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Can’t See The SOA For The Clouds

It has been quite a week for SOA. First, TheServerSide published a presentation delivered at their recent Java conference by Rod Johnson from VMware in which he essentially accused SOA of being a fad. Normally this is the kind of comment people would overlook; however, Rod, who is SVP, Middleware and GM of the SpringSource division at VMware, is very well regarded in the Java community, so his comments certainly carry weight.

First to cry foul was Dave Linthicum writing in Infoworld, who made the important point that “SOA is something you do” whereas “cloud computing is a computing model.” Joe McKendrick at ZDnet quickly followed up, adding that “too much work has gone into SOA over too many years at companies to relegate it to “artificial fad” status.“

To be fair to Rod, his actual statement is as follows:

If you look at the industry over the past few years, the way in which cloud computing is spoken of today is the way in which SOA was spoken of four or five years ago. I think with respect to SOA, it really was a fad. It was something that is very sound at an architectural practice level, but in terms of selling product, it was really an artificial, marketing created, concept.

And in many ways, it is hard to disagree with him. As a SOA vendor, I’m as guilty as anyone of… um… perhaps being overly enthusiastic in my support of SOA. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it would all lead to an eventual backlash. Anne Thomas Manes was certainly the most effective at calling us all out a few years ago.

Putting hype cycles behind us though, it would be a shame to miss the real impact that SOA has had in the enterprise. I would argue that SOA is in fact a great success, because while the term may have gone out of fashion, we have absorbed the ideas it described. I don’t need to write about the vision of SOA anymore; my customers seem to know it and practice the concepts without calling it such. And I don’t seem to need to evangelize my own SOA products the way I once did, simply because people accept SOA Gateways as the architectural best practice for run time governance.

This seems to be supported by an article Forrester analyst Randy Hefner published in CIO later in the week. In it, he describes the results of a survey they conducted earlier in the year. Randy writes:

organizations that use SOA for strategic business transformation must be on to something because they are much more satisfied with SOA than those that do not use SOA for strategic business transformation.

Randy’s report examines the use of SOA—apparently in its full three letter glory—as a tool to transform business. It’s a good article because he manages to distill so much of the theory and hand waving that turned people off into some concrete, prescriptive actions that just make sense.

He closes with this insight:

SOA policy management is an advanced area of architecture design, and policy-based control of services is the business-focused SOA practice that takes the greatest amount of SOA experience and expertise. Forrester first published its vision for SOA policy management three years ago, knowing it would take a while to mature in the industry, and indications are that interest in SOA policy increased significantly this year over previous years.

Given my own experience over the last year, I would agree entirely, and suggest that we are there.


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K. Scott Morrison is the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Architect at Layer 7 Technologies, where he is leading a team developing the next generation of security infrastructure for cloud computing and SOA. An architect and developer of highly scalable, enterprise systems for over 20 years, Scott has extensive experience across industry sectors as diverse as health, travel and transportation, and financial services. He has been a Director of Architecture and Technology at Infowave Software, a leading maker of wireless security and acceleration software for mobile devices, and was a senior architect at IBM. Before shifting to the private sector, Scott was with the world-renowned medical research program of the University of British Columbia, studying neurodegenerative disorders using medical imaging technology.

Scott is a dynamic, entertaining and highly sought-after speaker. His quotes appear regularly in the media, from the New York Times, to the Huffington Post and the Register. Scott has published over 50 book chapters, magazine articles, and papers in medical, physics, and engineering journals. His work has been acknowledged in the New England Journal of Medicine, and he has published in journals as diverse as the IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow, and Neurology. He is the co-author of the graduate text Cloud Computing, Principles, Systems and Applications published by Springer, and is on the editorial board of Springer’s new Journal of Cloud Computing Advances, Systems and Applications (JoCCASA). He co-authored both Java Web Services Unleashed and Professional JMS. Scott is an editor of the WS-I Basic Security Profile (BSP), and is co-author of the original WS-Federation specification. He is a recent co-author of the Cloud Security Alliance’s Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing, and an author of that organization’s Top Threats to Cloud Computing research. Scott was recently a featured speaker for the Privacy Commission of Canada’s public consultation into the privacy implications of cloud computing. He has even lent his expertise to the film and television industry, consulting on a number of features including the X-Files. Scott’s current interests are in cloud computing, Web services security, enterprise architecture and secure mobile computing—and of course, his wife and two great kids.

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