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InfoQ Homepage News Debate: Is SOA Dead?

Debate: Is SOA Dead?

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Anne Thomas Manes wrote an obituary for SOA, claiming that

SOA met its demise on January 1, 2009, when it was wiped out by the catastrophic impact of the economic recession. SOA is survived by its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS, Cloud Computing, and all other architectural approaches that depend on “services”

She continues:

Once thought to be the savior of IT, SOA instead turned into a great failed experiment—at least for most organizations. SOA was supposed to reduce costs and increase agility on a massive scale. Except in rare situations, SOA has failed to deliver its promised benefits. After investing millions, IT systems are no better than before. In many organizations, things are worse: costs are higher, projects take longer, and systems are more fragile than ever. The people holding the purse strings have had enough. With the tight budgets of 2009, most organizations have cut funding for their SOA initiatives.

Although SOA was initially adopted mostly by technicians, at its root it is more business then technical problem. But as it was introduced (and often executed) by technical people and product vendors, which were more interested in SOA technologies (software sales) then its business impact:

People forgot what SOA stands for. They were too wrapped up in silly technology debates (e.g., “what’s the best ESB?” or “WS-* vs. REST”), and they missed the important stuff: architecture.

An inability to show a quick ROI turned many business decision makers away from SOA:

SOA fatigue has turned into SOA disillusionment. Business people no longer believe that SOA will deliver spectacular benefits. “SOA” has become a bad word. It must be removed from our vocabulary.

This means a huge setback for IT industry:

The demise of SOA is tragic for the IT industry. Organizations desperately need to make architectural improvements to their application portfolios. Service-orientation is a prerequisite for rapid integration of data and business processes; it enables situational development models, such as mashups; and it’s the foundational architecture for SaaS and cloud computing.

So what is next? According to Anne:

Although the word “SOA” is dead, the requirement for service-oriented architecture is stronger than ever.

Her suggestion is to stop talking about SOA and start talking about services (although she isn't clear about her definition of this term, thus leaving room for interpretation and misinterpretation).

The post has quite obviously stirred up reactions among some of the thought leaders in this space.

David Linthicum analyzed what when wrong, to paraphrase

  • Lack of skilled architects who understand SOA.
  • Big consulting firms focusing more on tactics and billable hours than results
  • The vendors focused too much on selling and not enough on the solution.
  • Hype that SOA is a panacea to all IT woes

Joe McKendrick observes that SOA is a style of architecture and not a product:

Successful SOA is part of a transformative process that changes the way organizations are managed and do business. And some organizations just seem to “get it” right away. For many companies, however, what they may see as SOA is more JBOWS (Just a Bunch of Web Services) architecture. SOA is a methodology and philosophy. The mix of technologies and approaches employed to work toward SOA will shift. A few years ago, Web services was seen as the way, yesterday it was REST and Web or Enterprise 2.0, and now it’s cloud computing. The beauty of SOA is that it is meant to be independent of the underlying technologies or protocols.

Miko Matsumura supports Anne’s suggestion to change terminology, but stresses the fact that the notion of SOA, and especially business dimension of SOA will certainly survive:

I believe that use of SOA as a term will certainly decline, but the strategies to address the fundamental problems will have to continue to evolve out of the SOA “stream”. At the same time SOA is dead, SOA is also inevitable–but it may come under a different name. The DNA of large organizations will require interfaces to appropriately segment the what of requirements from the how of implementation, and the design patterns of SOA will be the ones that will realize the long term vision of an Enterprise, Multi-Enterprise, and indeed “cloud” platform. Any term like SOA has to experience the hype cycle and goes through linguistic mystique, implementation, experimentation, and eventually a degree of nomenclature fatigue. SOA had a particularly “big tent” agenda and so a lot of folks latched on to it in the hopes that SOA would be their savior. Frankly I see the same kind of pattern in “cloud”, which is to say that it’s not an easily defined technical term, rather a set of political interested tied to a set of insights and realizations.

He also cautions against over reaction, which is so common in IT recent history:

Fear about the economy should take a back seat to the project of becoming the change we need. The era of knee-jerk emotional reaction can hopefully be relegated to 2008 (or perhaps the first half of 2009) and we can move forward together to both re-envision and rebuild our infrastructure. And to realize the big vision we need each and every person to become the change we need.

Steve Jones interprets Anne’s statement as:

Vendors are moving away from SOA as they've flogged you enough stuff and now they want to flog you its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS, Cloud Computing… The reality is that it is in fact the services that matter more at this stage than at any other. This doesn't mean that SOA is dead, it means that the marketing fury of T-SOA has moved on as their just aren't that many more ESBs and Web Service tools that you can be sold. What remains is in fact what SOA was all along its Services are the starting point for SOA its not those pretty technologies…If you adopt the new technologies without having a services mentality then you will create a degree of mess that will make the one that consultants and vendors got fat on with EAI look like a trivial problem. Doing Spaghetti inside your firewall in big applications is one thing, doing it over the internet and with thousands of small ones is a completely different scale of problem.

Steve then elaborates on definition of service, promoting “business first” approach and defining them as a functionality that can be exposed for use by others:

…you need to Identify your services, understand the business value that they deliver, understand the cost model to deliver that value and then decide on the right technology approach.

Nick Gall, on another hand, disagrees with Anne’s way forward ("long live services"):

It is services thinking, as conventionally understood, that led to the mess in which we find ourselves: fragmentation caused by entity-specific (service) interfaces. I'd say instead, "long live the web." I'm shocked that Anne's blog post does not even mention the web!

He cites successes of Google, Amazon, and even Salesforce and attribute them, for the most part to the leveraging of web architecture, web community, and web business models: "Web-orientation is a prerequisite for rapid integration of data and business processes; it enables situational development models, such as mashups; and it's the foundational architecture for SaaS and cloud computing.

And finally in a similar view, a blast from the past 2005 prediction from Don Box, which though not related to this discussion, seems to suggest the same:

The term SOA will have been beaten to death and the software industry will invent or recycle some equally vague term to replace it.

Be sure to check out Annes original post.

It seems quite obvious that changing a name will probably not fix current SOA problems, but one can argue that refocusing on the architecture and business aspects of SOA will. What do you think? Is SOA dead, or alive and kicking?

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