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Loosely Coupled weblog

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Brownfield development

Integration is never a greenfield proposition. Since the main attraction of web services is the ability to link to other systems, it therefore follows that the vast majority of web services projects are going to be what town planners call brownfield developments: new structures that have to coexist with the existing cityscape. Often, there isn't even the luxury of building as new from the ground up. Developers find they have to build new facilities within the shell of an older structure, respecting existing services and the underlying infrastructure.

Everyone loves starting with a clean sheet, but there comes a point where it's just too expensive to wipe the slate and start again. Today's enterprises have reached that point with their information technology infrastructure, and so the adoption of web services is following a much more tortuous path than earlier waves of IT. It has to be undertaken carefully and systematically, adding new layers of capabilities without disrupting or undermining what's already in place.

Enterprises are feeling their way with little to guide them, since this is new territory for everyone. It was a striking (and unplanned) coincidence that the two most recent articles on Loosely Coupled have both been about partial adoption of service oriented architectures. This week we published an article about webMethods, which has aggressively service-enabled its integration product suite, under the headline Hedging your bets on SOA. Although webMethods has made this leap, there's no certainty that its customers are yet ready to follow its lead, hence the reference to hedging in the title.

Last month, we wrote about a customer of another integration vendor, SeeBeyond Technology. We called the article Going halfway to SOA, because this customer has explicitly held back from fully embracing SOA. I think this is probably a fairly typical case. Moving to SOA is something that has to be seen in terms of a strategic plan, spread over as much as a ten- to fifteen-year time span in total. Within that overall gameplan, enterprises will step through a series of pragmatic, tactical objectives that gradually advance their wider strategy. Hedging their bets and planning to get at least halfway there are both part and parcel of that approach.

All of this leaves vendors in an uncomfortable position. They need to be offering the right technologies and tools when their customers need them — and customers will be advancing at a variety of paces, some very fast, others much more measured — but if they jump the gun and get ahead of their customers, that will be just as damaging as falling behind.

Integration specialists like webMethods and SeeBeyond have to maintain this balancing act while competing not only with each other, but also with new rivals who want to encroach on their space. It's interesting to put the webMethods article side-by-side with another article we published a few months ago about BEA Systems, which also used a betting analogy for its headline: BEA stakes future on SOA adoption. Both vendors are equally keen to encourage their customers to embark on an SOA path. Others have similar strategies. Yet I can't help being suspicious of how much exactly these vendors are embracing the standards-based interoperability that SOA implies. Are they really going all the way, or will customers who follow their roadmap end up embracing nothing but a pig smeared with services lipstick?

I'm looking forward to publishing more answers to that question here on Loosely Coupled in the coming months. Regular readers may have noticed our output dropping to something of a trickle in the past few weeks. Rest assured it will recover. For the moment, our efforts are being diverted into preparing the launch of a new, paid publication that will be available from the site round about April 6th. It's a monthly subscription newsletter, to be issued in PDF format, called the Loosely Coupled digest. That link just has a pre-launch holding page for the moment; next week, we'll publish some detail about what's in the first issue.

posted by Phil Wainewright 11:14 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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