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Is SOA becoming ubiquitous?

SOA is becoming less of a technology buzzword, but even if SOA is becoming invisible, it is still seen as the enabler for most of the hot new buzzwords.

Is SOA DOA or passé or just so yesterday?

It seems a fair question after service-oriented architecture (SOA) did not make the Gartner Inc. list of "Top 10 Strategic Technology Areas" release this week, but on his ZDNet blog Joe McKendrick, analyst for Evan Data Corp. offered assurance that SOA is the "behind-the-scenes force" for many in the top 10 including business process modeling, metadata management, mashups and composite apps, and Web platforms.

SOA is not a product. It's not a technology. It's a way of thinking about application design that has certain principles.
John Michelsen
Chief ScientistiTKO Inc.

But after last week's analysts' consensus that an SOA business plan should not even mention SOA, and its failure to make the Gartner list, it seemed fair to ask McKendrick if SOA was becoming an invisible force behind Web 2.0 technologies, but destined to stay a secret among geeks.

"Right now, SOA is an extremely visible effort and goal to the IT side, but invisible to the business side," McKendrick replied. "I think, ironically, over the long run, the reverse may occur. That is, assuming SOA works as predicted, it will become invisible to IT people, but become more visible to business people."

If that future materializes, McKendrick said SOA with its standards, conformance testing and governance will become an automatic part of application development in IT.

"IT developers will be able to focus on the business applications at hand and not worry so much about how their activities are fitting into the enterprise SOA effort," the analyst said. "SOA compliance will be embedded, if you will, into all or most of their activities. In fact, 'embedded SOA' may be a better term than 'invisible SOA.'"

In response to the question about where SOA fits into the brave new world of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, Miko Matsumura, deputy CTO, Software AG/webMethods, said the hot new technologies mentioned by Gartner are "consumption patterns" within the SOA environment.

"The thing that I think people are starting to queue into that makes things jazzy and fun and exciting is the concept of consumption patterns," he said. "The thing that's funny is the top 10 list that Gartner produced is almost a list of consumption patterns for SOA."

Matsumura compared SOA to a piñata that children break open at birthday parties to release candy and other goodies.

"The architecture has no value until it's expressed in consumptions patterns," he said. "What I think is good is people are focusing their attention on the goodies that come out of the piñata and not on the piñata itself."

The consumption patterns of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 are made possible by SOA in this view.

"The underlying service is just a generic-kind of service, but it comes to life when you put an Ajax interface in front or some kind of cool mashup in front of it," Matsumura said. "Once you've got a platform of business services, you can make mashups or Web 2.0 or a ton of really cool things."

Turning to another goodies metaphor, Matsumura said SOA is invisible in the same way the recipe for a cake is invisible. Even the most proud baker wouldn't stop people from eating his cake while he read them the recipe. The consumers of cake or Web 2.0 applications want to enjoy them not hear a dissertation on how they were made, he said.

In general agreement with McKendrick and Matsumura, John Michelsen, chief scientist at iTKO Inc., said he anticipates that SOA is becoming invisible, but the point is it will still be there underpinning the Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 applications.

"Is SOA itself a big deal or is SOA an enabler for a lot of other big deals?" Michelsen asked rhetorically. "I blogged on this a few months ago where I said we're already calling SOA dead or saying adoption is slow or it's no different from ESB [enterprise service bus] or EAI [enterprise application integration]. There's all kinds of anti-SOA rhetoric. Ironically, I think it misses the point because SOA is just the way we're building applications these days. We're going to stop calling it SOA in a few years and critics will say they were right, but in reality SOA will just be the norm."

The status of SOA today is similar to where e-commerce was in the late 1990s, Michelsen said. At that time everybody was building e-commerce applications using e-commerce tools.

"Now, we're doing the same thing with SOA," he said. "We're saying this is an SOA project or this is an SOA tool. Today, you still use content management and application servers and Java as a language and Web interfaces, but you no longer call it e-commerce because now it's just apps. It's just how we do it. We don't really think of it as e-commerce any more, it's just the typical pattern for applications these days. I think exactly the same thing will happen with SOA."

For more information
SOA after the hype

Who's killing SOA?

The fact that Gartner doesn't list SOA as one of the top 10 technologies or that analysts advise against mentioning SOA in writing a business case for SOA projects does not bother Michelsen at all.

"When you say SOA no longer matters, it's everything that SOA enables that matters, I totally think that's right because SOA is a way to achieve certain things from an architecture and an alignment and agility point of view," he said.

Michelsen and Matsumura both note that they along with most analysts do not consider SOA to be a technology, so they are not surprised that it doesn't make lists of cool new technologies. It is in their view the enabler of technologies.

"SOA is not a product," Michelsen said. "It's not a technology. It's a way of thinking about application design that has certain principles and now we're seeing those applied. Once that way of thinking has been achieved, we start thinking of ways to solve problems. So we think of Enterprise 2.0."

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