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Is SOA Still Dead?

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Nearly six month after her initial SOA obituary, a heated InfoQ debate and a lot of blogs and twits, Anne Thomas Manes has confirmed her opinion about SOA.

Anne starts her post by explaining her position on SOA:

"SOA" as a term has lost its luster, but "SOA" as a practice is essential for all organizations going forward. Many organizations have invested millions into SOA, and they have little benefit to show for it. Some organizations are worse off than when they started. Given the tight economy, business people aren't particularly interested in pouring more money into what looks like a sinking ship. If you want to get funding this year for your SOA initiative, you should probably avoid using the word "SOA" and instead focus your efforts on building "services" that deliver measurable value to the business.

Anne proves that SOA is still dead by referencing a recent Gartner survey stating that 40% of users do not measure how long it takes to achieve a return on their SOA investment. The survey also shows that 50% of those companies that have not yet started a SOA initiative did so because they could not articulate and demonstrate its business value. Without a means to measure value, SOA initiatives are doomed. Additionally, SOA was so overhyped by analysts and software vendors, that:

... many companies were approaching SOA projects with excessive expectations and little awareness of the effort, resources and time needed to achieve any benefits.

More indications that SOA is dead, according to Anne, are based on the amount of enterprise spent on SOA (infrastructure):

  • Gartner just recently published its annual assessment of the application integration and middleware (AIM) market, which experienced single digit growth in 2008. According to a review of the report by Application Development Trends, "Middleware Market Hits the Brakes in 2009", Gartner is projecting a 0.8 percent decline in the AIM market for this year.
  • ... market study by Report Buyer asserts that IBM holds 70% of the SOA infrastructure market. So IBM sales should be a pretty good indicator of the SOA infrastructure market. And according to a tweet from James Governor at IMPACT, "Robert LeBlanc GM, software sales says clients are buying SOA in smaller chunks now." (I interpret "buying SOA" to mean "buying SOA infrastructure software", because we all know that you can't buy SOA.)

This post, similar to the original one, has caused quite a few responses. For example, Pierre Fricke in his comment to Anne’s post writes:

I think we are reading the normal shock of the initial wave of a depression gives to business spending as "SOA is dead"... Spending hits a wall as credit dries up and money velocity slows dramatically... SOA is a significant undertaking that would be impacted by this initial wave. Now as companies dust themselves off after the first round, they find they still need to conduct business and need to become more competitive than ever... It is interesting to see that the financial services industry is loosening up a bit on focused SOA and BPM/BRMS projects... I think we are confusing poorly justified or thought out SOA projects that don't get funded as organizations won't implement SOA or SOA is dead.

Steve Jones has devoted a whole post to reply to Anne. Steve explains, that "SOA isn't a technology thing, it’s a practice thing".

In Steve’s opinion, current SOA failures are mostly due to the fact that both analysts and vendors were (and still are) pushing people down the route of technology first (Anne is assessing SOA health through SOA infrastructure spent):

So having vendors claiming "we are still shifting products" while analysts who told people to go and buy those products are now complaining that they haven't seen the value really is just a farce... SOA hasn't failed, what has failed is the next generation lipstick on the pig, buy my technology it will save your problems, do a big project it will fix everything style of IT that has always failed.

What Steve considers to be dead is not SOA, but rather:

... the zombie child that is vendor driven strategy has failed to deliver IT departments the benefits that it should have. The same is beginning to happen around cloud as the zombie possession organizations that are vendor marketing seek to subvert yet another approach, and one which in the case of SaaS has been massively business driven, into re-selling the same technology which has failed before.

SOA is and always was about architecture, not the way to get financing, or analyst hype, or particular middleware platform. In the last decade, IT industry has made tremendous advances in understanding and improving this architecture style. So Anne has to decide what is really dead. Analyst hype? That was often in the way of architecture development anyway. Blind financing by business executives? The fact that enterprise architects have to explain now what and why they can achieve, instead of getting a blank check, should be considered a positive thing. Cutting into profits of software vendors? Current open source offerings and higher requirements from companies are forcing software vendors to come up with better more innovative products.

Yes, we see a slowdown in SOA software spent, but the same slowdown can be seen in any other software product and/or any other industry. In the words of Pierre Fricke: "Wanna buy a house? A car? Rare art? Oil leases? At 2006-07 prices?".

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