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SOA Implementation Challenges

Why do companies think that if they put up a web service that they are doing Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)? Unfortunately, the IT and business world love to run on the latest hype or buzz words of which very few even understand the meaning. One of the largest issues companies have today as they consider going down the path of SOA, is the lack of knowledge regarding the architectural style and the over usage of the term SOA. So how do we solve this issue?

I am sure most of you are thinking by now that you know what SOA is because you developed a few web services.  Isn’t that SOA, right? No, that is not SOA, but instead Just Another Web Service (JAWS). For us to better understand what SOA is let’s look at a few definitions.
Douglas K. Bary defines service-oriented architecture as a collection of services. These services are enabled to communicate with each other in order to pass data or coordinating some activity with other services.

If you look at this definition closely you will notice that Bary states that services communicate with each other. Let us compare this statement with my first statement regarding companies that claim to be doing SOA when they have just a collection of web services. In order for these web services to for an SOA application they need to be interdependent on one another forming some sort of architectural hierarchy. Just because a company has a few web services does not mean that they are all interconnected.

SearchSOA from TechTarget.com states that SOA defines how two computing entities work collectively to enable one entity to perform a unit of work on behalf of another. Once again, just because a company has a few web services does not guarantee that they are even working together let alone if they are performing work for each other.
SearchSOA also points out service interactions should be self-contained and loosely-coupled so that all interactions operate independent of each other.

Of all the definitions regarding SOA Thomas Erl’s seems to shed the most light on this concept. He states that “SOA establishes an architectural model that aims to enhance the efficiency, agility, and productivity of an enterprise by positioning services as the primary means through which solution logic is represented in support of the realization of the strategic goals associated with service-oriented computing.” (Erl, 2011)

Once again this definition proves that a collection of web services does not mean that a company is doing SOA. However, it does mean that a company has a collection of web services, and that is it.

In order for a company to start to go down the path of SOA, they must take  a hard look at their existing business process while abstracting away any technology so that they can define what is they really want to accomplish. Once a company has done this, they can begin to factor out common sub business process like credit card process, user authentication or system notifications in to small components that can be built independent of each other and then reassembled to form new and dynamic services that are loosely coupled and agile in that they can change as a business grows.

Another key pitfall of companies doing SOA is the fact that they let vendors drive their architecture. Why do companies do this? Vendors’ do not hold your company’s success as their top priority; in fact they hold their own success as their top priority by selling you as much stuff as you are willing to buy. In my experience companies tend to strive for the maximum amount of benefits with a minimal amount of cost. Does anyone else see any conflicts between this and the driving force behind vendors.

Mike Kavis recommends in an article written in CIO.com that companies need to figure out what they need before they talk to a vendor or at least have some idea of what they need. It is important to thoroughly evaluate each vendor and watch them perform a live demo of their system so that you as the company fully understand what kind of product or service the vendor is actually offering. In addition, do research on each vendor that you are considering, check out blog posts, online reviews, and any information you can find on the vendor through various search engines.

Finally he recommends companies to verify any recommendations supplied by a vendor.

From personal experience this is very important. I can remember when the company I worked for purchased a $200,000 add-on to their phone system that never actually worked as it was intended. In fact, just after my departure from the company started the process of attempting to get their money back from the vendor. This potentially could have been avoided if the company had done the research before selecting this vendor to ensure that their product and vendor would live up to their claims.

I know that some SOA vendor offer free training regarding SOA because they know that there are a lot of misconceptions about the topic. Superficially this is a great thing for companies to take part in especially if the company is starting to implement SOA architecture and are still unsure about some topics or are looking for some guidance regarding the topic. However beware that some companies will focus on their product line only regarding the training.

As an example, InfoWorld.com claims that companies providing deep seminars disguised as training, focusing more about ESBs and SOA governance technology, and less on how to approach and solve the architectural issues of the attendees.

In short, it is important to remember that we as software professionals are responsible for guiding a business’s technology sections should be well informed and fully understand any new concepts that may be considered for implementation. As I have demonstrated already a company that has a few web services does not mean that they are doing SOA.  Additionally, we must not let the new buzz word of the day drive our technology, but instead our technology decisions should be driven from research and proven experience. Finally, it is important to rely on vendors when necessary, however, always take what they say with a grain of salt while cross checking any claims that they may make because we have to live with the aftermath of a system after the vendors are gone.

 

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