Can SOA Move Beyond Hype?

The software industry continues to struggle against the hype surrounding service-oriented architecture (SOA), long touted as the technology that will solve the ills of silo-based systems. However, most large organizations have moved beyond the exploratory stage and are at some phase of implementing a SOA.

That was the assessment by presenters and attendees at last month's SOA World Conference and Expo in New York. While the majority of large enterprises have SOA efforts afoot, most are still disparate integration efforts that are not yet aligned with mission-critical systems, says Joe McKendrick, SOA analyst at Evans Data Corp.

Proof-of-Concept Stage
According to a recent survey by ebizQ, a New Rochelle, N.Y.-based researcher that focuses on SOA, nearly half of the 244 CIOs and enterprise architects surveyed have SOA efforts in place, but the majority only have 10 services. Half of those responding to the ebizQ survey, which was funded by IBM Corp., say they have more than 10 application development teams working on integration issues, but many are still in the proof-of-concept state.

Denis Coderre, manager of revenue applications and information management for NAV Canada, which operates air traffic control towers in Canada, was among those attending the conference to get a better handle on SOA. "We're at the early stage of evaluating it," he says.

Denis Coderre Quote

Reuse of services is the ultimate goal of SOA, but only 13 percent of those surveyed have deployed a significant number of shareable services across their enterprises. "What's evolved is a virtual rat's nest across organizations," McKendrick says. "We've seen layers of complexity grow over time."

Of course, this is nothing new, but enterprises are demanding more agility to respond to modern business requirements. "Businesses have to be flexible, but often the IT infrastructure holds us back from such flexibility," McKendrick notes.

If anything is creating debate about SOA, it's a disconnect between the lines of business and IT, says Richard Soley, chairman and CEO of the SOA Consortium, a group of nearly 100 members who are both vendors and implementers of SOA.

"We have this ongoing demand for better optimizing process," Soley said in the opening keynote of the conference. "What we were told over and over again is, 'Don't tell me there's this SOA thing or some BPM thing and this virtualization thing -- give me a strategy we can use to tie these things together.'"

FedEx QuickShip works within the Microsoft Outlook interface.
[click image for larger view]
SOA in the Enterprise

FedEx QuickShip works within the Microsoft Outlook interface.
[click image for larger view]
Number of SOA Projects Within an Enterprise

FedEx QuickShip works within the Microsoft Outlook interface.
[click image for larger view]
Average Number of Application Development and Integration Teams in an Enterprise

Gaining Steam
Despite the fact that the software industry has touted SOA for quite a few years now, it doesn't have the pressing urgency of other widely touted initiatives with hard deadlines, such as Y2K remediation, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the implementation of the euro or other "red-flag days."

Joe McKenderick QuoteYet, Soley points out, the SOA Consortium plans to dissolve itself in two-and-a-half years. "By the end of 2010 we'll have seen most of the Global 1,000 move to a service-oriented architecture, or it will become yet another TLA in the industry leading us nowhere," he says. In either case "there will be no need for the organization," he laments.

The ebizQ findings suggest that SOA is gaining steam in large enterprises. According to the study, 46 percent have already deployed SOA and another 18 percent plan to do so in six months. About 18 percent plan to deploy SOA within a year, 8 percent expect their SOA efforts to get underway in more than a year and 10 percent say they have no plans at all.

While proponents of SOA tout the ability to simplify connectivity of systems across silos, another benefit is code-sharing and reuse. On that front, the number of organizations sharing large amounts of code across separate lines of business is expected to rise sharply over the next year to 16 percent, from 9 percent.

Though that's still a small amount of organizations sharing a significant set of services, 46 percent are now sharing between one and 10 services. "The whole idea behind SOA, obviously, is to make it reusable. That's what we're looking for more than anything else," NAV Canada's Coderre says.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.