology evangelist, Sonic Software

Jackson points out that in his research on government SOA, he has found that "few agencies have implemented a loosely-coupled architecture as of yet (though some are moving in that direction)," making any concern around service performance irrelevant at this time.

Of course performance is and will be an issue with SOA-based deployments -- as performance should be top of mind with any type of technology implementation. Certainly, SOA will introduce its share of performance hits, especially as companies map more business to the architecture. But solutions are maturing, and hardware/systems keep getting faster. Plus, the beauty of SOA is that it has no single point of failure.