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SOA ready for the masses?

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Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is the Big Thing of the moment – taking the last Big Thing of Web Services and moving towards the next Big Thing of Utility / Grid Computing. Well, that’s what the vendors want you to believe, anyway – and with the majority of vendors agreeing on one thing – that SOA can be spun to their benefit – we’re seeing a hell of a lot of marketing and advertising in this area.

But we’ve been here before, and as any crusty bearded, sandal-wearing IT elder will tell you, there is little new within the concept of SOA that couldn’t be done via re-usable code, callable routines, object orientation and the like a decade or two ago. So, is SOA the next Big Con (or even just one of many), or is there something tangible in it for today’s businesses?

For Quocirca, there was only way to find out – we interviewed a large number of senior IT influencers and decision makers on their views of SOA and assessed the situation using information straight from the horses mouth.

Out of the 1,365 interviewees, 476 were deemed to be “informed” through having investigated SOA in depth – a group that we will call the “SOA Gurus”. This group have been there, are doing SOA, have the T-shirt and often the scars to prove that they have struggled through the jungle of hype and over-optimism often offered by the vendors. The views of these 476 should – if consistent – point the way for the rest of us as to whether SOA is viable or not.

And their view? When asked if they felt that SOA had provided distinct benefits to them, only four respondents (less than one per cent) felt it didn’t. From the other 99+ per cent, we got pretty unambiguous declarations of benefits across a range of areas – streamlining development and maintenance, reducing integration time and overhead, and generally enabling IT to help the business through better responsiveness. And consistency was high – meaning that if SOA is really a dog, then the vendors have finally found the way of fooling all of the people all of the time.

We also looked at whether interviewees felt that the adoption of SOA by application software vendors such as Oracle, SAP and Siebel was important and of benefit. Over 70 per cent of respondents felt that it was, which is not surprising given the past issues of integrating and interfacing packaged applications. Respondents also felt that SOA and Web Services were intimately linked – and that the use of web services within an SOA environment would open up their systems so that they could optimise the value chain across their own and their partners’ organisations. Given the myriad of ever changing standards and technologies in the B2B transaction space, we hope that our gurus are right that Web Services and SOA will have an impact.

The Gurus' optimism also came through in their attitude towards SOA, web services and hosted applications. They felt that SOA/web services would provide an easier opening into dealing with the technical issues of implementing hosted solutions that need to integrate with internal systems

Considered overall, what we are beginning to hear is not simply an acceptance of SOA being something that may have promise for the organisation - but a high level of understanding (at least amongst those that have checked it out properly) of what an SOA can achieve and its interdependencies with other technical areas such as web services.

However, the main finding has to be that the Gurus are looking to SOA as a long term strategic tool to help the business – moving the IT infrastructure to being more responsive, allowing businesses to break through the corporate “glass walls” to enable processes to work at a high level of fidelity along the value chain of partners, and the added possibility of utilising the capabilities of hosted functionality more easily to fill gaps in a company’s own capabilities.

The full findings of this research can be found in Quocirca’s report “SOA: Substance or Hype?”, available free of charge here.

© Quocirca

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