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SOAservicesinterchangeable partsAnne Thomas Manes 7 Jan 2009 10:19 AM
Essense of SOA by kvandersluis
Anne Thomas Manes’ recent article proclaiming the death of SOA has started a firestorm across many SOA and IT-related blogs and forums.  I wrote about it here .  In the post, Anne refers to the severe disillusionment some feel towards the over-hyped term, “SOA”, and proposes we drop the term altogether and simply refer to the core concept as “services”.

The term “SOA” is at the same time ubiquitous and ambiguous.  So much energy has gone into molding it into a marketing story that it seems no two people share the same definition..  The truth is, SOA is really just a simple evolution in IT development strategy.  I believe the essence of SOA is building software components as “interchangeable parts”, an idea preceding Eli Whitney, who demonstrated his system of uniform, interchangeable gun parts to Congress in 1801.  SOA, then, is not revolutionary, but simply an evolution of concepts we’ve tried to apply in the computing industry for decades, culminating in object oriented and component-based software development.  SOA is simply the next stepping stone, which loosens the chains of platform and vendor lock-in, catalyzed by internet and XML-based standards.  It’s still about interchangeable parts, components that can be recombined and reused to either build new systems, or rapidly change existing ones.  And it’s a superior strategy even if you don’t plan to reuse or recombine, because componentized systems are easier to build, manage, troubleshoot, and support.

In the software industry, I believe we are travelling a similar path as other industries, and finding that interchangeable parts are easy to design in the small, but exponentially more difficult to design in the large.  Wiper blades and radios are easily replaced in your car.  But I would just love to install a new hybrid-electric engine in my beloved ’96 Jeep Cherokee.  Interchangeable parts on such a grand scale are much more problematic.  I’m sure there’s marketing mechanics at work here, too.  GM wraps their latest electric engine in the Chevy Volt, available next year for $42,000.  They don’t want to sell just an engine.

So, I think the term we use to describe the concepts behind SOA is less important than agreeing on the core, underlying essence of SOA.  I believe this to be extending the idea of “interchangeable parts”.  Personally, I find myself avoiding the term “SOA” more and more, perhaps in a subconscious effort to avoid the pained or befuddled look on those faces in the room.  Instead, I gravitate towards the term “service” or “service oriented”.  Above all, we need to understand and accept that we are not revolutionaries.  We are just carrying forward what others have already set in motion.  By communicating this point, we gain credibility in our conversations with business people who control budgets.  The alternative is to position this concept as “the next big thing”, something business people seem to immediately distrust when talking to IT.

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