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SOA Vendors Focus Too Much on Integration . . .

. . .and not enough on architecture

We've all experienced the hype: "We're a SOA tool, and we're here to help!"

However, most SOA vendors out there don't understand the value of SOA, or even how to approach SOA. They focus on the tactical and not the strategic. Why? A tactical approach is easier for them to sell, and easier for them to understand. However, this approach means they are selling their customers short.

Take integration, for example. We've understood how to do integration since the early days of EAI, and, indeed, it's clearly a component of SOA. However, integration, on its own, is not architecture. Thus, just binding systems together is not architecture, thus it is not SOA.

The fact is that dozens of vendors built integration tools when integration was hot. As the world moved toward SOA, driven by the hype, vendors just relabeled their tools "SOA," even though they still address integration and not architecture. Therefore, when selling into the SOA market, they are driving integration and not architecture, focusing more on the tactical and not the strategic. There is not as much value to the business there.

While many think that just binding applications together, allowing them to share behavior and information counts as SOA, that's really not the case. SOA is the orderly management of many resources/services, and providing the ability to configure those resources into solutions, or, more important, reconfigure them as new solutions as the business requires. In essence, you create a platform for change, which is a much different notion than simple integration.

My advice to these vendors is to spend some more time understanding just what SOA is, and its value to the business. Integration is in there, but it's a small part of architecture. I should know, I wrote the book on integration. However, I did not attempt to see it as architecture. Vendors should not pass if off as that either.

But, of course, a few vendors and end users are pushing back on my advice, and here is some general guidance around the pushback.

  • SOA vendors don't need to understand architecture. They do indeed; this includes architecture in general, and "an architecture" specifically...yours for instance. When you're selling technology, it's a tad helpful if you understand its logical fit within the SOA. I'm surprised I have to keep explaining this, but there are those out there who think that tactical selling of this type of technology is the most productive approach. It's clearly not if you've seen the results. VDA, or Vendor Driven Architecture, is killing SOA. Not that the vendors are evil guys trying to trick end users, but the lack of architectural consideration, on both sides, means you will select the improper technology in many instances.
  • But, integration is important Dave. You bet it is, but it's not architecture; it's a part of architecture. Architecture is the orderly creation, placement, configuration, and management of IT assets, and integration is a core architectural pattern. Indeed, without the notion of integration, SOA would not do the job now, would it? Systems need communication at both the information (data) and behavior levels (service), including mediation of the different formats, semantics, protocol, and APIs. However, the more holistic concept is architecture, and you can't do integration without understanding the architectural context. This includes vendors and enterprise / SOA architects, working together.

I suspect that this won't be well received by the SOA vendors out there, based on the reaction from the last column in which I addressed this issue. However, it's tough love. You better figure out how to sell technology with the heart of a teacher, and not the heart of a salesman, else you'll discover that your customers won't find you helpful in the long run. The good vendors understand that, and end users really should ask the tough questions up front.

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at [email protected] Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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09/12/08 11:09:34 AM EDT

Trackback Added: The Problem with SOA is Architecture; As I read David Linthicum's post on SOA vendors focus too much on integration... and not enough on architecture, this really clarified one of the messes we've gotten into with SOA. The problem is architecture. Dave's definition of architecture (from the post) is:the orderly creation, placement, configuration, and management of IT assets.The problem is that it's only one definition of

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