Will SOA Fly in 2009?

As Microsoft steps up talk about providing tools that let organizations build service-oriented architectures (SOAs), it appears SOA adoption is on the verge of decelerating, thanks to the year-long recession that became all but official earlier this month.

"During the economic situation we're in now, I expect SOA implementation velocity will decrease," says John Andrews, CEO of researcher Evans Data Corp. However, not all SOA projects are at risk, Andrews adds: "A lot depends on the maturity level of the project. Organizations fully aligned with a SOA implementation and deriving savings from that project today will probably continue. But a SOA implementation is a big project with long-term payback, and those are the kinds of projects that are being cut from IT budgets today."

SOA projects are particularly at risk of being cut from budgets due to the difficulty in determining the return on investment (ROI) of such projects. One in five developers actively working on a SOA or Web services app cite providing ROI as the most challenging part of a SOA project, according to a study by Evans released last month.

Where's the ROI?
"The truth is, finding the true ROI of a SOA project is beyond the reach of IT alone, and the responsibility really has to be a shared with the overall business," Andrews says.

The survey also found that two vendors top the list of developers' attention when it comes to SOA and Web Services: Microsoft and IBM Corp. While IBM has long been known for its SOA efforts, Microsoft is not known as a leading provider of SOA.

"Microsoft has a great set of capabilities for SOA, from a starter-kit up," Andrews says.

Not everyone shares that view. ZapThink LLC senior analyst Ron Schmelzer sees Microsoft's approach to SOA as problematic.

"We think that Microsoft is communicating the wrong message around SOA," he says. "It's focused on Web services integration. They say, 'If you just build a bunch of Web services and run them on our platform you'll have SOA.' But we think they should show how Microsoft is applying SOA beyond just integrating Web services to provide some of the key benefits of SOA, like process-driven, recomposable services, and governed, managed, secure event services."

John Andrews, CEO, Evans Data Corp. "A SOA implementation is a big project with long-term payback, and those are the kinds of projects that are being cut from IT budgets today."
John Andrews, CEO, Evans Data Corp.

The Right Strategy?
Forrester Research Inc. analyst Randy Heffner also sees Microsoft's SOA strategy as one that's focused on Web services integration, but he says that that's probably the right strategy for the company at this time.

"You'd hardly expect anything else from such a developer-focused organization," Heffner says. "When you talk about SOA as architecture, you enter into an entirely different level of design considerations that you can't necessarily answer in technology. Microsoft has been trying over time to build its architectural presence with its MSDN sites and articles and various things within the Microsoft community, but it's still a developer-focused company."

Microsoft's Senior Technical Product Manager for SOA, Kris Horrocks, says that his company is simply focusing on what it does best, "which is to provide the innovations our customers are asking for in our core platform. Then we look for key partners who are targeting spaces that are a great opportunity for them and a great win for us and our customers," Horrocks says.

"You can certainly make a somewhat academic point that SOA can be pursued with any protocol or any set of standards independent of any particular protocol stack or set of technologies," he adds. "But while that's true from a purely architectural perspective, at the end of the day, the rubber has to meet the road with SOA for our customers. At some point, they do have to make a bet on which kinds of standards and underlying technologies they want to support. And we've been increasingly recommending that customers pay attention to Web services trends."

Architecture Approach vs. ESB
ZapThink has been warning against taking an "ESB-first approach" to SOA, in which the enterprise service bus (ESB) is implemented first, and SOA is implemented almost as a platform. In a recent report, ZapThink analyst Jason Bloomberg writes that ESB as integration middleware can lead to escalating costs as needs evolve, possibly canceling out the ROI that might be gained in the first place. "Only by taking an architecture-first approach to SOA will organizations be able to achieve this benefit," claims Bloomberg.

The two great promises of SOA -- costs savings and greater agility -- are essential elements of surviving an economic downturn, Bloomberg observes, but simply having a SOA initiative doesn't guarantee success. "You have to get it right," he warns. "When we see enterprises who've taken a SOA platform approach consider purchasing middleware for their middleware to scale their SOA initiatives, oblivious to the fact that following that path will prevent them from achieving the goals of SOA, all we can say is that we'll be placing our bets on ... the ones who are taking an architecture-first approach to SOA."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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