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SOA growth and change: TechTarget survey shows SaaS, BPM emerging

Hype around Service Oriented Architecture may be subsiding, but use of SOA has spread. Sixty percent of respondents to the TechTarget SOA Survey 2009 say their current or future SOA work covers the enterprise level. Integration, BPM and cloud garner interest.

UPDATED - With a difficult economic climate as background, a shift is under way in both the types of infrastructure and the types of service-based applications organizations plan for their service-oriented architecture, according to results from a recent survey conducted by and

Software architects and their development teams are looking toward infrastructure software such as grid and cloud computing.

They are moving quickly as well to deploy tactical business process management (BPM) applications.

Also on the application front, software-as-a-service (SaaS), mobile and composite applications are clearly on application development managers' radar.

Despite some bad press of SOA at the start of the year, SOA is in fact motoring forward. Among the survey respondents, 49% said their organization has one or more SOA projects under way, and 60% characterize their current or future SOA projects as enterprise level as opposed to departmental/divisional level (21%), or single, isolated projects (19%). Still, respondents admit, there are hurdles for broader SOA deployment.

Meanwhile, there is interest and uptick in Business Process Management with 29.7% of respondents marking BPM as one of the critical areas for their organization's technology efforts. At the same time, 35.8% respondents counted Business Process Management software among the types of infrastructure software currently used, with 38% planning to use it in the future.

That same question found that grid/cloud software is now used by 17% of respondents, with 38% planning to use grid/cloud in the future.

The TechTarget SOA Survey 2009 was conducted in February of this year. Respondents (376, total) comprised a mix of developers, architects, C-level execs, managers, consultants and others.

Don't count out integration

Today's SOA projects are largely about integration. The top benefits organizations hope to achieve are improved data integration (32%), enable legacy application integration (32%) and integrated disparate department applications (23%), followed by cost cutting (21%). Staying competitive (8.4%) and driving innovation (8%) tracked low on the expected benefits list.

The emphasis on integration "illustrates how far we've gotten from the original understanding of what SOA is," said Ronald Schmelzer, managing partner at analyst firm ZapThink LLC in Baltimore. "It reflects the fact that 90%-plus of people thinking they're doing SOA are really doing Web services/enterprise application integration.

"They just got rid of the adapters," Schmelzer continued. But, he asserted, "SOA has to be an architectural approach.

He traces this situation to vendor marketing. "I think we can squarely blame the vendors for this," he said. "They say 'if you want to do SOA, buy our product.' That's a complete fallacy."

Massimo Pezzino, VP and analyst, Gartner Inc., thinks the focus on integration and the resulting cost savings is in large part due to the economic climate. Back in June when Gartner asked survey respondents a similar question about SOA benefits, "the top benefits expected were agility, innovation, and were more focused on helping organizations become more competitive [and] agile," he said. Now, however, "what we're finding is when customers invest in SOA technology today they go for low-hanging fruit; the economy is responsible in a big way."

Dennis Bourgeois, director of professional services at Oracle reseller Mythics Inc. in Virginia Beach, Va., said his customers focus their SOA efforts largely on integration and workflow, driven by cost cutting. "The most dramatic ROI we've had is in military healthcare organizations. They have been able to cut their contractor costs way down because they didn't have stovepipe applications embedded into their lifecycle. They became more agile, and drove costs way down."

BPM, workflow uptick

MBA's Inc., business and organizational management consultants in Highlands Ranch, Colo., has implemented SOA and infrastructures within several small businesses with high growth potential. "There is a special value within SOA, especially in today's economic marketplace, that can assist in controlling expenses and technology overhead--if management understands this concept," said CEO Jeffrey C. Fischer. "The ability to have updated information flowing and support on-call 24/7 for a fixed expense becomes reasonable in calculating cash flow, ROI and margins for profitability on product lines."

When survey respondents were asked about future infrastructure use, grid/cloud and BPM both showed considerable interest.

With a lot of SOA projects focused on cost containment, BPM "is an immediate opportunity for customers to get benefits," Gartner's Pezzini said. While grid and cloud hold promise for SOA, he said the technology and market are not fully capable yet. "Grid promises to deliver some benefits of cloud in terms of flexibility, optimization of infrastructure and cost reduction, but on the basis of the traditional model," he said. "Rather than servers running in somebody else's data center you have them in your data center but you get greater optimization of hardware resources, flexibility across servers--the elastic scalability concept. It will probably take another 3-5 years before the benefits of cloud can be achievable in the context of SOA projects."

What is happening right now, Pezzini said, is "many organizations are integrating a SaaS application in the context of their SOA framework." Indeed, according to the survey, the predominant types of service-based applications planned for the future are: on-demand SaaS (62%), Web services for mobile apps (60%) and composite application assembly (58%).

Bourgeois said his company has noticed more interest in SaaS recently. "We're working with a couple of companies that want to offer SaaS; SOA is absolutely part of how you'd do it. It's a very clear standard for everybody."

Steve Whatmore, Java architect at LYNXDev Inc. in Toronto, said there are several issues to measure when considering SaaS as part of an overall SOA strategy. These include: who determines what is/isn't part of the services and how much control/input you have into that process; who is responsible for issues that arise in the application architecture; what happens when the SaaS service is unavailable; and security of data at rest and at motion.

Got SOA skills?

While organizations may be reaping benefits from SOA, there remain some hurdles. Respondents ranked skills, architecture and governance as the top challenges. Pezzini said Gartner has found similar results.

"Those not doing SOA said it was because of skills." Also, he added, "governance is becoming more and more popular as an issue. When you start your first couple of SOA projects you really don't foresee the problem of governance. It becomes more evident as you move forward, your fifth or sixth SOA project, that without solving governance you can't really get the benefits of SOA."

Whatmore agrees. "The biggest obstacles found in SOA are not technical but rather organizational buy-in, governance and effectively managing the SOA process, although there still are technical hurdles such as performance, flexibility, versioning, etc. This in fact harkens back to the days of the CSFs [common system functions] on the OS/390, where a number of shared functions would be developed by a common systems group and utilized throughout the organization. The biggest hurdles then were determining what a CSF was, how it was going to be used and how to manage changes to that function once it was deployed."

He added that this "should sound very familiar with the hurdles being tackled by organizations today as they move past their SOA 1.0 initiatives." It appears the old adage of the more things change, the more they stay the same also applies to SOA.

Judith Hurwitz on SOA governance, services management

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