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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

Three SOA Fables, Three SOA Surprises: Roy Schulte at SOA/App Integration in Action

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SOA has matured to its next level, but is still being held back by misconceptions. There's a number of fables that have grown up around SOA, and at the same time, there are some stock objections that really make no sense.

At the recent SOA & Application Integration virtual conference held here at ebizQ/TechTarget, Gartner's Roy Schulte discussed some of the misconceptions that have sprung up around SOA.

There leading fables about SOA which send people down the wrong track:

Fable #1: Service oriented architecture applications are assembled using pre-built components:  "This is kind of a half truth," Schulte says. "It's true that when you build a service oriented application, you can use pre-built components. However, these pre-built services are not enough to actually complete any new  application. To build a new service oriented architecture application, you will have to build some services that didn't exist in previous applications."

Fable #2: The main point of service oriented architecture is that be able to reuse the application logic; you write the application logic once, and then you use it in many different application systems: Actually, Schulte says, "the majority of services in service oriented architecture are not shared among multiple application systems. They are written and used in only one application system." He adds, however, that in many well-run SOAs, up to 30 to 40 percent of services are reused or shared, "which is actually pretty good."

Fable #3: External "cloud" services are used the same way as locally managed SOA services:
When using external services, "you don't have to do the investment in creating and maintaining them," Schulte explains. "However, the management challenges suddenly get more difficult when you use a service that is being hosted by another provider. You suddenly have to worry about other issues that you don't have control over. For example, you have version control issues. If they change the interface of the service, your application will stop working. So you have to be sure that when you change a consumer, that the versions of the services will still be able to work with each other."

Three common objections to SOA which aren't so objectionable:

Objection #1: SOA is doomed because Web services don't work well enough:  "The first objection comes from people who were pointing out some of the limitations in some of the standards being used for service oriented architecture applications -- particularly Web services-star standards on top of the basic Web services standards, such as SOAP and WSDL," Schulte says. "There are also other standards that haven't gone as far as hoped by the time it got to be 2010. This has given rise to a number of predictions saying that SOA is dead, because something else is going to take over from that It could be REST, or it could be any number of other alternative architectures. In fact, when you look at REST, the basic five principles of service oriented architecture [modularity, distribution, interface to documentation, separating the interface from the implementation, shareability or reuse] are still honored."

Objection #2: SOA is hard to sell because the business can't see the benefits: "My advice is don't sell it to the business," says Schulte. "There's not really a reason in many cases for the IT management to tell the business that they're using service oriented architecture. If you sit in front of an application, you can't tell whether it is using SOA, or if it using business process management or not. What you can see is situation awareness. I you arm a businessperson with a dashboard, which gives them up to the last second data, from internal systems or external sources. The thing to stress is something they can see, which is better understanding of what's happening in their environment."

Objection #3: SOA is obsolete; it's time to move on: "This does not match our view of what is happening," Schulte says. "The five principles of service oriented architecture -- modularity, distribution, interface to documentation, separating the interface from the implementation, shareability or reuse -- those are pretty timeless principles. We don't see those becoming obsolete anytime in the foreseeable future."

In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more

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