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SOA, IT’s chameleon architecture

I was reading a recent blog entry by Joe McKendrick in which he noted that service-oriented architecture can save money during hard times and add revenue during good times. It got me thinking about something I’ve heard fairly regularly over the years, namely that SOA often sounds like something out of an infomercial.

You mean SOA slices, dices, chops, cooks things to perfection, cleans up easily, prepares healthier food and has zero environmental impact? You almost expect Ron Popeil to pop out from around the corner and announce that, “But wait, there’s more.”

Let’s face it, SOA sometimes sounds too good to be true. It also leads one of the great misconceptions about SOA, that it’s a tidy thing you can buy. People want SOA to be tangible. They want to be able to point to it and say, “There’s my SOA.” It’s why so many glommed onto the enterprise service bus concept. The ESB is a piece of integration middleware that follows certain service-oriented principles, but many made the mistake of thinking that buying an ESB gave you a de facto SOA. It’s a natural reaction. When something new and compelling comes along, you want it in your hands, preferably now.

Yet SOA isn’t some secret spice that comes in its own box, something you can add liberally to every project. SOA is a consistent and sensible approach to architecting your business. It’s rigor and diligence more than technology.

This week we’ll get deeper into that issue with a podcast with esteemed IT analyst and co-author of “Service Oriented Architecture for Dummies” Judith Hurwitz, in which she directly addresses the whole faulty concept of “SOA in a box.”

That brings me back to the (fair) complaint that SOA sounds too good to be true. Critics are correct that no one thing will solve all your app dev problems. That said, rigor and diligence in building a modular, adaptable architecture is exactly the sort of thing that can help you in mulitple, often diametrically opposed, situations. When the bad times hit, it can help you with cost containment. When the good times hit, it can help you seize opportunities. That’s what an adaptable infrastructure does.

Just last week, we had a story that noted an SOA infrastructure had helped Sprint/Nextel speed up integration with new trading partners twentyfold. That’s a case of saving you money and making you money in one fell swoop. Doing things in a service-oriented manner creates business agility, which is the real goal.

Building a more agile business isn’t something that sounds too good to be true. Large numbers of companies are doing it right now and they are reaping the benefits. It may be hard work, it may require creative approaches to change the corporate culture, but it is not a flimflam promise. SOA is an approach to technology, which opens up a greater number of business possibilities. It can promise more because flexibility is at its very core.

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