What's the deal with SOA?
When they weren't at each other's throats, software vendors of every shape and size spent a ridiculous amount of time this year proclaiming that their enterprise products and services were the secret sauce for a service-oriented architecture (SOA) (define).
Of course, the idea of SOA -- essentially aligning IT services and business processes through loosely coupled heterogeneous services -- has been around for years.
But judging from this year's press releases and product announcements from vendors like IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Oracle, SOA is some kind of magic tonic that will revolutionize the entire organization, and each vendor is the only one that can make it happen.
It's still unclear whether SOA will become the next evolution in IT architecture or just a interesting footnote like the Y2K scare. That will depend on how committed enterprise customers are to defining and identifying thousands upon thousands of business processes.
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Equally important, analysts and systems integrators say, is whether or not enterprise customers are willing to pay millions upfront to overhaul all their business and IT processes for some future benefit that, at this early stage, is almost impossible to quantify.
"Right now with SOA, it's like we're in a spaceship and looking at that big, bright star way out there," said Don Rippert, Accenture's chief technology officer. "That bright star is SOA. And we want to get there and see that star. But as we get closer, we realize it's a not a star but a galaxy. There's a logic and a gravity to it but it's not a single thing. Just like client-server wasn't a single thing. There's a lot of promise. But we're not there yet. We're still a long way away."
Vendors continue to promise this fantastic architecture in which pre-defined business processes are put into a modeling tool. That tool controls the software in the service, allowing companies to adjust their hardware and software on the fly, helping them meet changing business needs without touching the underlying code.
That might sound valuable. However, this all starts with identifying and defining business processes, which is no small order.
For a large retail bank, this step could involve 1,500 to 2,000 processes, including everything from opening new accounts and scheduling teller work shifts to ordering paperclips and envelopes. A global food services company might fare worse, having to go through more than 10,000 business processes.
As a result, it's a tedious, time-consuming and expensive effort that requires executive sponsorship and buy-in throughout the organization. And it almost certainly requires breaking down the legacy systems and processes that have proliferated for decades, a process that CEOs and CIOs alike are loathe to embrace.
"That's what we need to bridge that gulf," Rippert said. "If it's not bridged in the next 18 months to two years, SOA could turn into the hula hoop."
Continued on Page 4: Virtualization frenzy