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The top SOA stories of 2007, part 1

Microsoft, business issues, a lack of qualified architects, and management/governance confusion rank among the top SOA stories of 2007.

It's no exaggeration to point out that service-oriented architecture is everywhere these days. SOA has become so popular some vendors even claim to have it where it isn't.

And, like the years before it, plenty of folks complained about SOA in 2007 even as the IT profession continued its inexorable march toward service orientation. Yet every major application development vendor moved deeper into SOA as the year progressed and users started to show off some spiffy new services as the fruit of their re-orientation labors.

In fact, the number of stories that won't make the list this year is massive. Eclipse Europa, numerous advancements in the Java community and the growing importance of testing/QA all were worthy contenders that won't get mention beyond this sentence. Had Oracle Corp. successfully bought BEA Systems Inc., that surely would have made the list, but the deal never happened. Software AG's acquisition of webMethods Inc. didn't make the list either, proving that news competition in SOA is fierce these days.

In 2007, SOA began to have grownup problems. The space moved well past constant talk about Web services standards and basic integration concerns. Instead, scalability and profit began to ascend the ladder of concerns.

This first installment will cover places five through eight in the countdown. Read part two here.

8. Microsoft tries to find its way

Microsoft can claim to be a pioneer in the SOA space, but the company's maverick instincts have proven problematic. The folks in Redmond like to do things their own way, including SOA. That would be fine, but some analyst firms are reporting a dropoff in .NET usage.

Analysts praised Microsoft for not offering up a cookie cutter approach to service orientation, but the Redmond software giant faced criticism that it's still too proprietary and that it needs to better job of addressing architecture at the enterprise level (as opposed to at the application level). It did however make a major move in joining with the Liberty Alliance to smooth out Web services identity interop issues.

Microsoft started the year with its Vista operating system release, which only had tangential connections to SOA. Then late in the year, it unveiled plans for a model-driven SOA approach codenamed Oslo. A Community Technical Preview is planned for sometime in 2008 with general availability scheduled for 2009.

Yet will Oslo be Microsoft's big SOA play? Does it even make sense for Microsoft to position itself as an SOA vendor? Or would it do better to go after the composite applications market with technologies like Windows Communication Foundation, Astoria and Silverlight? ZapThink LLC senior analyst Jason Bloomberg suspects it will be the latter.

"Their modeling format is proprietary and their registry interfaces are proprietary," he said. "So it's our opinion that Oslo is not appropriate for most SOA initiatives, the only exception being the rare Microsoft-only ones. Silverlight might very well be a more promising approach."

7. Does SOA have a head for business?

During the Impact conference in Orlando, senior vice president for IBM Software Steve Mills declared the world to be in the business benefits of SOA. Yet the SOA Consortium also pulled together a group or CIOs and CTOs who said SOA needs to focus on business concerns and site expert Miko Matsumura agreed that business synergy will be the stick by which successful SOA implementations will be measured.

Of course little matters like who owns the business and business case best practices need to be sorted out. And you probably need to learn how to pitch SOA to the business and identify meaningful ROI targets.

Meanwhile, analysts are creating a new lexicon around concepts like dynamic business application and complex event processing.

According to Neil Macehiter, research director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, "I think that SOA as an enabler of business transformation is still in the early phases. That being said, I believe the synergies with BPM, by which I mean business process management rather than service orchestration using BPEL, are resulting in some progress in this regard. Organizations looking at BPM initiatives to support business transformation strategies are beginning to see the benefits of aligning that with a way of thinking about IT capabilities as services. Furthermore, as thinking matures beyond software development and integration primarily focused on the design/development phase of the lifecycle to a focus which recognizes that services are experienced throughout their lifecycle, then this will extend the reach of SOA initiatives to more of a business audience."

6. Help wanted

As 2007 began, some industry insiders began to talk out loud about a dirty secret – the IT industry doesn't have enough architects trained in SOA. Sure enough SOA certification programs began to sprout and colleges began to teach service orientation, but at the end of the year our readers reported their top problem on SOA projects is finding qualified personnel to do the work.

Clearly the identification of the problem is well ahead of the solution. The resulting impact of what hasn't been done and what has been done poorly has yet to be estimated, though expect analyst firms to start putting a dollar figure on it if the dearth of capable SOA practitioners continues.

As an interesting sidelight, concern that SOA threatens developer jobs persists. The pat answer normally is that any programmer willing to adapt shouldn't fear the change, but during 2007 we began to hear from analysts who said it's probably time to demand that developers get with the program.

5. Is anybody in charge?

The term "governance" gets used heavily in SOA circles these days, overused in fact. Yet no matter how often it gets said, reports are that users are missing the boat on SOA governance. In fact some analysts are urging IT shops to get a little draconian about enforcing service-oriented development policies.

Some help for those looking to organize their governance efforts emerged in ITIL v3.

Beyond governance, a troubling aspect of the software marketplace is that heterogeneous development seems to be far ahead of heterogeneous management. Analysts say successful SOA management requires some finesse, that you can't buy it out of the box. While management and monitoring are changing to fit real time, service-oriented systems and management vendors continue to service-orient their products, analysts remain dissatisfied with the state of the market.

Steve Craggs, founder at Lustratus Research Inc., blames vendors for not being able to sort out the differences between governance and management.

"Users understand the difference perfectly well, vendors don't," he said. "The vendors are talking about the management aspects of governance and not governance, which really doesn't require you to buy anything. And that's also completely different from actual management."

He also noted that the management/governance cross-pollination creates difficulty for would-be buyers.

"Management solutions are bought by IT operations while governance tends to be bought by business operations like an audit department," Craggs said.

He believes many end users are choosing to wait until the vendors sort out heterogeneous management and what tools can aid in SOA governance – "The pain's not great enough yet for many of them to make a purchase."

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