SOA in Good Eternal Company

graveyard-689x407There’s a place where good acronyms go to die.  I call it the GAG (Good Acronym Graveyard).  It’s a dark foreboding place where over-hyped acronyms lie interred separated from their perfectly valid and useful living legacies.

Terminal Terminology

The first GAG funeral that I witnessed in my career personally was Artificial Intelligence.  In the 80s and early 90s, AI was hyped to the point where our brains would surely atrophy as expert systems, neural networks, fuzzy sets, and other goodies would put homo-sapiens out of business.  AI would be the computing industry’s super hero of the era.  But just as most of our super heroes eventually disappoint as they fail to live up to impossible expectations, AI came crashing down.  So many companies and investors were burnt in the process that the term itself became a pariah.  A proposal or business plan could promise to cure cancer, but would be rejected out of hand if it included the term “AI”.

In reality, the AI funeral was for the term itself.  The living legacy of AI is all around us.  We have automated decisioning and diagnostic systems that use many expert systems concepts.  Rule based systems are widely used to codify business policies, determine insurance quotes, and manage the complexities of telecommunications billing.  Neural networks among other techniques are used in pattern analyses such as facial recognition and linguistics.  Just about every complex search technique in use today owes its roots to a university AI lab.  More generally, heuristic algorithms are now pervasive in everything from music recommendations to counter terrorism.

The principles and techniques of AI have been staggeringly successful, but the over-hyped term and its unreasonable expectations rest in peace in the GAG.  This was no time for sorrow, however.  With this burial went the wasteful distraction of trying to satisfy the insatiable.  Released from this burden, practitioners were free to focus and produce the awesome results that have transformed large tracts of the computing landscape.

So Soon SOA

Service Oriented Architecture or SOA has now entered the GAG.  Following a similar pattern as AI, there is nothing wrong with its principles.  In fact, SOA is exactly the transformative movement required by complex enterprises that require breakthrough advances in agility while avoiding the infeasible cost and limitations of wholesale legacy replacement.  Over the past several years, however, the term SOA has been over-hyped as a silver bullet, a specific technology, or a turnkey solution depending on the agenda of the “hyper”.  To these expectations, SOA must and has failed.

In a 01-05-2009 post entitled “SOA is Dead; Long Live Services“, Anne Thomas Manes writes the following insightful obituary:

SOA met its demise on January 1, 2009, when it was wiped out by the catastrophic impact of the economic recession.  SOA is survived by its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS, Cloud Computing, and all other architectural approaches that depend on “services”.

SOA is a strategy and an architecture (people tend to forget that’s what the “A” stands for).  It is a path to which enterprises must commit and in which they must invest in order to realize the returns.  When a project is framed as full blown “SOA”, compelling returns on investment are exceedingly difficult to devise and sell.  However, Software as a Service (SaaS) has gained acceptance as an agile, cost effective alternative to wide-scale software installation and maintenance.  Cloud computing is rapidly ascending to acceptance as a nimble alternative to sizing data centers to handle peak-plus demands.  Mashups are everywhere from grass-roots developers to the enterprise back office.  As these mindset changes continue to cure, the principles of SOA will flourish – even better without the baggage of the term itself.

Requiem

And so we gather together on this cold day in January of 2009 to lay to rest the body of SOA, but not its spirit.  We do not mourn this passing as untimely or empty.  Rather we rejoice in the opportunity to move past empty promises and impossible expectations.

Perhaps now that the GAG is sporting yet another tombstone, we can attend to the real business of enterprise transformation through service orientation.  Perhaps we can even throw in a little AI for good measure… D’OH!!!

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