Much of the buzz around service-oriented architecture (SOA) has been that by eroding the boundaries between applications it will make the applications obsolete.
Not so, according to a new report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. It contends that the nature of how applications get built will change, but that end users will still interact with a "working business solution," with a look and feel similar to current day applications, despite its composite structure.
"It's not a your-father's-applications kind of scenario," said Forrester analyst Randy Heffner. "In a sense, yes, SOA spells the end of the application as we know it, but the problem with that statement is it doesn't take the thinking far enough."
Heffner made a case that applications are perceptual in nature.
"What does your user think is the application? That's the key," he said.
Key to all of this is component-based design. Numerous business services will be conglomerated to form SOA applications.
Though the Forrester report notes certain key differentiators between SOA and classic modular software design:
- SOA recognizes business processes as a critical design domain -- business processes now drive the development and workflow of the application rather than exist as an embedded component.
- SOA has stronger layering -- Business services will be wholly responsible for each request made to those services while the interaction layer will only route the traffic and handle presentation.
- SOA designs services that are meaningful at a business level -- No longer are applications part of the chain of a business service, they are the business service.
- SOA allows any type of service implementation -- Web services can be assembled from COM objects to Enterprise JavaBeans. It's more concerned with architecture than building blocks.
Heffner focused on business services as application "piece parts," noting that different piece parts will be contained within multiple applications, creating standardized methods of handling certain tasks throughout the corporate or business unit structure.
While some developers and business analysts may be nervous about such fundamental changes in the structure of business, Heffner sees the change as inexorable given "the constant pressure to do more with less."
"That pressure naturally smashes your applications together," he said. "The bottom line is there aren't going to be anymore standalone applications. That's the part that's going away. So don't build your applications as if they're standalone. Build them as SOA components, which can be of use to you in multiple business solutions."
The report also targeted core planning issues. Among the concerns that need to sorted out in SOA application design are:
- Which development and support teams are responsible for which SOA piece parts?
- Which SOA piece parts are funded by which budgets?
- When the user says, "The application is down!" which team do we call first?
- How many teams will have to work together to deliver a complete business solution?
Heffner doesn't expect the landscape to change overnight. Instead he believes businesses will "evolve toward" new-breed SOA applications instead of experience a "Big Bang," where the entire company changes in an instant. This way IT shops will be able to prove return on investment one Web services project at a time rather than have to put a dollar sign on the unfixed target of methodology.
"It's a matter of how do I do that million dollar investment as $60,000 here and $30,000 there rather than in one big chunk," Heffner said. "That way I can demonstrate the value of SOA as I progress toward it."