When Anne Thomas Manes declared SOA dead last January, the enterprise software world stood up and took notice. Manes, a vice president and research director with Burton Group (now with Gartner), declared that SOA and middleware products had worn out their welcome in corporate America, and that SOA as a marketing term was no longer useful. Now, one year later, Manes is still bearish on SOA technology, but very bullish on applying SOA best practices to the cloud.

Jason Bloomberg, managing partner at consulting firm ZapThink, said that SOA has changed from being a market category for software and middleware companies to a set of best practices, and that this shift became prominent in the market towards the end of 2008. He said that SOA was always about best practices, but that the companies hoping to make money on the term had obscured this fact with lots of advertising dollars.

Today, said Bloomberg, these companies have seen their markets dry up, and only a few such companies remain; most SOA companies were acquired by the likes of IBM and Oracle over the past four years. But even IBM has changed its marketing to emphasize SOA consulting, not SOA products, he said.

“What’s really shifted, and this is what Anne was getting at, is a shift away from vendor-driven fake architecture projects where you say you want to do SOA, you buy from Oracle or IBM, they install it and you wonder where the SOA went,” said Bloomberg.

“Budgets were tight last year, and that helped organizations resist spending money on software to solve the problem. There is now a focus on true architecture to leverage existing infrastructure.”

ZapThink used to offer SOA-specific advice, and it even ranked SOA tools in the company newsletter. Bloomberg said that such work is no longer a part of the ZapThink business model, which is now focused on training and consulting rather than purchasing advice.

From SOA to the cloud
Now that SOA has lost its appeal as a buzzword, many companies are pushing their middleware products into the cloud. “Vendors had to do something to convince people to buy,” said Manes. “They basically took everything they had for SOA and repackaged it to say, ‘This is cloud stuff.’ But you can’t do cloud computing very effectively at all if you’re not also using service-oriented principles.

“The business guys aren’t interested in investing in this abstract architecture concept. But at the same time, you have to do it or your systems are going to remain in this quagmire they’ve been in.”

Adam Vincent, CTO of Layer 7 Technologies, said that the software underpinnings of SOA still exist, but they are no longer being sold as SOA panaceas.

“The tenets of SOA still exist. One of those is the idea of creating composite services out of existing applications,” said Vincent.

Layer 7 recently entered the enterprise service bus market, but the company was careful not to attach the “SOA” label
 to its new appliance. Rather, it’s marketing it as an integration appliance.

Greg Schott, CEO of MuleSoft, is also in the ESB business. “The SOA market got all the hype around these big-bang approaches where the company says, ‘We are now going to deploy a SOA.’ Now, people are realizing that’s not the way to do it. The way you get service reuse is to start with grassroots,” he said.

Focusing on best practices
Bloomberg agrees that SOA best practices are just as relevant in the cloud. He said that SOA can help to make cloud-based applications more flexible. Many companies are now realizing they have to enforce policies and governance on the many APIs they use across the Internet, and this is a problem that SOA best practices have already addressed. Those best practices vary from firm to firm, but they tend to have major aspects in common. And these commonalities are also applicable to the cloud.

These best practices, of which IBM, Oracle and Sun all have their own versions of, include items such as “Architect someplace in the network where policies and governance can be enforced on incoming and outgoing traffic,” and “Develop loosely coupled services, not tightly integrated one-off services designed only for use in a single application.”

“You can’t do true cloud computing without architecture. Leveraging best practices to build loosely coupled abstractions: That’s a SOA best practice,” said Bloomberg. “You won’t be able to succeed in the cloud without SOA best practices.

“SOA takes the whole notion of an API one step further. What SOA brings to the table is a loosely coupled vision for interfaces. You can still call it an API, but it’s still more of a loosely coupled service and extraction interface. This requires a higher level of governance. If the service provider makes an update, it shouldn’t break any of the consumers. That becomes a governance challenge.”

A year later, Manes remains confident that SOA as a tool-driven concept is still dead, but she also said that SOA best practices don’t need to be updated for the cloud. After seven years of consulting and researching SOA, she said that for clients today, she gives mostly the same advice she has been giving on how to do SOA, because, she said, “that’s also how you do cloud.”