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SOA vendor hype exceeds reality, analyst finds

Despite vendor hype around SOA, the reality among IT professionals is that the term is ill-defined and the benefits not clearly documented, according to an Info-Tech Research analyst.

If service-oriented architecture (SOA) is such a great thing wouldn't customers be flocking to the vendors for it, rather than the vendors generating hype with a massive marketing buzz?

We're seeing it more on a pilot level as opposed to full-blown service-oriented architecture.
Morgan Chmara
Research AnalystInfo-Tech Research Group

That is one of the questions Morgan Chmara, research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, is raising after studying the differences in what vendors are saying and what her CIO clients are telling her. She just completed a research note, "Hype vs. Reality: Trends in SOA," published this month, which includes the results of a survey of 349 organizations at various stages of SOA adoption. However, while some of the survey results appear impressive, such as 36 percent saying they have implemented SOA and 28% planning SOA projects, she remains skeptical about what such figures really mean.

"I think it's fair to say that an implementation rate of 36 percent is by no means small," she said. "And 28 percent planning that's a fair deal, but it's one thing to say you're planning, and another to actually do it."

She said the 36 percent implementation and most other surveys that ask about SOA implementation are often comparing apples and oranges because different organizations have different ideas of what SOA really is. Some implementations may be the dreaded Just a Bunch of Web Services (JBOWS), others may be small departmental projects.

"We're seeing it more on a pilot level as opposed to full-blown service-oriented architecture," she said of her talks with CIOs. "We're really not seeing it extend across the organization or outside of the organization. It's more in departmental levels."

She said that anecdotally she has found that not every IT professional who tells their boss they understand SOA, actually understands it.

Chmara said in her conversations with CIOs, she hears true confessions like this: "I'm not going to lie to you here, my CEO thinks I know what SOA is, but I don't."

Her analysis is that the vendor hype about what is happening with SOA far exceeds what her study of the market would indicate.

She has concluded: "When you really get down to it and look at some of the facts what we're seeing if we push aside what all the vendors are saying, and push aside all the marketing around SOA, is people are familiar with the term, service-oriented architecture. But despite what we're being told, not as many people are really adopting it as it would seem. Of the ones that are adopting it, it's still early to be seeing these benefits we're hearing about."

Chmara said one of the problems CIOs face in asking for money to fund SOA projects is that the return on investment comes over years and they are often under the gun to produce results in months.

She also argues that the benefits SOA vendors are touting are not that well documented, which leaves some CIOs wondering if they would be buying a pig in a poke. Putting herself in her clients' shoes, she said: "I really don't want to be the first one to find out that SOA isn't as great as the vendors promised."

For more information
SOA after the hype

Who's killing SOA?

It is going to take more than hype and marketing buzzwords to get organizations to make a large commitment to SOA, in her opinion.

What is needed she said are detailed case studies of implementations where SOA is carefully defined and documented so readers can be sure it isn't JBOWS. It can't just be a vendor saying Company X is speeding up their supply chain with SOA.

She also chastises vendors for selling SOA as if it were a product in a box that they can deliver.

Agreeing with other analysts covering SOA, Chmara said: "SOA is more of a strategy as opposed to a plug-and-play software application. It's not just something you do. It's a strategy. You change the way you think, the way you organize your applications, but you look at what vendors are saying and they are pushing it as if it is a technology and a product that you can buy from them."

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