SOA: Hype vs. Reality

2005 was supposed to be the Year of SOA, but it didn’t pan out. Then 2006 was expected to be a banner year, but that didn’t happen either. Is it soup yet?
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If you listen to the SOA vendors (or the research reports funded by SOA vendors) you would think that Service Oriented Architecture has swept the enterprise.

Big companies across all sectors, we're told, are building SOA infrastructure. Business analysts and tech departments are eagerly putting aside their historic enmity to discuss upcoming SOA projects.

After all (and this part is true), SOA offers key competitive advantages. Over the years, companies have built computing infrastructures that combine a patchwork of environments, from Java to .NET to Sun Solaris. SOA’s promise is that it can integrate these disparate worlds to create unified interfaces (called “services”) for employees and customers.

That’s a big deal. It’s reasonable to believe that companies would be rushing to implement SOA.

But no. Despite the rich harvest that SOA offers, companies have been slow to plant the seed. In the early days of 2002-03, SOA was mostly just a glimmer in the eyes of vendors. “For several years, the vendors were way ahead of the market – no question about that. IBM especially,” says Marianne Hedin, an IDC analyst who covers SOA.

To create excitement, vendors issued a profusion of press releases and held copious workshops with free donuts. In response, they got a lot of polite nods. Vendors “made a big deal out of this, but nothing much was happening out in the market at that point,” Hedin notes.

And not all that much has continued to happen. “I think in the beginning, back in 2004 and 2005, they were a little disappointed that it was slow. And in 2006, they were hoping, ‘Oh yeah, this is a big year for SOA.’ And it really didn’t pan out to be a big year.”

While she hastens to add that things are starting to progress, it’s not as if “SOA” is on the lips of every IT decision maker. Based on a 2006 survey by IDC, only 23 percent of companies have a SOA project “in production,” with another 18 percent having one “in pilot stage.” That’s a tentative embrace of SOA, given that 22 percent either “don’t know” if they’ll invest or have “no plans” to invest.

More positively, 37 percent plan on investing in the next 1-2 years. (Although as Hedin notes, "Thinking about it is different than doing it.”)

Still, the land rush is yet to happen. “I think the vendors expected a much faster growth rate in terms of adoption,” she says.

soa adoption, hype vs. reality

(Graphic by IDC, from Nov. 2006 report)

Seeing Their Neighbor Do It

Perhaps the most convincing factor prompting companies to begin dipping a toe in the SOA waters is hearing that other companies are doing so.

Now in 2007, there are a healthy handful of success stories. “As enterprises started to hear from their peers that they’re adopting SOA, and seeing demonstrated cases – with benefits – then it obviously started to become more of a compelling issue to look at,” Hedin says.

Confidence levels are starting to creep up. “The combination of vendors, showing cases, and the media, publishing cases, is started to help,” she says. Companies are starting to think, “Oh, this is actually happening, this is a real thing…Maybe we should be on board here, and at least learn about it, at least find out what the benefits are to our particular situation.”


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