While beloved Yankee guru Yogi Berra famously warned that it is dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future, people keep doing it, even about service-oriented architecture (SOA).
Some notable 2008 SOA predictions include more emphasis on cost saving SOA projects for businesses facing an economic downturn and the emergence of the configuration management database (CMDB) for improved federated governance. Meanwhile back at the user interface, Web 2.0 technology for knowledge worker collaboration did not catch fire with enterprise IT in 2007, but hope is still held out for it this year.
While vendors, who offered many predictions for 2008, tend to be optimists, the assessment that an economic downturn this year might alter SOA adoption patterns was offered by analyst Jason Bloomberg of ZapThink LLC. His very first prediction for 2008 "takes into account the current economic slowdown."
Since ZapThink is not in the economic forecasting business, Bloomberg did not try to predict how deep or long the slowdown might be, but he offered an assessment of how it might impact SOA.
"It would be easy to simply say that tightening IT purse strings will lead to cancellations or at least postponements of SOA initiatives, but we don't see that happening as a universal pattern," he wrote. "Instead, we see a slowdown separating enterprises into two groups: organizations who have turned the corner with their SOA initiatives and are seeing (or are about to see) real benefits from the new architectural approach, versus those companies who are still struggling with their SOA projects."
Because SOA provides agility to change business application quickly as business conditions change, companies that have SOA in place are well positioned to handle market fluctuations, Bloomberg said. Those who are coming late to the SOA party, may not be so lucky.
"Unfortunately, however, many organizations are still struggling with the business case for SOA, or even worse, have made a wrong turn or reached some kind of impasse with their SOA initiatives," he wrote. "For those organizations, we do predict cancellations of SOA projects and deferments of SOA spending, to their detriment. Because after all, their competition might very well be leveraging SOA to be more successful during a downturn, leaving the unsuccessful companies out in the cold."
But even companies facing a decline in business might benefit from tactical guerilla SOA projects that might provide cost savings. Asked if it made sense for companies suffering in the economic downturn to look to SOA as a possible way to turn things around, Bloomberg said it depended on the business value that might be derived.
"It makes no sense to jump into any kind of project, SOA or not, if there's no clear business justification for that project," Bloomberg replied. "As purse strings tighten, however, the more tactical cost savings justification becomes more urgent than any of the more strategic reasons for implementing SOA, like business agility or business empowerment. So if an organization wants to save money by reducing redundancy or dependency on expensive middleware, then SOA makes sense no matter how bad the economy gets."
So this could be the year of the tactical guerrilla SOA project.
Configuration management database emerging
It may not have been on the tip of the tongue of architects discussing SOA in 2007, but Miko Matsumura, deputy CTO at Software AG, predicts that the configuration management database (CMDB) will be the new trend in governance. He said including CMDB federation in the registry/repository will improve SOA ecosystems.
CMDB allows IT to keep track of all the components of a system, including an SOA system, which is why it can bring greater harmony to a loosely coupled Web services-base system, Matsumura said.
"SOA is regulated insofar as systems participate," he explained. "Regulated means governed. Each group in IT has its own repository, which must federate. Federation is essentially defined as the stuff a group has to give up in order to be a part of something bigger. CMDB represents the IT operations group. BPMS represents the business group and so forth. What emerges is like all of the organelles in a cell interoperating in harmony. This is the next stage in [SOA] evolution."
CMDB is part of the larger IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework, which analysts say is needed for IT to manage the loosely coupled services in SOA implementations.
Matsumura said CMDB will be part of the news coming from the SOA governance world in the coming year.
Wither Web 2.0?
Not all predictions for any year come to pass, acknowledges Ted Farrell, chief architect and vice president for tools and middleware at Oracle Corp., who made some last year and is making some for this year.
"In 2007, there were things that happened in 2007 and things that didn't," he said. His predicting last year that SOA adoption would take off was one of his winners, but the emergence of Web 2.0 collaboration tools in the enterprise did not take off as anticipated last year, but Farrell is not without hope for it in 2008.
Pointing out that he had picked a winner last year, he said: "The SOA uptake in 2006 was gaining momentum and we felt it would really start to take off in 2007 and it did. Companies have really come to appreciate in the last couple years that adopting an SOA architecture is not sort of an all or nothing where you have to change everything you're doing. They can basically augment what they have with these new business processes and go back and re-factor certain smaller parts and learn and evolve this architecture into their current systems without wiping out what they have and starting from scratch. We've seen hundreds of customers doing this, companies finding the right project where they want to extend the business that they currently have or add better self-service automation through Web interfaces to their customers, or get greater flexibility over the business processes that they have with their partners. I think we've really seen that take off."
The Oracle architect's prediction of growth in Ajax or rich Internet applications (RIAs) technologies also was realized as SOA moved from backend integration out to end users.
However, the Web 2.0 technologies, wikis, blogs and other Web collaboration tools, that Farrell thought would be big in 2007 did not receive the adoption rate originally anticipated.
"We've seen some of that," he said of Web 2.0 technologies, but acknowledged that adoption was slowed by "a mental hurdle of trying to get enterprises to figure out what it actually means to them."
He said enterprise IT professionals are still not sold on the business benefits of what is still viewed as consumer technologies, Farrell said.
"Some of these new technologies in the UI space and collaboration space, they see them in the consumer space," he explained. "They see FaceBook and Google and Yahoo!, but they don't know what that means to them and why they should spend money on these kinds of technologies and how it could benefit them."
He said Oracle is now making an effort to explain the potential value of the Web 2.0 collaboration technologies and he expects that to take off in 2008.
One of the problems with Web 2.0 is it lacks a clear definition making it hard for enterprise IT to see where it has a value to knowledge workers, Farrell said. To counter this, he said Oracle is stressing advantages such as the ability of departmental end users to tag data that would be useful to co-workers who might not otherwise know about the information or where to find it. At the same time, where consumer Web 2.0 tends to have free flowing access to data, Oracle is working to assure enterprise customers that even with these new collaboration technologies they can maintain control and security over corporate data.
Perhaps 2008 will be the year of enterprise Web 2.0. If not, there's always hope for 2009.