Coming to Terms with SOA’s Demands

IT organizations must come to terms with SOA’s much more rigorous planning, testing, and management requirements

Even as IT seer Gartner Inc. projects that SOA will be used in more than half of new, mission-critical operational applications this year, rival IT analyst firm International Data Corp. (IDC) cautions against irrational exuberance about the technology.

Gartner analysts note that just because SOAs will be used in at least half of projects this year doesn’t mean that they’ll be successful. In fact, indications are that the first SOA tools have, in fact, disappointed users. That dovetails with rival researcher IDC’s caution about a rising tide of SOA exuberance that’s out of step with SOA reality.

"New software products for SOA have hit the market, but given their immaturity, have disappointed users in terms of reliability, performance, and productivity," said Gartner research director L. Frank Kenney, in a statement. "SOA principles have been applied too rigidly, and this has led to unsatisfactory outcomes as projects became too costly and didn’t meet deadlines."

By 2010, Gartner forecasts, as many as 80 percent of new operational applications and business processes will be based on SOA. Even as SOA grows in popularity, Gartner concedes, the number of failed projects will also grow. The upshot, the market watcher reports, is that SOA benefits often come at a cost. If there’s good news here, it’s that many of the challenges associated with SOA adoption and deployment are also becoming more apparent.

"Large numbers of successes have been reported, and no major conceptual flaw has been discovered in SOA. Organizations should aggressively invest in SOA as it will rapidly become the architectural foundation for virtually every new business-critical application," said Kinney.

"SOA adoption is greatly beneficial from the CIO’s point of view. To keep pace with relentless business change, IT departments are constantly under pressure to deliver more in a flat-budget situation," he continued, arguing that "SOA can frequently be part of the answer by providing a sound architectural framework to help CIOs address their challenges."

SOA isn’t without cost, Kinney points out. "SOA is not a product [CIOs] can buy and install. In addition to adoption of new technologies, it requires changes in people’s behavior. Organizations looking to strategically adopt SOA should develop their business case on a combination of anticipated business and IT benefits."

Similarly, IDC’s latest SOA advice—which came out of an end-user survey of SOA development in the Asia-Pacific region—indicates positive developments among early adopters, many of whom have aligned their business processes to fulfill project objectives—at least in the early project stages.

IDC has several warnings for SOA adopters. For example, 75 of 283 (barely one quarter) of companies currently considering SOA deployments have been actively trying to identify and assess reusable processes and services within their organizations. That’s ill advised, according to IDC, which stresses that such assessments need to be formalized early in the SOA project cycle.

IDC also warns that some early adopters, encouraged by the reported SOA successes of their peers or competitors, are trying to ram through services and processes just for the sake of ramming through services and processes—even when they aren’t a good fit for their environments.

As for SOA challenges, IDC’s survey respondents said re-engineering existing business processes posed the most difficult implementation challenge. In this respect, IDC counsels, an ideal approach is for companies to take a "re-look" at existing business processes; without proper knowledge and awareness of those processes and their dependent services, IDC explains, the success of any SOA project could be imperiled from the start.

The Bottom Line

In the final analysis, IDC and Gartner are basically saying the same thing. For example, Gartner’s research note—which focuses on the projected growth in SOA deployments—nevertheless concedes that SOA is a double-edged sword of sorts. Yes, Gartner analysts concede, the practical benefits of a well-implemented SOA (improved adaptability, faster time-to-deployment, and reduced development and integration costs) are compelling, but potential adopters need to understand that SOA adoption has serious implications, too. Compared to traditional ("monolithic") or client/server architectures, SOA requires more care and planning to be successful. Among other requirements, Gartner cites SOA’s (largely unprecedented) dependence on integration middleware, as well as the unique complexities of application testing, debugging, security, and ongoing management in SOA environments.

There’s a further wrinkle, according to Gartner: even though SOA uptake is projected to surge through 2010, the incremental upfront cost of SOA (vis-à-vis that of a "traditional" architecture) can’t be justified for fast return-on-investment (what Gartner calls "opportunistically-oriented") projects. At least through the end of next year, Gartner warns, large upfront investment in ambitious SOA projects makes sense only in cases where the proposed project has a planned lifetime of three years or more.

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