A Pony in the Pile - A Curmudgeon's View of SOA Adoption

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Summary:

I have been in and around Web Services and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for a long time. I have built distributed systems for fifteen or more years. I have scars from the Great Web Service Euphoria of '99 to '01. I have gray hair from dealing with the security and management problems of building real services in real networks. I have followed the standards as they have matured. I have observed and worked with clients as they considered and confronted SOA. Here is my conclusion: real SOA is so complex and organizations are so far from ready for it, that the only sound SOA adoption strategy demands agile program management techniques. Nothing less will suffice to guide and sustain an organization through the SOA evolution.

Here's an old joke. A young boy (or girl) is bouncing with desire to have a pony of his very own. A frustrated father takes his son (or daughter) down to the stables to show their ignorantly enthusiastic offspring the realities of pony-ownership. Behind the stables, the father shows the young scion of his house a huge pile of pony manure. And, before the father can even speak, the child runs headlong and burrows into the pile. Appalled, the father shouts, "What are you DOING?" The muffled reply comes, "I just KNOW that there is a pony in here somewhere!"

I was reminded of this joke recently during a seminar that I prepared and delivered for a client. In just one day, I had to introduce a room full of system engineers to the essential concepts of SOA. In just one day, I had to say something meaningful to them that would help {sidebar id=1} them to plot a course for their systems, products and relationships with their customers. In just one day, I had to pour an ocean into a teacup.

The grinding of my teeth made my head hurt.

Standards, Standards Everywhere, But Which Ones Do I Really Need?

If you doubt that SOA is a complex topic, start by looking at the wide, wild world of Web Services standards (see Figure 1). In seven years, these standards have evolved into two distinct generations, the core standards and the WS-* standards. Each generation has three levels: enabling standards (e.g., SOAP & WS-Coordination), enhancing standards (e.g., WS-Addressing & SAML) and utility standards (e.g., SOAP-RPC, WS-AtomicTransaction, and BPEL4WS). Many of these standards have reached, as of mid 2006, their third revision birthday - an important milestone for standards maturity - meaning that you have to be careful to check the publication date of everything that you read. There have been (and still are) competing standards. And, vendor APIs (which are not governed by the standards) are all over the map.

 

 

                                                       Figure 1 - Map of Web Services Standards

                                                       Source: Valtech

 

It is enough to daunt even the most technophilic soul. Do you really have to understand all of these standards? Do you have to adopt them all at once? Some of these standards are intended to be adapted and extended by the system implementer. Which ones do you have to build? Which ones can you buy? The vendors have been strongly driving the standards activity. How far can their products be trusted? Do they really have your best interests at heart?

Few, if any, organizations can absorb all of this technology change at once.  Considering that the Web Services-for-SOA marketplace (as distinguished from the Web Services-for-RPC marketplace) is only now crossing the chasm to the early adopter phase, no responsible IT leader would try. An effective SOA adoption strategy must start with a pragmatic and evolutionary attitude to SOA technology introduction. It must address the questions: What do we need now? What will we need next? What can we leave to later?

It is enough to daunt even the most technophilic soul. Do you really have to understand all of these standards? Do you have to adopt them all at once? Some of these standards are intended to be adapted and extended by the system implementer. Which ones do you have to build? Which ones can you buy? The vendors have been strongly driving the standards activity. How far can their products be trusted? Do they really have your best interests at heart?

Few, if any, organizations can absorb all of this technology change at once. 

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