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Zaptake: The inadequacy of Microsoft's SOA message

Today, ZapThink sat on a briefing on Microsoft's SOA messaging, and we're astounded by the inadequacy, inaccuracy, and tone deafness on their SOA message. Bottom-line: the official message coming from Microsoft about SOA is that SOA is just Web services-based integration. What is particularly disappointing is that Microsoft has coined their own definition of the term "SOA" in defiance of what is increasingly becoming accepted as the understanding that SOA is an aspect of Enterprise Architecture, not a technology focused on standards-based integration.

Microsoft has made a critical (if not fatal) mistake of turning SOA into a developer initiative focused on standards-based interoperability. Their punchline is that SOA is about "connected business." Isn't that what B2B integration and XML is basically about? With this perspective, they've so minimized the meaning of SOA that they've disconnected themselves from the reality that is SOA today. Even the customers they trot out on their conference calls and in their events claim to have implemented SOA on Microsoft products, but when pressed admit that it's nothing more than Web services-based EAI.

What's most astounding is that focusing on the developer/integration value proposition is not in Microsoft's long term interest, nor is it in their competitive sweet spot. Microsoft excels when they focus on user empowerment. When they try to focus on enterprise integration aspects that make the technology hidden,

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they lose their competitive advantage. Indeed, Microsoft-as-middleware has much less to offer a truly heterogeneous entrprise than Microsoft-as-Service consumer or provider. The real power of SOA is not simply in standards-based integration (didn't XML and EDI provide that, too?), but in the power of composing heterogeneous services in environments of continual change.

Indeed, Microsoft has so much more to gain when they put aside the simplistic integration focus on Web services and focus on the fact that they probably have the most potent service composition platform on the market. Leave the vagaries of interoperability and messaging middleware to companies who understand enterprise architecture and can credibly offer truly heterogeneous solutions. If Microsoft can understand that SOA is about service consumption just as much as it is about service provision, they have a chance to shine. By limiting their story on SOA to one of connecting disparate, but still monolithic systems using standards-based technology, they've missed the true opportunity that SOA offers.

Microsoft has the potential to create a truly heterogeneous composition environment to build location-independent, technology-neutral, and user-interaction rich environments where Web services mean little, if anything. The focus in these environments are on real, composite applications. The fact that they so gravely misunderstand SOA is represented by the fact that SOA has not made its way into some of the most potent applications to make use of service composition: Office, Silverlight, their mobile offerings, and even Xbox.

There are certainly many individuals within Microsoft that do understand that SOA is a broad movement to rethink the way we build applications and the way in which people consume capabilities on the network. But those people are clearly not in control of Microsoft's SOA marketing message. People that are focused on a technology, developer, integration-oriented message have taken over and as such have proven their tone deafness in the market.

The ZapThink take
If you want insight into what a real SOA message looks like, check out what companies like IBM and Software AG are discussing. They know and understand the implications that SOA has in the market. As such, they will no doubt win the real opportunity.

Like in many other cases, such as their late entry into the Web 2.0 marketplace, Microsoft misunderstands a key technology trend and therefore is ill-equipped to take advantage of it. It would be one thing if Microsoft was still struggling to understand SOA in 2002, when we were still in the nascent years of SOA definition. But this is now 2008. SOA is now well developed as a concept. To continue to tie SOA to the concept of "connections" is immature, inadequate, incorrect, and misguided. Microsoft needs to pioneer and take advantage of the true opportunities that SOA offers by shifting the conversation past Web services and focusing on enabling location, technology, and process neutral composition of services in an environment of continuous change—the vision of SOA.


This was first published in June 2008

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