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Governing the Infrastructure.

David A. Kelly

Is SOA Dead?

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You have to hand it to Anne Thomas Manes from the Burton Group. She nailed it with her recent column on SOA.

More precisely, her recent column on the death of SOA.

"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"."

(perhaps even better than the her argument is the great drawing of the SOA dinosaur about to be nailed by the flaming meteor known as the economy. If only it were that quick....)

While noting that SOA was supposed to cut costs and increase agility, she says the results have been far from positive:

"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.

It's time to accept reality. 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."

She goes on to state the case that SOA turned into a big technology boondoggle and ended up less about architecture and services than the acronyms and technologies that supported the acronyms. Instead, Manes claims that the SOA movement really needs to be focused on services and a disruption to the status quo. She claims that the spectacular gains promised by SOA can only be achieved by a true transition to real services, at all levels.

It's a reasonable argument and perhaps somewhat persuasive. And most of it is true.
But not all. I fully agree with Manes' goal and general sentiments.

But I've also seen too many companies that have successfully used SOA technologies and basic SOA principles to achieve, if not spectacular results, really solid benefits from using SOA. For example, recently I've been interviewing a variety of large colleges and universities on their SOA efforts and found numerous success stories of ways that basic SOA technologies and relatively unsophisticated (but thoughtful) approaches to integrating existing (and new) systems across business process has resulted in numerous tangible gains without undue headaches from management issues. They've cut integration efforts from 6-9 months down to 2-3 months, with a re-useable infrastructure that allows them to address more real business problems then they've ever addressed before.

Like everything else we've heard about in the technology world, nothing comes for free. Good SOA costs time and money and you don't get reuse, agility and lower costs simply by popping open a box of new technology or calling your integration efforts SOA. But, and here's where I beg to differ with Ms. Thomas Manes, even an incomplete move to a real services-based architecture can provide significant benefits when done right.


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SOA is as SOA does. Implemented correctly, and for the right reasons, with reasonable goals, SOA is a solid design principle that can add tremendous value for any company. But as you pointed out, nothing comes for free. Don't look to SOA as a magic bullet and expect a cookbook recipe for re-engineering your business. It's just a systems design approach.

My company has embarked on a major SOA initiative, which (don't laugh) inspired me to write a song. This might, in fact, be the first rock-and-roll song ever about SOA. I call this new genre "Nerd Rock".

Have a listen: http://kompoz.com/6618

I don't think SOA is dead - I have found it - and still find it - to be a logical and effective way to architect systems to align them with business objectives, etc.

Certainly not dead are catchy negative titles, e.g. Nicholas Carr's IT Doesn't Matter, which turned out not to be true either in any meaningful sense.

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David A. Kelly's blog explores how organizations can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their business processes and IT infrastructure through proper governance.

David A. Kelly

David A. Kelly is a monthly columnist and Blogger for ebizQ. View more


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