SOA ain't dead but it certainly is transforming

Tue 06 January 2009

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Earlier today Anne Thomas Manes from Burton Group posted : SOA is Dead; Long Live Services. I was just thrilled with the title. However her wording was curious and I had to read her earlier post SOA vs SOI to figure out what she meant. I quote one of her quotes from that -

Many organizations mistakenly perceive SOA as an integration strategy. But it is not. SOA is about architecture. To achieve SOA, you must rearchitect your systems. You must remove the deadwood. Every organization has too much stuff -- too many redundant applications and data sources. SOA is about cleaning house. You will not simplify your environment, reduce costs, and gain agility until you reduce that redundancy.

Ahh .. there we go downhill on a semantics bandwagon again. I interpreted her opinion to no mean that if you don't do rearchitecture you are not doing SOA in a manner thats going to be helpful, and that is what is dying. Thats a little bit iffy. Its also a function of the goals and the context of the organisation attempting to implement SOA. I really don't think there's one black and white answer to that problem.

So is SOA dead ? Most definitely not. In fact it has never been healthier. However it is going through a transformation which is infusing all that health into it. Let me dwell on the nature of this transformations.

Some things about SOA are dying or likely to die.

Vendor driven hype : This has always been one of its weak points. The SOA one used to see was based on hype by vendors while todays SOA is being popularised through success stories on the field (eg. Twitter / Facebook API). One of the problems with this was also the fact that the vendors were pushing WS-* stack which is a rather expensive set of standards and tools to work with. Instead today's SOA is more and more REST based.

Top down SOA evangelising :Earlier attempts at SOA were attempting to use top down approaches at evangelising. Todays SOA is being popularised through small success stories which attract attention on a small and regional scale, an attention which then slowly expands its mindshare.

Enterprise Governance of SOA: This was perhaps a bad idea to begin with. If you are anywhere into trying to figure out the right governance strategies for SOA, my opinion would be that you run as far and as fast as you can away from where you stand. The russians tried it with their economy, so did the chinese, as did the indians with their mixed economy. It doesn't work. If you want SOA to succeed decentralise and de-establish control. Instead let go of the central control (read enterprise) and provide incentives for success and innovation at a local (read application) level. Thats not the most efficient way but is most likely to succeed.

Helping to increase the probability of success is the relative ease with which one can now implement web services (a comparison of shift in single sign on models over the last 20 years will make that obvious). The internet already provides an environment which rewards innovation and risk taking at a local level which is helping make web services such a huge success story. Corporates and Enterprises will need to figure out a way to decontrol but instead reward service sharing and innovation if the same success story has to be repeated on their intranets and extranets.

So the SOA we see today is much more organic, lightweight (REST), unplanned. It very much models the two successful lifesciences and economics models - Darwins theory of evolution and Capitalism. And thats a SOA thats succeeding where SOA based services are akin to a organism or a business unit.

Coming back to the point Anne raised - is rearchitecture required for SOA to succeed ? Why is that question even necessary - let each local cell decide for itself whether rearchitecture makes sense in its own context. Some will rearchitect and some will find ways to succeed without rearchitecting. Quite frankly it doesn't matter, since so long as each element in the whole assumes more service like characteristics, SOA will succeed.

The SOA the vendors were selling to us is dead. Long live the organic SOA.

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