A Sobering SOA Sermon

Through InfoQ I got another juicy lecture from QCon (I should go there next year!). Anne Thomas Manes puts SOA in its proper strategic perspective. It contains lots of gems for us disillusioned practitioners of SOA (in one of my presentations I have a slide with the heading “Why is it so damn hard?”). Well, when Anne puts the SOA life cycle time span in the 15-20 years bracket, maybe we shouldn’t weep if SOA doesn’t happen over night…It is good to keep in mind, as Anne points out, that the legacy we’re up against have been in the making for decades.

I bring two particular important bits of wisdom from this presentation. The first is the concept of applying a structured analysis of an enterprise’s application portfolio. Anne is talking a lot about the fat, unhealthy state of most IT organizations, basically originating in massive redundancy of functionality and data, driving obscene amounts of cost in integrating all those redundant bits and pieces. Anne suggests regularly applying a cost/benefit analysis to each application, and ruthlessly decommission any application not earning its keep, thereby shrinking the application portfolio. The other side of that coin, obviously, must be to identify any functionality the obsolete application provided and extract that functionality (as a reusable service) from somewhere else, with the ultimate goal of only having one provider of a particular business capability. This will obviously take some time…

The other bit I bring with me is the analogy between SOA and a new, healthy life style. Just as it’s fairly easy to go on a diet, loose a few ponds, and then gain them again, plus a few extra pounds, kicking off SOA in fits and starts is easier than digging in, gaining strategic sponsorship from management and preparing for the long haul. Yet to be of any real use, persistence will be essential to success. The paradox here, as can be gleaned from Anne’s lecture, is that you can’t mount a massive, all-encompassing SOA attack on your enterprise, because of legacy, politics and funding constraints.

So all in all, SOA is damn hard, yet the promises it holds if you persevere are of such magnitude that you really have no choice in the long run but to get on the SOA band-wagon.

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