The New Face of SOA


Maybe it's the economy, or maybe it was Anne Thomas Manes' January declaration of SOA's death, but I've definitely noticed a shift in the way people talk about service-oriented architecture.


SOA, it seems, is getting back to basics. Some say it's returning to its early, simpler roots. Others say this is a new twist brought on by economic pressures creating a general intolerance for large, rambling, non-specific projects.


Whether it's actually evolving or just simplifying back to its roots, one thing's clear: There's a definite shift afoot in how companies are approaching SOA and what they expect out of it. I've been accumulating a list of characteristics that I like to call the New Face of SOA, v. 2009. Here's what I've got so far - feel free to add:

A focus on small, tactical issues, rather than broad, sweeping initiatives. In a February post, Joe McKendrick commented on this shift and what it means:

"This is the time to demonstrate how SOA can deliver greater efficiencies, agility and faster time to market than the old way of doing IT. And, indeed, we see SOA returning to its more entrepreneurial roots, with more projects addressing pressing tactical issues, led by smaller, more agile teams."


Of course, there is a caveat to this approach, as Gartner's Andrew White pointed out when he wrote about this tactical trend:


"Overall it seems that there is a lot of interest with SOA. Without giving the game away it would seem that much interest in SOA is very tactical (i.e. integrating legacy applications) rather than strategic (building a design platform for repeated re-use of application assets over time). Worse, and this is for a different thread, tactical uses of SOA do not necessarily ensure that a strategic foundation is established anyway."

SOA is becoming more strategic, rather than technology-driven. This may seem contradictory in light of the first item, but the key here is that companies had been trying to buy the "right" technology to do SOA. In a recent podcast, SOA consultant and blogger David Linthicum said he's seen a shift away from technology-driven SOA toward a more strategy-driven SOA.



REST growing, SOAP shrinking. McKendrick recently pointed out this trend after an InformationWeek survey showed that REST is gaining ground on SOAP when it comes to designing Web services for an SOA. SOAP enjoys a nice lead-but it's dropped from 54 percent using SOAP to a projected 42 percent planning to use SOAP in the next 18 months. Meanwhile, REST is expected to grow from 14 percent to 24 percent in the same time frame. Obviously, SOAP is preferred, but it's an interesting development and probably related to the new focus on small and tactical projects. As InformationWeek observed:

"The REST philosophy has simplicity going for it, and when resources get tight, faster and easier usually wins. However, the two styles can complement each other; it doesn't have to be a case of one or the other."



Smaller, focused development teams, rather than enterprise-wide SOA initiatives. Software AG's Miko Matsumura, in an interview with McKendrick, talked about this shift. As Matsumura describes it, large, unwieldy IT projects tend to succumb to what he calls "tribal computing," where so many groups are involved that they end up working against each other. Matsumura said SOA needs to be repurposed to bring all these tribes together for a common purpose, while retaining their independence.


More interest from the executive suite. Oddly, just as Anne Thomas Manes declared that business executives were done with SOA, Linthicum reports what would seem to be a very unexpected trend - CTOs, CIOs and CEOs are showing more interest in SOA. Linthicum says executives are looking for more effective ways to drive investment and they've heard they can do it with SOA. If so, that's a good thing, since past surveys have suggested CIO interest and business alignment can contribute to SOA success.


SOA and the cloud. The new story with SOA is its relationship to cloud computing. Most experts agree that SOA has laid the groundwork for cloud computing and that companies that have deployed SOA will be ahead of the curve on adopting the cloud. That's true whether you're using services from cloud providers, or whether you're hoping to deploy your own services to the cloud. This connection is just emerging as a topic, and I'm sure we'll hear more about it in the coming months.