Is the SOA Suite good or bad?

I haven’t listed to the podcast yet, but Joe McKendrick posted a summary of the discussion in a recent Briefings Direct SOA Insights conversation organized by Dana Gardner. In his entry, Joe asks whether vendors are promoting an oxymoron in offering SOA suites. He states:

“Jumbo shrimp” and “government organization” are classic examples of oxymorons, but is the idea of an “SOA suite” also just as much a contradiction of terms? After all, SOA is not supposed to be about suites, bundles, integration packages, or anything else that smacks of vendor lock-in.

“The big guys — SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, webMethods, lots of software vendors — are saying, ‘Hey, we provide a bigger, badder SOA suite than the next guy,'” Jim Kobelius pointed out. “That raises an alarm bell in my mind, or it’s an anomaly or oxymoron, because when you think of SOA, you think of loose coupling and virtualization of application functionality across a heterogeneous environment. Isn’t this notion of a SOA suite from a single vendor getting us back into the monolithic days of yore?”

Personally, I have no issue with SOA suites. The big vendors are always going to go down this route, and if anything, it simply demonstrates just how far we have to go on the open integration front. If you follow this blog, you know that I’ve discussed SOA for IT. SOA for IT, in my mind, is all about integration across the technology infrastructure at a horizontal level, not a vertical level. SOA for business is concerned about the vertical level semantics of the business, and allowing things to integrate at a business sense. SOA for IT is about integration at the technical level. Can my Service Management infrastructure talk to my Service Execution infrastructure? Can my Service Execution infrastructure talk to my Service Mediation infrastructure? Can my Service Mediation infrastructure talk to my Service Management infrastrucutre? The list goes on. Why is their still a need for these SOA suites? Simply put, we still lack standards for communication between these platforms. It’s one thing to say all of the infrastructure knows how to speak with a UDDI v3 registry. It’s another thing to have the infrastructure agree on the semantics of the metadata placed in a registry/repository (note, there’s no standard repository API), and leverage that information successfully across a heterogeneous set of environments. The smaller vendors try to form coalitions to make this a reality, as was the case with Systinet’s Governance Interoperability Framework, but as they get swallowed up by the big fish, what happens? IBM came out with WebSphere Registry/Repository and it introduced new, proprietary APIs. Competitive advantage for an all IBM environment? Absolutely. If I don’t have an all IBM environment, am I that much worse off however? If I have AmberPoint or Actional for SOA management, I’m still dealing with their proprietary interfaces and policy definitions, so vendor lock-in still exists. I’m just locked in to multiple vendors, rather than one.

The only way this gets fixed is if customers start demanding open standards for technology integration as part of their evaluation criteria. While the semantics of the information exchange may not exist yet, you can at least ask whether or not the vendor exposes management interfaces as services. Put another way, the internal architecture of the product needs to be consistent with the internal architecture of your IT systems. If you desire to have separation of management from enforcement, then your vendor products must expose management services. If the only way to configure their product is through a web-based user interface or by attempting to directly manipulate configuration files, this is going to be very costly for you if you’re trying to reduce the number of independent management console that operations needs to deal with. Even if it’s all IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, or whoever, the internal architecture of that suite needs to be consistent with your vendor-independent target architecture. If you haven’t taken the time to develop one, then you’re allowing the vendors to push their will on you.

Let’s use the city planning analogy. A suite vendor is akin to the major developer. Do the city planners simply say, “Here’s your 80,000 acres, have fun?” That probably wouldn’t result in a good deal for the city. Taking the opposite extreme, the city doesn’t want individual property owners to do whatever they want, either. Last year, there was article about a nearby town that had somehow managed to allow an adult store to set up shop next door to a daycare center in a strip mall. Not good. The right approach, whether you want to have a diverse set of technologies, or a very homogenous set is to keep the power in the hands of the planners, and that is done through architecture. If you can remain true to your architecture with a single vendor? Great. If you prefer to do it with multiple vendors, that’s great at well. Just make sure that you’re setting the rules, not them.

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