Industry pundits have been touting 2005 as the year for service-oriented architecture (SOA). While naysayers think it's all hype, analysts are backing up their claims with solid numbers.
Companies of all sizes have already adopted SOA or have it on their radar for 2005, according to a report from Forrester Research Inc., in which 116 North American corporate decision makers were surveyed.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm found that more than 70% of large enterprises, 28% of medium-sized enterprises and 22% of small to midsized businesses (SMBs) are using SOA today. When factoring in those firms expecting to adopt SOA by year's end, the numbers soar to 89%, 61% and 40%, respectively.
Internal integration a key motivator
The decision makers who took part in the survey were familiar with programming technologies, application software architecture and application platforms, and came from large companies, with 20,000 or more employees; medium-sized companies, with 5,000 to 19,999 employees; smaller enterprises, with 1,000 to 4,999 employees; and SMBs with less than 1,000 employees.
But increased SOA adoption among these groups is where the similarity ends. The respondents diverged on a number of issues related to how they use SOA. They primarily used SOA for internal integration (37%) and much less for external integration (15%). They also used SOA for multi-channel applications (9%) and strategic business transformation (9%).
According to the report, the majority of SMBs that plan to use SOA by year's end intend to use it primarily for internal integration: 74% expect to use SOA for internal integration, while only 21% expect to use it for external integration.
Smaller companies feel that many standards, such as WS-Security, aren't ready to address the security concerns associated with external integration, said Randy Heffner, a vice president at Forrester and author of the report.
"These [smaller] enterprises tend to be more conservative because they don't have as many IT folks to dedicate to understanding a particular problem like external integration," Heffner said.
Nevertheless, many smaller organizations whose businesses depend on larger ones usually have to adjust their IT strategies to suit the needs of the bigger company. Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s recent mandate for all its suppliers to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is a case in point.
The supply chain is just one example of where -- if a company decides to do external integration -- then, by default, so too have the suppliers, Heffner said. He added, "When Wal-Mart gets a cold, the industry sneezes."
SOA-based integration on the rise
The report was unable to make a correlation between integration spending patterns and SOA usage. It found that 49% of respondents planned on increasing integration spending, 13% planned on decreasing integration spending and 31% expected to spend the same on integration in 2005. However, the average SOA usage figure for the three groups was still a phenomenal 40%, 40% and 31%, respectively.
Given the same percentage of current SOA use (40%) among firms with rising and falling integration spending, SOA-based integration is replacing traditional forms of integration such as enterprise application integration, adapters, message-oriented middleware and protocol bridging technologies, according to Forrester.
Increased integration spending means a company is more likely to have a strategic, enterprise-level commitment to SOA. Conversely, according to Forrester, reduced integration spending means that a company is using SOA predominantly at a less strategic project level, with plans to gradually adopt the technology.
But a piecemeal, project-level approach to SOA can be problematic because a company may be faced with larger integration headaches down the road as it tries to incorporate more applications into its SOA, according to the report's findings.
By the same token, Forrester cautions that a "do-it-all-at-once" approach to SOA can be expensive and time consuming. The fact that standards and products will experience dramatic change over the next five years might render current investments obsolete.
"As standards and the overall understanding of SOA mature in the industry," Heffner said, "products will start having newer functionality that caters to the vision of SOA flexibility."
Mitigating SOA adoption risks
To address what seems like SOA's double-edged sword, Forrester analysts have been recommending a "street-level strategy" for SOA adoption to their clients.
Companies can mitigate risk by maintaining a fluid SOA platform vision that changes in accordance with the market and SOA-related standards, Heffner said. An SOA platform should evolve in a stepwise fashion toward this flexible vision, according to the report.
"If you're not taking an evolutionary approach to your [SOA] platform, then you may bite off too much now and go in thinking you know what SOA is about," Heffner said. "This makes it harder to take advantage of some of the coming maturity in all the different products and standards."