What you don’t want to know about SOA

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Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

SOA (service oriented architecture) is a big deal, I like it.
But it isn’t the be all and end all of computing. Here are ten
things you need to know about SOA.

  1. You can’t sell SOA. SOA allows your company to be more
    flexible. SOA enables the agile enterprise. Oh, yes. But you can’t
    build a business case or cost justification out of flexibility or
    agility, you can only build that based on resolving a business
    issue or issues. In appropriate circumstances SOA may enable a
    business solution to a business problem: that’s all.
  2. Even if you could sell SOA you couldn’t because you can’t
    describe to a business person what it is. The truth is that there
    is no good definition of what SOA is. Even as a concept it is
    fragile and different vendors and analysts will give you different
    (and nebulous) definitions. If even the IT industry cannot agree on
    a definition, how can you expect the business to understand it? The
    best that can be said is that it represents a set of enabling
  3. Business Process Management (BPM) is not SOA. You can do either
    without the other though doing SOA without BPM might be
  4. BPM engines represent a potential bottleneck for SOA. If
    everything is built around BPM and your services have to keep
    referring back to the BPM engine for instructions then that engine
    can become a bottleneck. You may therefore need to have multiple
    such engines with an “engine of engines” for
    orchestration. A better idea might be to have intelligent services,
    where appropriate, which understand their own routing and can
    maintain state information: thereby reducing the calls necessary to
    the engine.
  5. BPM isn’t enough anyway. It’s fine for fairly simple processes
    but can become impractical when environments are very complex and,
    especially, where the business is exception-driven. This is the
    role of (complex) event processing (CEP).
  6. Most vendors in the SOA space acknowledge the potential role of
    event processing but don’t understand it. For example, I have seen
    SOA presentations where CEP is confused with operational BI-style
    event processing. Certainly there is a place for this in SOA
    (throughput monitoring for example rather than the instance
    monitoring of BAM [business activity monitoring]—though the
    two should really be combined). Oracle, which does understand event
    processing, has CEP at level 5 in its maturity model for SOA: which
    is fine, except that CEP can be implemented totally independently
    of SOA.
  7. You don’t need to use SOAP (simple object access protocol).
    Funnily enough, this isn’t as simple as it is supposed to
    be—there are alternatives that are simpler.
  8. One of the biggest potential paybacks for SOA is in the ability
    to reuse services. But how do you make this happen? We couldn’t do
    it for objects and we couldn’t do it for components so why do we
    think we can do it for services? We can set up SOA governance and
    implement IT policies and rules but does that mean that developers
    will abide by them? When the pressure is on? When this job has to
    be finished by tomorrow?
  9. And talking about governance how is this going to
    work—what is the relationship between SOA and data
    governance, for example? If part of the purpose of governance is to
    establish the ownership of processes and data then that is a
    problem, because ownership implies responsibility and people will
    shy away from the latter if given half a chance. The theoretical
    models put about for governance are all very well but if they can’t
    be applied in the real world (at least some of the time) then we
    need more pragmatic sets of “the best we can reasonably
    get” practices rather than aiming for the ideal all of the
  10. Data is largely ignored (IBM is an honourable exception here)
    by most of those talking about SOA but if SOA is about undoing the
    Gordian knot of spaghetti that most company application
    architectures look like then shouldn’t the same be the case for the
    similarly complex data environment?

There a probably a lot more things that people need to know
about SOA but I have run out of space. Perhaps readers would like
to add some more points?