If you're confused about service-oriented architecture (SOA), you're not alone.
The analysts at ZapThink LLC., who have 750 clients working on SOA, say that initial confusion about what to do and how to do it is common.
"We're seeing a lot of people out there struggling with SOA, trying to do SOA," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink. "They are worrying about building services and running services. They are having to ask themselves questions. 'Why am I doing this? What services do I really need to be building?' They need methodology."
With the addition of David Linthicum, SOA architect and consultant, to the ZapThink practice this month, Schmelzer said his company's focus in the next year will be on providing mentorship for clients seeking to find their way through the maze of SOA standards, technology and vendor product marketing.
Following best practices is what ZapThink preaches to those looking to get beyond vendor hype and buzzword du jour, said Jason Bloomberg, ZapThink senior analyst, who in recent years has made a mantra out of saying SOA is not about software vendor products.
"We have a best practices driven approach that SOA is architecture," Bloomberg said. "Architecture consists of best practices for leveraging IT to meet changing business needs. It doesn't start with the technology. It doesn't start with vendors. It starts with asking what do you want to do and what is the best way to do it?"
Linthicum, the newest member of the ZapThink consultancy, said that what most beginning SOA implementations need is "somebody who can go in there with a process, research, approaches that are proven best practices and take them through the entire soup-to-nuts in terms of what are the requirements?"
A best practice approach won't start with easy answers like buy this tool or embrace these specifications, Linthicum said. It will start with questions including: What technologies do you need? What are the services you need to identify? How do you test them, deploy them and govern them and support them?
"I think that's what organizations are looking for right now," he said. "Originally, people wanted SOA in a box, but I think they're figuring out that's not something that's possible right now. So people are coming back and saying: 'Okay, now what do I have to do to make myself successful?' "
SOA success depends on following SOA best practices, Bloomberg said.
Asked to outline what those best practices would be, he said: "It's important to take it one step at a time. That's really a core best practice. You should take an iterative approach to SOA that shows business value at each step. When we meet with architects and they are at a loss as to which way to go, which is really quite common, we always tell them to circle back to the business problem. What's the problem you are trying to solve? What are the business's urgent or most important problems?"
Once those questions are answered, he suggests focusing development efforts on a limited project that addresses a limited set of problems that the architects and developers can be successful at addressing with SOA. There needs to be a plan, but the plan doesn't have to cover every future contingency before any work can begin, Bloomberg said.
"The overall plan doesn't have to be complete because you can be working on that as you go," he said. "You tackle it a step at a time within the context of a plan that's giving real business value as you go. It's the old maxim: How do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time."