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SOA: Rumors of its Death More Than ‘Greatly Exaggerated’


January 25, 2010—Echoing writer Mark Twain and others, rumors of the death of service-oriented architecture (SOA) have been “greatly exaggerated.” Even more, SOA seems to be thriving a year after the influential Burton Group Application Platform Blog penned its obituary (“SOA met its demise on January 1, 2009”). 

“When organization leaders see a headline like ‘SOA is dead,’ they might react by thinking ‘we have all of this money invested in SOA; what now?’ or by saying ‘see, it’s just a fad,’” says Grace Lewis, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI). 

“The reality is that SOA is currently the best option available for systems integration and leverage of legacy systems,” Lewis says. “And there’s evidence that organizations are not abandoning SOA.”

In May 2009, for instance, technology and market research giant Forrester Research reported that 75% of “executives and decision makers” in Global 2000 organizations planned to be using SOA by the end of the year. In addition, 60% of all organizations in the survey who use SOA said they are “expanding their use.” 

And an eBizQ blog at the end of 2009 observed, “Predictions of the collapse of service-oriented architecture endeavors in the recent economic slump did not pan out¾companies remained committed to moving forward with SOA.” 

“To say that SOA is dead is to say motherhood and apple pie are dead,” Richard Soley is quoted as saying in a blog. Soley is chairman and CEO of Object Management Group (OMG), the computer industry consortium engaged in standards-setting. For a perspective on recent opinions about SOA, Soley mentioned that Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), one of those standards, was declared dead 10 years ago, but around four billion copies of it are in use today. 

While wrong in writing off SOA, the obituary does point out something important for the future, Lewis says. “We need to move away from considering SOA as a set of technologies to embrace service-orientation as a way to design, develop, and deploy systems.”

Lewis points out that some “pillars of SOA adoption” are essential, such as aligning SOA strategy with mission and business goals, implementing governance, evaluating whether available technologies “will serve the task at hand,” and recognizing that service-oriented systems require a different development approach than traditional systems.

SOA adoption activity continues in both the public and private sectors of the economy. For example,

  • The U.S. Coast Guard in 2009 completed an SOA implementation for its Long Range Information and Tracking (LRIT) system to gather and analyze “detailed analytic data on the 6,000 or so ships along the U.S. coast at any given time.”
  • British Airways “will use its portfolio of SOA solutions as a key part of its travel program to upgrade its IT systems.”
  • The U.S. Air Force Electronic Systems Center (ESC) entered into a partnership with the SEI to license the Service Migration and Reuse Technique (SMART), a method for identifying legacy system migration issues and creating migration strategies to address them.
  • Union Pacific Railroad plans to invest about $200 million through 2013 for a transportation distribution network that is based on a SOA platform.
  • In September 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System (MHS) organization brought in the SEI to train nearly 100 people from its system engineering, IT, and program areas in SOA essentials and legacy system migration planning. And in December, MHS awarded a $20 million contract to Vangent for an integrated single-sign-on (SSO) capability that ultimately will be used by its 90,000 health care practitioners in around the world.
  • SOA application and tool vendors continue to see a market to serve. For example, IBM’s January 2010 earnings report shows an increase in revenue from services and software for 2009. Also, leading technology advisor Gartner is predicting that the business intelligence platform market, which includes service-oriented systems, “will grow by 7.9% through 2012.”

Lewis concludes, “The technologies to implement SOA will most probably change over time, but the concepts will remain.”

The evidence from organizations, vendors, standards managers, and industry analysts shows that SOA adoption is strong, growing, and evolving. Even the Burton Group blog seems to have backtracked somewhat from its January 2009 pronouncement of a death sentence on SOA. In November, it posted an “SOA Manifesto.”