For most of the early part of the millennium service-oriented architecture got pitched as the coming thing.
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You could forgive the skeptics because anyone who'd spent any time around the IT industry, particularly in the application development arena, had heard plenty of grand promises that never materialized. Entering 2005, it was an open guess as to whether SOA would gain widespread adoption.
While early in the year some were still lobbing grenades, such as calling it a "stupid over-hyped acronym," by the end-of-the-year studies were finding that SOA design skills are becoming highly desirable in the IT marketplace.
And every major player in the software industry began to build its offerings around the SOA design ethos.
"Everybody I'm now talking to is working on SOA," said Burton Group Inc. vice president and research director Anne Thomas Manes. "People have at least an inkling of what it means and they're starting to plan it."
"We can probably characterize 2005 as the year SOA went from being some foggy notion inside a crystal ball to being a design pattern that gained wide acceptance," said Dana Gardner, an analyst with Interarbor Solutions LLC.
In fact, ZapThink analyst Ron Schmelzer believes the SOA product development rate has become so intense that IT shops run high risks if they don't get on board.
"If you're not doing SOA, you're in serious danger," he said. "Every sizable software vendor has stated its future roadmap is going to be SOA related. If you don't adopt SOA, you could be cutting yourself off and not be able to upgrade your current applications."
Along the way a broad swath of companies put themselves on the path to SOA. IBM signed a massive 10-year, $94 million deal with Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. designed to transform and manage more than 500 applications at that company. An early adopter, the financial services industry put together a set of Web services reference implementations.
SOA found its way into struggling older manufacturers like General Motors Corp. and high-flying newer companies like JetBlue Airways. It percolated into the public sector. It even found its way into a little organization called NASA.
Small and midsized business also saw a major uptick in SOA adoption. In April, Forrester Research Inc. found that 70% of large enterprises, 28% of midsized companies and 22% of small companies were adopting SOA. By the end of the year those numbers rose to 77%, 51% and 46%, respectively.
That doesn't mean SOA suddenly became easy to do, but the benefits and achievability of an integrated IT backbone began to overcome the distaste for the work and politics involved in doing it.
Left unsettled is the whole matter of how to build an SOA. For instance, do you build it top down or bottom up? Sun Microsystems Inc. distinguished engineer Mark Hapner stated that many IT pros are still unprepared to architect from the top down.
Development along a document-centric model can be tricky and it requires a new mindset into what an application is. Web services pioneer and Layer 7 Technologies Inc. chief technology officer Toufic Boubez argued that many are still grappling with the idea of building the interface before the application.
There's also the looming question of how to incorporate Big Iron into an SOA.
To ESB or not to ESB
The enterprise service bus is one of the more staid products in the world of SOA, but at the beginning of the year it was hunting for a definition, and it finished the year in much the same state.
Many established vendors rushed into the ESB market over the past year. In June, BEA Systems Inc. made an ESB the initial offering in its SOA enablement plans, and IBM, which had previously considered the ESB a design pattern and not a product, announced that it too was joining the ESB market. The latter announcement caused Sonic Software Corp. vice president David Chappell to proclaim the ESB had become a fully legitimized middleware market.
The knock on ESBs is that many are legacy middleware offerings that at best represent the low-hanging fruit of the SOA market and at worst are inessential integration middleware products that will make SOA adoption more difficult.
While Forrester Research offered an optimistic vision for the ESB market, IBM took some criticism for trying to make SOA too many things to too many customers.
"All of these companies are piling into this real weird bandwagon," Schmelzer said. "ESB is a problematic term that was sickly in 2005 and I think it's going to die in 2006."
Despite the critics, ESB vendors like Fiorano Software Inc. continue to build out their product sets. Cape Clear Software Inc.recently added server virtualization and a full integration with Eclipse to its ESB.
BEA followed its ESB splash with the acquisition of portal vendor Plumtree Software Inc., a move designed to give it stronger internal integration capabilities. It then went after SOA runtime performance offering up hot-swappable application functionality and then added an integrated development environment for open source frameworks with the acquisition of M7 Corp.
Sun Microsystems started the year by creating an SOA consulting practice, then it acquired integration vendor SeeBeyond Technology Corp. and finally it decided to make its entire software portfolio free and open source.
Not to be left behind by the Java vendors, Microsoft announced it would build an enterprise application communication fabric code-named Indigo. The first beta release got good reviews and then it was renamed the Windows Communication Foundation, deemed an essential piece in Microsoft's race with IBM to create an SOA superplatform.
Manes believes the 2006 commercial arrival of Indigo will be a major event in pushing wider adoption of SOA and in establishing the latest round of Web services standards.
"Microsoft's definitely been the trendsetter in the SOA space," she said.
Yet even as Microsoft put out the third generation of its Web services enhancements tools for developers, the threat of applications competitors putting new Web services into the market forced Microsoft to re-evaluate its core business.
Schmelzer credited SAP AG's decision to throw its corporate might behind SOA as a tipping point for the market. Meanwhile, Oracle Corp. kept up its steady pace of building out an SOA ecosystem, partnering with Systinet Corp. to embed an SOA registry inside its application server.
Looking to jump into the SOA market Software AG and Fujitsu Ltd. teamed up for a repository product while four other vendors looked to create an updated SOA maturity model. Many expect vendor partnering to become the rage in 2006.
"There's a lot of smaller vendors doing real cutting-edge things and they've become pretty good at working together," Manes said.