Yes, Virginia, There Is a SOA

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Today, over lunch, a colleague confessed misgivings about SOA. "I'm just not sure if it's hype or real," she said.


I assured her I had the same questions when I first started covering SOA, but after reading and talking to a number of people in the industry, I was convinced that it is real and the future for application development, at least.


Technology folks could -- and have -- given long explanations of SOA, but they tend to get stuck on the details. This can be confusing for business users and readers. My reasoning for believing SOA is not just hype is that of a writer, not a technologist, and so I'd like to think it's easier to follow for the business users.


First, SOA is not something out-of-the blue, but an evolution, an extension if you prefer, of what IT has already been doing. A lot has been written about this, with some people tracing its abstraction origins back to the 1960s. But I always point to object-oriented programming, because I remember when people were skeptical about it; now it's just how things are done. SOA is just another level above that, I told my friend. It's taking that same concept and abstracting services or business processes.


(Although, as a nod to my tech readers, you might want to read this SOA Magazine piece on how SOA and object-oriented programming can conflict. Business readers should move on - there's nothing to see here.)


Recently, I ran across a good explanation of SOA as an extension of past practices in a PC World article, which quoted Paul Strong, distinguished research scientist at eBay:

"SOA is the latest phase of a constant evolutionary march toward greater functional decomposition and distribution on the network. ... Modularity and reuse offer greater flexibility, agility and return on investment."

If you're just now starting to learn about SOA, this article is actually a good starting point. It focuses on reuse, which some say has been overplayed in information about SOA, but it also does a good job of explaining SOA and how it can benefit companies.


My second reason to believe SOA is not marketing hype is that more case studies are emerging about successful SOA implementations every day. Sure, there are failures -- but the fact that I'm seeing any success stories tells me it's not just hype, but a real, viable architecture.


And my third reason for believing SOA is a real trend is simply that the vendors are doing it. They're not just selling you tools and promoting it as something you should do. They're servicing-enabling their products and their own architectures. Even Microsoft, which has been roundly criticized for its SOA offering and posturing, is moving to SOA internally. Just go read Microsoft Enterprise Architect Nick Malik's Inside Architecture blog if you don't believe me.


That's why there's a good chance you've already got some piece of technology that was built to work in a SOA. The same PC World article quotes Frank Kenney, research director at Gartner:

"SOA is not coming; it's here. There's a 99 percent chance some SOA has infiltrated your company already, whether or not you chose to go there. Just about every technology is built on SOA these days."

So, yes, Virginia -- there is a SOA. Now whether it's the right solution for you and whether the investment will pay off -- well, those are entirely different questions.