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Issue of November 2006 

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The Emperor with no clothes

Is SOA the emperor in the folk tale?

Sometimes technology can change the world...the World Wide Web now known simply and ubiquitously as the Web did just that...but sometimes technology can fall flat on its face. Not many people today will remember Push technology but I was starting my career back in the mid 1990s when the deafening hype around Push rose to such ear-splitting levels that Microsoft built the technology into its then upcoming browser, Internet Explorer 4, only to drop the technology from IE5. In between those two extremes, companies such as PointCast were hailed as the second coming of media and Push was supposed to render newspapers and TV and every other communications medium obsolete.

Today as I read and hear the din around Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), I can’t help wondering, is SOA the new Push?

Talk to any enterprise software vendor today and chances are that SOA will crop up somewhere in the discussion. Despite that everybody seems to have a different definition of SOA. It’s like the elephant and the blind man.

A Quocirca report highlights the fact, “The lack of business awareness of SOA is stark, with over 50 percent of business respondents being completely unaware of SOA. Even within the technical community, this lack of awareness is running at nearly 25 percent.”

Awareness levels in the APAC lag those in Europe and the USA as per this report with about half the overall respondents in the Asia-Pacific region saying that they had little or no knowledge of SOA. That said, “although APAC’s stated SOA knowledge is low, foundational readiness and the use of technologies which lead to functional re-use is high.” With regard to India, 90 percent of respondents claimed little or no knowledge and not a single respondent claimed to “know all about SOAs and have implemented one or more already.”

Quocirca believes that it’s just a matter of time before people understand what SOA is and then they’ll adopt it. They also believe that SOA is a good thing as the alternative is the slippery slope of hand-crafted, non-standard approaches. To this end, the research firm advises vendors to educate users about SOA’s benefits.

I can’t argue with the fact that standards are good, because they are the bedrock of modern computing. However, of late I have noticed that concepts have a way of getting diluted in order to become more palatable to enterprise users. Take the case of grid computing. What a grid was supposed to be, to begin with, was a software layer running on every computer—desktop or server—in one or more organisations tapping unused CPU cycles on hundreds or thousands of machines. What’s actually being deployed in the data centre under the moniker of grid computing is nothing more than database clusters with failover. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet but a grid, is a grid, is a grid and a cluster a cluster.

Similarly, while some companies are talking about SOA deployments, I have to wonder to what extent they are embracing the idea and to what extent it’s just an existing related technology being tagged with the SOA label simply because it’s fashionable to do so.

Will SOA be another Push? I doubt it. Will it be diluted and just plain mislabelled like grid computing. Unfortunately, the answer is likely to be ‘yes.’

Prashant L Rao
Executive Editor

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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