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i-Technology Viewpoint: Is Web 2.0 the Global SOA?

Web 2.0 describes the next generation of the Web as an application platform

Web 2.0: The Web as the Global SOA
As the rich user experiences portion of Web 2.0 notes, Web pages as the face of the Web are becoming less important in general. Rather, the foundation for the Global SOA has Web services as the underpinning. Open Web services connect the silos of the data and functionality that often fragmented the previous generation of the Web by providing clearly formatted, machine-digestible information instead of the less useful visual HTML layout. This enables information consumers anywhere to take data from a service, present it, remix it, and syndicate it just as they need. Note that the exact mechanism of data sharing in Web 2.0, whether it's XML/HTTP, REST, RSS, SOAP, JSON, etc., doesn't matter as long as it's easily consumable (see Table 1).

When it comes to SOA and services, the principles of service-oriented architecture strongly encourage the liberation of the underlying functionality of software by providing ready, open access via standards. Web 2.0 also strongly promotes open services, as observed above. Both SOA and Web 2.0 embrace Web services in all their forms, though SOA usually has a more complex, hard-wired service model, while Web 2.0 encourages simpler, malleable forms with clear overlap in the middle.

Web 2.0 describes "data as the next Intel inside" and paints a vision of vast interactive access to back-end databases through an open service model. SOA encourages this as well.

Admittedly, most SOAs are still conceptually trapped inside an organization's firewall or VPN. Also, Web 2.0 envisions the global Web as the global stage upon which to act out grand visions of constructing vast supply chains of data and mashed-up functionality. However this is only a matter of scale and is not a genuine difference at all.

Do the connections between Web 2.0 and SOA go deeper, to a more fundamental level than sharing Web services, encouraging composition and reuse, and leveraging cross-cutting views of information to meet users' needs? Are Web 2.0 and SOA actually different at their core, and if not, how else do they relate?

In my opinion, there are at least two major conceptual connections between Web 2.0 and SOA. The first is that Web 2.0 can indeed be conceptualized as a Global SOA that is already hosting millions of services, thousands of composite applications, and millions of users, today. Second, many traditional brick-and-mortar businesses that are currently implementing SOA as their architectural model will need to connect their Web-facing apps to their internal SOAs, thereby aggregating them onto the Web for further use and composition by their business partners and customers.

Thus Web 2.0 is about the entire Web being a reusable, shareable, public SOA. It's also about organizations adding their own, extant SOAs to the Web. The majority of today's organizations that are withholding their SOA assets from the Global SOA will miss out on the benefits of leveraging large-scale network effects, customer self-service, harnessing users as co-developers via mash-ups, access to The Long Tail, and much more.

Note that the industry analyst firm Gartner recently reported that 80 percent of all software development would be based on SOA by 2008. By 2006, Gartner believes that 60 percent of the $527 billion IT professional services industry will be based on exploiting Web services and technology. This is serious convergence of focus. If it's true, this means that more than half of all software development, SOA and otherwise, will revolve around the Web technology, inside or outside organization boundaries. This means Web 2.0 and SOA will be so deeply intertwined that they will inevitably begin to converge into an almost indistinguishable set of software development practices (see Figure 2).

However the real question is: Do the deep connections between the two provide compelling advantages as IT departments and Internet businesses launch Web 2.0 applications, open services, and SOAs? One possible problem is that many people outside of the IT industry haven't heard of SOA. Even then, there are vociferous arguments about what SOA really is, just as there are endless debates about what exactly Web 2.0 is. However in the end, there are too many best practices that need to cross-pollinate and SOA's IT-bound sphere of influence isn't really a factor because people building Web 2.0 will mostly have the same skill sets and background. Only Web 2.0 architects will have to understand these techniques and their connections. Web 2.0 and SOA users themselves will generally be blissfully unaware of Web 2.0 or SOA as their underlying organizing principles.

All of this is not to say that Web 2.0 and SOA don't also have significantly divergent elements too. Web 2.0 emphasizes a social aspect that SOA is completely missing, and probably to its lasting detriment. SOA has much more central configuration control, management, and governance, while Web 2.0 is freewheeling, decentralized, grassroots, and has virtually no command and control structure. Web 2.0 also talks about presentation, and the front end is displayed to the user. SOA is largely silent on the issue of presentation, though it certainly admits its existence. SOA tends to be generic and faceless, whereas Web 2.0 shines brightly on human/service interaction. They seem to need each other to be whole. Finally, Web 2.0 is almost too informal and practically calls out for discipline, while SOA is mute and autistic in comparison, a technical virtuosity that wants to be social but that doesn't know how. UDDI? Not likely.

All of this encourages us to view one through the other to check basic principles. For example, SOA has best practices for building business processes into vast supply chains (and so does Web 2.0). SOA is also a mature view of software that eschews a technical view of information and data. Furthermore, it identifies a motive force for business processes via something called orchestration. This is a concept that Web 2.0 does not have explicitly and could certainly use, though its users provide it in some degree. SOA principles also encourage creation of a common vocabulary across establishing lexicons in language that is native to the domain.

SOA also gets very close to addressing a big issue in software development today: that too many IT systems tend to have technology myopia and ignore their most important elements - the people who use them and the way that they work. Web 2.0 gets this part even more right in all of the significant ways. Web 2.0 embraces people, collaboration, architectures of participation, social mechanisms, folksonomies, real-time feedback, etc. All of these are things that SOA - in its more traditional, corporate clothes - does not address, at least not explicitly. The complementary, highly overlapping nature between the two seems clear.

There are other synergies as well between these two powerful software approaches. One checks and finishes the other. SOA is both a heavyweight version of Web 2.0 and a key archetype for it as well (though admittedly, one that lacks a few important ingredients). What is compelling is that Web 2.0 actually has powerful mechanisms that complete a service landscape. For example, Web 2.0 offers services a face and includes numerous best practices for presentation and technical innovation such as radical decentralization for stability and scalability. In the service landscapes that are common today, there is a lot of SOA without the "A": services with nothing tying them together. Web 2.0 can be the "something" that integrates and visualizes these resources. Web 2.0 also identifies important techniques to immerse users into social processes that can make data and services exposed by SOA vastly more valuable.

Web 2.0 is really the Global SOA, available to the whole world today. Don't forget that it will also be connected to your local SOA in ways you will need and are barely beginning to suspect. Be prepared to leverage Web 2.0 and SOA, and reap the enormous benefits of these emerging mindsets and toolkits.

More Stories By RIA News Desk

Ever since Google popularized a smarter, more responsive and interactive Web experience by using AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) for its Google Maps & Gmail applications, SYS-CON's RIA News Desk has been covering every aspect of Rich Internet Applications and those creating and deploying them. If you have breaking RIA news, please send it to [email protected] to share your product and company news coverage with AJAXWorld readers.

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