SOA principles, good - SOA products, bad

by on January 16, 2009

Last week, a noted analyst from the Burton Group wrote a blog posting declaring SOA dead. It's a flashy headline and she does have some interesting observations but fails to identify any lessons learned and actionable next steps. It's crucial analysis that I've come to expect from the Burton and Gartner groups but didn't see it there.

When it comes to analyzing technology trends, there are two adoption models that I look to: the technology adoption lifecycle (TAL) and the hype cycle (HC). Most consumable products entered into a market (e.g. walkmans, playstations, ipods) follow the TAL model where a product is introduced, hits a critical mass of consumers, and slowly sunsets to be replaced by a newer, more advanced technology. When it comes to consumables, we devour and move on. Conceptual ideas, trends and behaviors (e.g. word processing, object-oriented programming, social engineering), however, tend to follow the HC model more closely. With higher level concepts, our brains need to noodle on them - learn and improve and iterate, potentially through many TAL cycles if tools can help us. We slow down once we get to the point where we've improved our mental model and have achieved a higher level of understanding that is beneficial to our survival.

To me SOA is following a classic hype cycle. There was a period of intense interest and excitement and the promise of a new world order. Vendors swooped in and built (overly) complex solutions with impressive architectures to solve huge enterprisey IT needs and then wrapped a bunch of MBA technobabble around it and sold it to unspecting CIOs and CTOs. I mean, it DID look good on paper. The brochures had bullet points to cover all of our IT needs and wants. But what followed was a severe period of disappointment as the products failed to live up to their expectation. We learned a tremendous amount about why this happened which is why I believe we are very much into the Slope of Enlightment right now and heading towards a path of productivity and success.

My good friend, Denny Boynton has written a spectacular autopsy report on SOA's demise, what we learned from it, and where we're going from here. I highly recommend you check it out if you are involved in building enterprise software using web services at your company.