Friday, October 2, 2009

Debunking the "Myth" of SOA

Posted by Mark Brousseau

For every one of those people though, there will be another who has said ‘yes’ to a concept, swept along on an irresistible wave of technical wizardry and promises. Being able to see through some of the IT hype must be a constant challenge for senior decision-makers. One such area where the hype would appear to be winning may be Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) — as Jerry Iacouzzi of KPMG’s Advisory practice explains.

SOA in its current form has been with us for about four years and the hype surrounding it has turned SOA into one of the key buzzwords around the IT industry. Is the hype really merited? I would say it is not.

SOA is touted as the solution to the problems which arise within modern businesses which have evolved on the back of numerous different IT systems and applications. Its advocates claim that SOA is the way of wresting back control; of better aligning the business and its IT set-up and creating a more flexible IT infrastructure.I’m not so sure. I’m yet to see many businesses extracting any real value from an SOA installation. I don’t immediately perceive what potential benefits there are and what is quite telling is that there are very few people out there with deep experience in the concept of SOA.

Therefore, I cannot get away from the fact that SOA appears to exhibit almost all of the signs of a typically over-hyped IT concept. However, the way in which some senior people are excitedly talking about what SOA can achieve for their business makes me think that the hype may be working. I believe this is the IT equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes, with people falling over themselves to say how good it looks.Don’t get me wrong; the basic SOA premise is a good one. It takes all the technology currently in play in one business and aims to pull it together on one single enterprise-wide platform. It overcomes the issues arising from a heterogeneous IT approach (multiple applications spreads across multiple platforms) by creating a single, homogeneous IT platform. With many businesses currently struggling with so many segregated silos of IT architecture, hosting applications which perform vital tasks but which are completely divorced from each other, who wouldn’t be interested in consolidating all that into one single framework?

But is that what’s really on offer? I would suggest that it doesn’t really provide a single IT platform. Rather it links existing applications together in a way which neatly hides the interfaces from the end-user. For sure, it has proved handy in terms of streamlining applications and processes but passing it off as some sort of architectural panacea which can solve all a company’s application-related issues seems somewhat wide of the mark to me.

All of which brings me back to the age-old problem of cutting through the hype and debunking the popular IT myths. This is, in my opinion, a classic example of the ‘tech-speak’ gaining the upper hand over more measured, strategic, commercial reasoning. The SOA debate should be focused on the strategic vision for IT architecture, not about blinding people with technical wizardry, positioning SOA as some form of silver bullet solution to the complexity of modern day IT.

Looking at it dispassionately, SOA should have been hamstrung somewhat by the very vague manner in which it is inevitably discussed. Dig beneath the surface hype and it is actually quite hard to properly define what it does or what is needed to make it work properly. Despite this, businesses seem to be signing up in their droves.

The SOA technology is maturing and — in time — should become more effective and reach the point at which its value can be more easily identifiable. Until then, it is little more than window dressing for rather more mundane tasks which I.T. teams can already undertake perfectly competently.It is the man of the moment though. Many businesses realized that something needed to change before the issues arising from their IT architecture simply overwhelmed them. SOA conveniently filled that demand gap — but it left many people thinking that the problems were solved.

What should actually be happening is that they should be thinking more strategically about their IT architecture requirements or about the governance and control issues which arise from an SOA installation. To do that though, people will need to see through the SOA hype first.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

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