SOA gets an obituary

Burton Group analyst Anne Thomas Manes has declared SOA dead but says that offshoots like mashups and cloud computing remain alive and well

SOA is dead but services remain alive, according to a prominent analyst who published an obituary for SOA in a blog post on Monday.

In her blog, Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at Burton Group, pronounced SOA dead.

[ For more about SOA, check out David Linthicum's Real World SOA blog ]

"SOA met its demise on January 1, 2009, when it was wiped out by the catastrophic impact of the economic recession. SOA is survived by its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS cloud computing, and all other architectural approaches that depend on 'services,'" Manes wrote.

Instead of becoming a savior, SOA "instead turned into a great failed experiment -- at least for most organizations," Manes said. SOA failed to deliver on promised benefits and after the investment of millions, IT systems are not better than before. In some cases they are worse, with costs higher and projects taking longer, she said.

Interviewed Monday afternoon, Manes said successful SOA implementations have resulted from major IT transformation efforts rather than just slapping a bunch of interfaces on applications. "Those companies have seen spectacular results from these efforts, but in those circumstances, SOA was part of something much bigger," Manes said.

Companies need to become more in tune with what businesses require and understand what the problems are, she said. What is required is an examination of application architecture rather than project-by-project integration, Manes noted, but with the difficult economy, funding for SOA has dried up, she said.

"All these guys intent on pursuing [an] SOA initiative, they're not going to have any money to do it because the business is not going to continue to fund it," Manes said. In conducting research, she found that the failure of SOA to deliver on initiatives has soured those holding the purse strings.

Still, Manes does emphasize a continuing need for services, such as cloud services. She advised against using the acronym SOA, which has generated a backlash. Instead of people talking about architecture and services, they have focused on such matters as ESBs (enterprise service bus).

"SOA has become a bad word. It must be removed from our vocabulary," she stressed in her blog.

"The demise of SOA is tragic for the IT industry. Organizations desperately need to make architectural improvements to their application portfolios," she wrote. Service-orientation is a prerequisite for rapidly integrating data and business processes and enabling situational development models like mashups. It also is foundational for SaaS and cloud computing, Manes said.

"Although the word 'SOA' is dead, the requirement for service-oriented architecture is stronger than ever," she said. Successful SOA requires disrupting the status quo and redesigning the application portfolio as well as a shift in how IT operates, said Manes.

She cited Bechtel as a company that has had success with services but does not even use the term "SOA." 

At IBM, which has been a key vendor in the SOA space, an official on Tuesday morning disagreed with Manes's "SOA is dead, long live services" message.

"I don’t think that is the right message," said Sandy Carter, IBM vice president of SOA and WebSphere strategy. "For me, SOA is alive and kicking moreso than it ever has been in today's economy," she said.

But the marketplace is indeed changing from companies just looking at SOA as a technology to instead focusing on business problems and solving them with SOA, she said.

"We're seeing changes in the marketplace, but I think [these are] changes that are very good," Carter said.

IBM was still seeing its SOA business grow at least as recently as its third quarter, which ended in September 2008, said Carter, noting she could not comment on the fourth quarter because the company is in a "quiet" period. But she acknowledged IT spending overall is being reduced or is flat.

"SOA helps reduce cost and provides business agility, so it really addresses the two biggest concerns going on," she said.

An HP official said companies need to be more in tune with what businesses require and understand application architecture. Funding for technologies that support SOA without a business driver will be very difficult to secure in 2009, said the official, Kelly Emo, SOA product marketing manager for HP Software.

"My response [to the blog] is I think that the issue that really needs to get highlighted in the market is how IT goes about getting funding for their projects in 2009, and I think that's the valuable part of the blog," Emo said.

"What IT has to stop doing is speaking technical jargon to the business. They need to define projects in terms the business cares about," such as emphasizing faster service times and better business processes, she said.

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