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The top five SOA urban legends

What do SOA, Web services and SOA governance have to do with organ harvesting, sewer-dwelling alligators and Pop Rocks? All have become part of urban legend.

Is service-oriented architecture (SOA) a business strategy, a collection of Web services or the mythical boogie man who can only be seen in the dark while hiding underneath the beds of small children and IT staff?

The short answer is that SOA is a real business strategy. The value of an SOA can be backed up by those early adopters who cite strong benefits from the approach as well as industry and financial analysts who point to the potential dividends that can be realized through an SOA. However, there are still some holdouts that have classified SOA as urban legend.

As you may recall, urban legends are those false stories that blend humor and horror and oftentimes infuse a local flavor to boost credibility as they are passed along by the truly gullible. Still, while urban legends are riddled with falsehoods, they share a common thread in their goal of serving as a cautionary tale.

When it comes to SOA, there are some widely held misconceptions about what it can do to, for and within a company. To debunk those myths, following is a list of the top five SOA urban legends:

1. SOA Urban Legend: Organ Harvesting

Last summer, a CIO at a major financial services firm met with the company's board of directors to pitch an SOA strategy. When the CIO emerged from the meeting several hours later feeling groggy and a bit incoherent, he attributed his lethargy to the complexity of the conversation. The CIO later discovered that while the board had approved his proposal within the first 15 minutes, they had drugged him and used the rest of the time to harvest his vital organs in order to pay for the SOA.

SOA Truth: Cost savings through existing technology resources

One of the most compelling reasons for adopting an SOA strategy is cost savings. This is due to the fact that an SOA is built by reusing existing IT assets.

2. SOA Urban Legend: Stranger in the backseat

An SOA was found hiding in the backseat of an IT manager's station wagon that was parked at the Mall of America. When the IT manager got closer to the car, he realized what was lurking in the back seat and saw that the SOA was getting ready to unleash a series of different Web services all designed to automate the exact same business processes. The IT manager called the local police and together they disarmed the SOA and eliminated the redundant processes.

SOA Truth: Web services require governance

While creating Web services is a key to breaking down barriers among siloed applications, be sure that a governance strategy is in place to avoid various parts of the organization recreating similar, yet different approaches to the same tasks.

The reason that SOA governance is critical to sustaining an SOA is because it provides an accountability framework to avoid reinvention of the wheel -- albeit in different shapes and sizes -- which detracts from the SOA's main purpose of streamlining business processes to boost employee productivity.

3. SOA Urban Legend: Underground alligators and IT staff

Creating an SOA is the responsibility of the IT workers, who live in alligator colonies found underneath the sewers of New York City.

SOA Truth: You must align IT and business leaders

The creation of a successful SOA is the responsibility of both IT and business leaders who are located throughout the entire organization.

4. SOA Urban Legend: Pop Rocks, Coke and Open Source

Integrating proprietary applications with open source in your SOA is as lethal a combination as mixing Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola.

SOA Truth: Integrating mixed environments is not an option

Since a homogeneous environment is almost non-existent in today's world, the need for an SOA will increase. Remember that an SOA, by design, enables the easy integration of people, processes and information regardless of their location or origin.

5. SOA Urban Legend: You still get an A even if you fail

If your SOA dies half-way through the semester, you automatically get a 4.0.

SOA Truth: Failure results from a lack of planning

While the value and ROI on an SOA can be measured in terms of productivity and cost savings, there have been several failed first attempts. Still, don't let the legends deter you from your SOA path. One of the primary reasons that an SOA project fails on its first attempt is due to a lack of strategic planning and business process modeling.

As companies of all sizes continue to adopt an SOA strategy, there will be increasing evidence – both anecdotal and quantifiable – that will help to dispel these common urban legends that are told by the friend of a friend of a friend.

For a closer look at the original, mainstream urban legends, please visit:

About the author

Sandy Carter is the vice president for SOA and WebSphere strategy, channels and marketing at IBM.

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