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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Beyond the foothills of SOA
Like climbing a mountain, the adoption path of any new technology always looks a great deal easier at the outset than it turns out to be once you've committed to the journey. This gives rise to the phenomenon that Gartner calls the technology hype cycle, in which a new technology is at first eagerly embraced in concept, but later falls into a "trough of disillusionment" once people encounter unexpected difficulties during the early implementations.

The first signs that the initial peak of hype is approaching comes when analysts begin predicting massive market growth. So ZapThink's latest prediction, released as news just before Christmas, that the service oriented architecture market will reach "$43 billion by 2010", is a sure sign that the current passion for SOA is about to turn sour.

Some of the disappointments that are set to trip up early arrivals in the foothills of SOA adoption are described in this week's Loosely Coupled feature article, Bringing services closer to users. The problem of perception surrounding SOA is that people currently regard it as a destination, whereas they would be better off regarding it as an essential base camp at the beginning of a steep learning curve (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor). The real fun only begins once services have been exposed in an SOA. A lot of work is still required to turn those raw services into productive components of an agile application infrastructure.

Continuing with the mountain-range metaphor (and interspersing my comments with links to other relevant Loosely Coupled articles), I think there are at least three separate ridges to surmount before the end of the climb is going to come into sight:

  • Implementing a loosely coupled SOA infrastructure is the first challenge. That's going to be a long haul in itself. Many people thought that just implementing web services would be enough (see Tactics, not strategy, drive SOA adoption). But then they discovered that you can't operate a services infrastructure without proper services management (Getting to grips with web services). They're still trying to work out exactly how much management they're going to need (Defining web services management). And a few are beginning to wake up to the fact that it's not practical without a separate digital identity management system (Information access waits on ID standards).

  • The next challenge is going to be working out how to actually assemble services into new applications once you've got them into an SOA. This is partly about having a proper messaging infrastructure (ESB adopters look beyond integration), and partly about deploying technologies such as choreography (Bringing it all together) and BPM (Radical promise of BPM). But it's also going to mean tackling the issue of semantic interoperability raised in Bringing services closer to users. I think we'll see the concept of service views and repositories becoming very important in 2004 as this sinks in.

  • The third challenge is going to be acquiring the necessary skills and best practices to harness all these capabilities to the benefit of the organization. This is not just a matter of re-educating IT staff (Training for a web services future). Technology vendors are promising business agility through flexible process automation, without really having any sensible answers as to who's going to take responsibility for managing that process change within the enterprise (In search of business architects). The impact on business management and organization will be significant, and I know this is a topic we're going to be writing a lot more about here on Loosely Coupled in 2004.

All of which I hope serves as a brief end-of-year review of the scope of this site's coverage, and the direction we're heading in as we go into a new year. It may look like rocky terrain, but I'm confident that, as they say, 'there's gold in them thar hills' — and that our content is building up into an indispensable source of information for savvy prospectors.
posted by Phil Wainewright 8:44 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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