Yes, Virginia, there is a SOA!
It has been only a few weeks since Ann Thomas Manes wrote her blog stating that SOA is dead. Since then there has been a lot of chatter about whether this is indeed true and if SOA vendors should find a new line of work. So, I thought I would add my two cents to the conversation.
Let me start by saying, I told you so. Last year I wrote in a blog that we would know when SOA had become mainstream when the enormous hype cycle ended. Alas that has happened. What does this mean? Let’s keep this in perspective. Every technology that comes along and generates a lot of hype follows this same pattern. Why? I’ll make it simple. The hype machine is powerful. It goes like this. There is a new technology trend with thousands of new companies on the scene. All of them vie for dominance and a strong position on someone’s magic universe. They are able to gain attention in the market. Then the market takes on its own momentum. The technology moves from being a set of products focused on solving a business problem to the solution to any problem. We saw this with object orientation, open systems, and Enterprise Applications Integration – to name but a few. Smart entrepreneurs, sensing opportunity, stormed onto the market, promising huge promises of salvation for IT. Now, if I wanted to write a book I think I could come up with 100 different scenarios to prove my point but I will spare you the pain since the outcome is always the same.
So, what happens when each of these technology approaches moves from hype heaven to the dead zone? In some cases, the technology actually goes away because it simply doesn’t work – despite all of the hype. But in many situations an interesting thing happens – the technology evolves into something mainstream. It gets incorporated and sometimes buried into emerging products and implementation plans of companies. It becomes mainstream. I’ll just give you a few examples to support this premise:
• Remember open systems? In the early 1990s it was the biggest trend around. There were thousands of products that were released onto the market. There were hundreds of companies that renamed themselves open something or other. So, what happened? Open became mainstream and the idea of designing proprietary technologies without open interfaces and standards support became unpopular. No one creates a magic quadrant based on open systems but I don’t know many companies who can ignore standards and survive.
• Object orientation was as big a rage as open systems – maybe even bigger. There were conferences, publications, magic quandrants and lots and lots of products ranging from operating systems to databases to development environments. It was a hot, hot market. What happened? The idea of creating modular components that could be reused turned out to be a great idea. But the original purity and concepts needed to evolve into something more pragmatic and in fact they did. The concepts of object orientation changed the nature of how developers created software. It moved from the idea of creating small granular pieces of code that could be used in lots of different ways to larger grain pieces of code that could create composites. Object orientation is the foundation that most modern software sits on top of.
• Enterprise Applications Integration probably had even more companies than either open systems or object orientation combined. The idea that a company could buy technology that would allow their packaged software elements to talk to each other and pass data was revolutionary at the time. This trend was focused on providing packaged solutions to a nasty problem. If vendors could find a way to provide solutions that allowed customers to avoid resorting to massive coding, it would result in a big market opportunity. Vendors in this market promised to provide solutions that allowed the general ledger module to send data to and from the sales force application. What happened? There were hundreds of vendors telling into this market. However, it was a stopping off point. There are newer products that do a better job of integration based on a service oriented approach to integration and data management. In addition, this market evolved into technologies such as Enterprise Service Buses that did a better job of abstraction. There are plenty of Enterprise Application Integration technologies out there but they have emerged as a part of a loosely coupled environment where components are designed to send messages between them.
Now, I could go on for a long time with plenty more examples. But I think I have made my point. Technology innovation just works this way. The products that took the market by storm one year become stale the next. But the lessons learned and the innovation does not die. These lessons are used by a new generation of smart technologists to support the new generation of products.
So, Virginia, Service Oriented Architectures will do the same thing. But it is also a little different. It is not the same as a lot of other technology shiny toys because so much of SOA is actually about business practices – not technology. Sure when SOA started out a few years ago it was about specific products – hundreds of them. These products were eagerly adopted by developers who used them to created service interfaces and business services.
Today, business leaders are taking charge of their SOA initiatives. The innovative business leaders are using business focused templates to move more quickly. They are creating business services – code plus process. They are creating business services such as Order-to-Cash services that in the long run will be mandated as the way everyone across the company will implement a process according to corporate practices. Some of these companies would like to rid themselves of huge, complicated and expensive packaged software and replace them with these business services.
Today these products are becoming part of the fabric of the companies that use them. They are enablers of consistent and vetted business processes. They are the foundation of establishing good governance so that everyone in the organization uses a consistent set of rules, data, and processes. This is not glamorous. It is hard work that starts from a business planning cycle. It is the type of hard work where teams of technologist and business leaders determine what is the best way to satisfy the company’s need to implement order to cash processes across business units.
And yes, Virginia SOA is not stagnant. It is evolving because it offers business value to companies. There are new initiatives and new architectural principles that have value within this service orientation approach. There are architectures such as REST that helps make interaction within a business services approach more interactive. There are emerging standards that enable companies using SOA to be able to exchange information without massive coding. There are information services and security services evolving for the same reason. There are new approaches to make SOA environments more manageable based on the emerging idea that, in fact, everything we do with the world is a service of some type that needs to work with other services. The physical and virtual words are starting to blend – which makes service orientation even more important.
Maybe ten years from now, we won’t use the word Service Oriented Architecture because it won’t be seen as a market segment or a quadrant – it will be just the way things are done. So, stop worrying about whether SOA is alive, dead, or comatose – I have. So, relax Virginia, and get back to work!