SOA Comes at a Cost
Service-oriented architecture (SOA) will be used in more than 50 percent of new mission-critical operational applications and business processes designed in 2007 and in more than 80 percent by 2010, according to a new study by Gartner. SOA has dramatically grown in popularity, and adoption has expanded across vertical industries, geographies, and organization sizes. However, the number of failed projects has also grown, and organizations have discovered that SOA benefits come at a cost as the challenges associated with its adoption become more apparent.
"New software products for SOA have hit the market, but given their immaturity, have disappointed users in terms of reliability, performance, and productivity," says Frank Kenney, a research director for Gartner. "SOA principles have been applied too rigidly, and this has led to unsatisfactory outcomes as projects became too costly and didn't meet deadlines."
However, Kenney points out that this is not bad news. Organizations are using this approach and adopting the relevant enabling technologies. "Large numbers of successes have been reported, and no major conceptual flaw has been discovered in SOA," he says. "Organizations should aggressively invest in SOA as it will rapidly become the architectural foundation for virtually every new business-critical application."
Moving to an SOA-based infrastructure is, in most cases, motivated by significant changes in the business environment. This need most frequently manifests itself in the context of a specific business unit, but often also at the corporate level. "SOA adoption is greatly beneficial from the CIO's point of view. To keep pace with relentless business change, IT departments are constantly under pressure to deliver more in a flat-budget situation," Kenney says. "SOA can frequently be part of the answer by providing a sound architectural framework to help CIOs address their challenges. However, SOA is not a product they can buy and install. In additional to adoption of new technologies, it requires changes in people's behavior. Organizations looking to strategically adopt SOA should develop their business case on a combination of anticipated business and IT benefits."
The practical benefits of a well-implemented SOA are greater adaptability, faster time to deployment, and lower costs for application development and integration. But SOA adoption also has significant implications. Compared with traditional monolithic or client/server architectures, SOA needs a more careful application design. It often requires use of integration middleware. Testing, debugging, managing, and securing a distributed SOA are complex and expensive issues.
Addressing these issues is of paramount importance for successful SOA initiatives, according to Kenney. However, despite the falling cost of technology, more widespread know-how and availability of SOA services from systems integrators, the incremental upfront cost of SOA versus a traditional architecture in most cases can't be justified for fast ROI-opportunistic projects. Kenney says that through 2008, the upfront investment for large-scale SOA applications "will be justifiable only for projects with a planned lifetime of three years or more."
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