I realise that I’m guilty of using the phrase ‘really understand’ twice in post titles in the last month and started to think the same way for this post too. The point I keep struggling with, is thinking of familiar, well-understood existing technology topics in a new context. Here is a quote from the well known business technology author Peter Fingar: “the big deal is, that cloud computing is a disruptive delivery model…it’s an economic, not technology shift”. That’s a pretty good summary of why I keep looking at common technology elements and thinking again about their use and role in the context of clouds, web 2.0 and business technology.
My return to SOA as a topic after blogging on it a few weeks back was driven by Randy Heffner at Forrester, who produced an excellent piece of research that updates the casual market view of SOA with a much more in-depth study under the title: ‘SOA is far from dead, but it should be buried’. As Forrester Research is a paid for commercial commodity unlike many of the other sources I highlight, I can’t give away too much, but hope Randy wont mind if I quote from his ‘free’ summary: Randy’s point is that SOA is part of a much larger technology change and should be seen as part of this, not as a standalone solution. Therefore, it should be buried in the much larger issue of delivering cloud, web 2.0 and collaboration based solutions.

In the detail there is one statistic that hit me: “Nearly 30% of current SOA users report using it for ‘strategic business transformation.” That’s pretty amazing, as it suggests that those who adopted SOA are really separating themselves from the pack which is questioning the technology value and is instead focused on its business and economic value. This brings me back to Peter Fingar’s point in the quote above.
Gartner are going there too with its view that it is: “time to embrace a new architecture” stating that there are seven principles – all of which effectively describe the loose coupled non deterministic principles that underlie the shift to a ‘services’ model to support clouds, web 2.0 and so on. This will be the theme for the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit 14-15th September in London. All the pointers are that we have to ‘really understand’ SOA against the new context as well as collaboration and business intelligence!
I started this post by mentioning a point made by a colleague about the lack of attention to the data issues in SOA. His point was that unlike traditional architecture and close coupling of applications and data – which has clear answers – in SOA the relationships are harder to both understand and manage. Not only that, but as the environment becomes increasingly centred on a dynamic and chaotic people-driven world, there will need to be at least some semantic understanding taking place. My interest in the semantic web was raised again recently and again there is a posting on why a couple of months back, but it seems I only made half of the connection at the time.
I saw the people-side that collaboration raises, but missed the part about the understanding of content which a truly distributed services environment would require. With this in mind, I went back and read the Forrester and Gartner papers again and no where that I could see did semantics come up as a topic. Some mention of data and in one case something on XML, but not really what you would expect to see.
So here is my closing question: have we really understood SOA as a constituent part of building full solutions for clouds, web 2.0 and new-wave external business intelligence? Or is data and content not as important in these solutions as it is in the transaction-oriented IT model?