Can SOA and Dis-Integration Create Warm, Fuzzy Feelings All Around?


IT people really hate the word "integration."


This can be hard to understand if you hail from the business side. Integration certainly seems like a good thing-getting systems, databases or applications to talk can solve a lot of problems. But as Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst with the Burton Group, explained on the Yahoo SOA discussion group about whether integration was a good or bad word:

"The disconnect comes from context. The word 'integration' in the non-IT world is a warm and fuzzy thing. But the word has a very different meaning and generates extreme angst in the IT world. It refers to force-fitting things together that were never intended to get along."


In fact, the very word can make IT workers cringe, according to consultant Alexander Johannesen, who noted in the the same Yahoo discussion thread:

"Whenever anyone say 'we need to integrate our system with this other system' people shiver and sweat and hope that they're not part of that project, because down that path lies madness, ad-hoc or not."


Given the anxiety that integration creates, you can see why service-enabling applications - or, on a broader scale, SOA - is such an appealing approach. Its loose coupling promises an end to the endless headaches of point-to-point integration.


It's also one reason that, when you talk about SOA as a means to integration, it generates so much controvery. Even though SOA is great for integration, as business users mean the term, SOA is not integration in a technical sense.


I point all this out because I think it's very helpful in understanding this Q&A with Peter Hermans about SOA and "dis-integration."


Hermans is now an independent consultant and program manager, but previously he spent more than 20 years with KPN, a Dutch telco company. He does an excellent job of explaining integration's history and why SOA is a great next evolution for integration precisely because it moves IT beyond point-to-point integration.


We are, as he puts it, no longer making spaghetti by point-to-point integration, but making lasagna, with ESBs and Web services.


This, of course, will be controversial since neither ESBs or Web services are requirements for SOA, yet people often think they are. But they can be used in SOA, and certainly they can be used in service-enabling applications, even if your end goal isn't a full-blown service-oriented architecture.


More importantly, they offer one way to get out of the angst of point-to-point integration and move to what Hermans terms "dis-integration." Here's why Hermans says that matters:


"Everybody talks about integration, but normally I tend to speak about 'dis-integration,' because you want really to decouple and not to integrate! It is all about being 'loosely coupled.' I think the use of Web services will lead to an increased interoperability in the market, as the business wants to bundle and unbundle in a fast and flexible way in order to stay competitive. Through the concept of service orientation, IT can accommodate that."


Now that's something that can give both business and IT warm, fuzzy feelings.