SOA only really works webscale

Just sat through a few more SOA talks today, and, as usual, the presentations circled ’round to governance pretty quick and stayed there.

The issue is this: soa promises to make life more pleasant by removing duplication of data and functionality. Money is saved and information is more accurate and flows more freely, because we tap directly into the source systems, via their services.

So far the theory. The problem is that organisations in soa exercises have a well documented tendency to re-invent their old monolithic applications as sets of isolated services that make most sense to themselves. And here goes the re-use argument: everyone uses their own set of services, with lots of data and functionality duplication.

Unless, of course, your organisation has managed to set up a Governance Police that makes everyone use the same set of centrally sanctioned services. Which is, let’s say, not always politically feasible.

Which made me think of how this stuff works on the original service oriented architecture: the web. The most obvious attribute of the web, of course, is that there is no central authority over service provision and use. People just use what is most useful to them- and that is precisely the point. Instead of governance, the web has survival of the fittest: the search engine that gives the best answers gets used by everyone.

Trying to recreate that sort of Darwinian jungle within the enterprise seems both impossible and a little misguided. No organisation has the resources to just punt twenty versions of a single service in the full knowledge that at least nineteen will fail.

Or does it? Once you think about the issue webscale, such a trial-and-error approach begins to look more do-able. For a start, an awful lot of current services are commodities that are the same across the board: email, calendars, CRM etc. These are already being sourced from the web, and there are plenty more that could be punted by entrepreneurial -shared – service providers with a nous for the education system (student record system, HR etc.)

That leaves the individual HE institutions to concentrate on those services that provide data and functionality that are unique to themselves. Those services will survive, because users need them, and they’re also so crucial that institutions can afford to experiment before a version is found that does the job best.

I’ll weasel out of naming what those services will be: I don’t know. But I suspect it will be those that deal with the institution’s community (‘social network’ if you like) itself.

One thought on “SOA only really works webscale

  1. An SOA within a controllable domain, lets say an organisation is manageable and can be successfull as it enables parallel development of scaleable and manageable systems to be developed as well as allowing them to be tested in isolation.

    However, it would be unwise to integrate a web based third-party service within your architecture unless it were commercially consumed in a Software As A Service (SAAS) arrangement. I would suspect that there are too many political and human issues that block interoperability between systems in the FE and HE environment that only mirror the same issues in the commercial world. A world wide SOA has been dreamt many a time but I still think its best to be frugal with reliance on it and keep mission critical processes and supporting architecture in house.

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