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ZapThink's Take on 2010

Getting on with 2010 and celebrating ZapThink’s 10-year anniversary

It’s hard to believe that ZapThink will be a full decade old in 2010. For those of you that don’t know, ZapThink was founded in October 2000 with a simple mission: record and communicate what was happening at the time with XML standards.

From that humble beginning, ZapThink has emerged as a (still small) advisory and education powerhouse focused on Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA),Cloud Computing, and loosely coupled forms of Enterprise Architecture (EA).

Oh, how things have changed, and how they have not. As is our custom, we’ll use this first ZapFlash of the year to look retrospectively at the past year and the upcoming future. But we’ll also wax a bit nostalgic and poetic as we look at the past 10 years and surmise where this industry might be heading in the next decade.

2009: A year of angst

The Times Square Alliance has it right in celebrating Good Riddance Day just prior to New Year’s Eve. There’s a lot that we can be thankful to put behind us. Anne Thomas Manes started out the year with an angst-filled posting declaring that SOA is Dead. Getting past the misleading headline, many in the industry came to the quick realization that SOA is far from dead, but rather going into a less hyped phase.

And for that reason we’re glad. We say good riddance to vendor hype, consulting firm over-selling, and the general proliferation of misunderstanding that plagued the industry from 2000 until this point (SOA is Web Services? SOA is integration middleware? Buy an ESB get a SOA?). We can now declare that the vendor marketing infatuation with SOA is dead and they have a new target in mind: Cloud Computing.

Last year we predicted that SOA would be pushed from the daily marketing buzz to replaced with Cloud Computing as the latest infatuation of the marketingerati. Specifically we said, “We expect the din of the cloud-related chatter to turn into a real roar by this time next year. Everything SOA-related will probably be turned into something cloud-related by all the big vendors, and companies will desperately try to turn their SOA initiatives into cloud initiatives.”

Oh, boy, were we right ... in spades. Perhaps this wasn’t the most remarkable of predictions, though. Every analyst firm, press writer, and book author was positively foaming at the mouth with Cloud-this and Cloud-that. Of course, if history is a lesson, 90% of what’s being spouted is EAI-cum-SOA-cum-Cloud marketing babble and intellectual nonsense.

But history also teaches us that people have short-term memories and won’t remember. They’ll continue to buy the same software and consulting services warmed over as new tech with only a few enhancements, mostly in the user interface and system integration to change things.We also predicted a boom year for SOA education and training, which ended up panning out, for the most part. ZapThink now generates the vast majority of its revenues from SOA training and certification, which has become a multi-million dollar business for us, by itself.

ZapThink is not alone in realizing this boom of EA and SOA training spending. We’ve seen the rapid emergence of a wide range of EA frameworks, SOA methodologies, and disciplines benefiting from a rapid increase in EA and SOA training expenditures. We also predicted that ZapThink would double in size, which hasn’t exactly happened. Instead, we’ve decided to grow through use of partners and contractors – a much wiser move in an economy that has proven to be sluggish throughout 2009.

Yet, not all of our predictions panned out. We promised that there would be one notable failure and one notable success that would be universally and specifically attributed to SOA in 2009, and I can’t say that this has happened. If it did, we’d all know about it.

Rather, we saw the continued recession of SOA into the background as other, more highly hyped and visible initiatives got the thumbs-up of success or the mark of failure. In fact, perhaps this is how it should have been all along. Why should we all know with such grand visibility if it was SOA that succeeded or failed? Indeed, failure or success can rarely be solely attributable to any form of architecture. So, I think it’s possible to say that the prediction itself was misguided. Maybe we should instead have asked for raises for all those involved in SOA projects in 2009.

2010 and beyond: Where are things heading?

It’s easy to have 20/20 hindsight, however. It’s much more difficult to make predictions for the year ahead that aren’t just the obvious no-brainers that anyone who has been observing the market can make. Sure, we can assert that the vendors will continue to consolidate, IT spending will rebound with improving economic conditions, and that cloud computing will continue its inevitable movement through the hype cycle, but that wouldn’t be providing you with any information. Rather, we believe that we can stick our necks out a bit to make some predictions for 2010.

In 2010, we predict that:

* Open Source SOA infrastructure will dominate – Lack of interest by venture capitalists and consolidation by the Big Five IT infrastructure providers will result in such lack of choice for SOA infrastructure solutions that end users will flock to open source alternatives. As a result, 2010 will be the year that open source SOA infrastructure finally gains enough adoption that it will be on the short list for most large SOA implementations. We’ll see (finally) a robust open source SOA registry/repository offering, SOA management solutions, SOA governance offerings, and SOA infrastructure solutions that rival commercial ones in terms of performance, reliability, and support.

* The Rich Internet Application (RIA)market wars are over – Put a fork in it, it’s done. Good try Microsoft Silverlight. Nice effort, RIA startups and commercial vendors. Customers have spoken. Adobe Flash and open source Ajax solutions based onJavascript have won. Yes, there will be niches and industries were Silverlight and other commercial solutions might be appropriate and gain traction, but we see way too much (awesome quality) open source jQuery (and Prototype) solutions out there and too much adoption of Flash by the end user base for this trend to go away. And Java on the client? Feggetaboutit – that time has come and gone. As a result, this will be the end of ZapThink’s coverage of the space. Just as we declared the Native XML Database market done in 2002. So too we declare this market contest over.

* Cloud privacy & security issues put to rest – Already we’re seeing people anguishing about Cloud’s unreliability, insecurity, and lack of privacy. Really? You think people didn’t realize this when they made their Cloud investments in the first place? There’s simply too much economic benefit in running services and applications in a dynamically scalable way on someone else’s infrastructure. The Cloud providers won’t be giving up any time soon. Nor will IT implementers. This means that there will be a credible solution to these problems, and it will become well understood and implemented by year’s end. If you’re looking for a company to start in 2010 that will have a huge, ready customer base and potential for multi-million dollar valuations with an exit in 18-24 months, then this is the place to look. Start a cloud privacy/reliability/security company that addresses current pain points and you’ll win. We’ll just take 5 percent for the suggestion, thanks.

But all these 2010 predictions are still too easy. Since we’ve been around for the past decade, perhaps we should make some predictions about the decade ahead? Where will IT and SOA and EA be in 2020? Most ironically, we believe that not much will really change in the enterprise software landscape. If you were to fall asleep in a Rip van Winklesque fashion today and wake up on January 1, 2020, you’d find that:

* Mainframes will still exist — Look folks, if they haven’t been subsumed by all the movements of the past 30 years, they won’t be gone in another 10. Mainframes and legacy systems are here to stay. Invest in mainframe-related stocks.

* We’ll still be talking about Enterprise Architecture – One of the biggest lessons of the past 10 years is that the business still doesn’t understand or value enterprise architecture. CIOs are still, for the most part, business managers who treat IT as a cost center or as a resource they manage on a project-by-project and acquisition-by-acquisition basis. Long-term planning? Put enterprise architects in control of IT strategy? Forget it. In much the same way that the most knowledgeable machinists and assembly line experts would never get into management positions at the automakers, so too will we fail to see EA grab its rightful reins in the enterprise. We’ll still be talking about how necessary, under implemented, and misunderstood EA will be in 2020. You’ll see the same speakers, trainers, and consultants, but with a bit more grey on top (if they don’t already have it now).

* More things in IT environments we don’t control – IT is in for long-term downward spending pressure. The technologies and methodologies that are emerging now: Cloud, mobile, Agile, Iterative, Service-Oriented are only pushing more aspects of IT outside the internal environment and into environments that businesses don’t control. Soon, your most private information will be spread onto hundreds of servers and databases around the world that you can’t control and have no visibility over. You can’t fight this battle. Private clouds? Baloney. That’s like trying to stop tectonic shift. The future of IT is outside the enterprise. Deal with it.

* IT vendors will still be selling 10 years from now what they’ve built (or have) today – There is nothing to indicate that the patterns of vendor marketing and IT purchasing have changed in the past 10 years or will change at all in the next 10 years. Vendors will still peddle their same warmed-over wares as new tech for the next 10 years. And even worse, end users will buy them. IT procurement is still a short-sighted, tactically project-focused, solving yesterday’s problems affair. It would require a huge shift in purchasing and marketing behavior to change this, and I regret that I don’t see that happening by 2020.

The ZapThink take

Some of the above predictions may seem gloomy. Perhaps the current recessionary environment is putting a haze on the positive visions of our crystal ball. More likely, however, is the fact that the enterprise IT industry is in a long-term consolidating phase.

IT is a relatively new innovation for the business having been part of the lexicon and budgets of enterprises probably for 60 years at the longest. Just as the auto industry went through a rapid period of expansion and innovation from the beginning of the past century through the 1960s to later be followed by consolidation and slowing down of innovation, so too will we see the same happen with enterprise IT.

In fact, it’s already begun. Five vendors control over 70 percent of all enterprise IT software and hardware expenditures in the enterprise. Enterprise end users will necessarily need to follow their lead as they do less of their own IT development and innovation in-house.

Now, this doesn’t apply to IT as a whole – we see remarkable advancement and development in IT outside the enterprise. As we’ve discussed many times before, there is a digital divide between the IT environment inside the enterprise and the environment we experience when we’re at home or using consumer-oriented websites, devices, and applications.

We expect that digital divide to continue to separate, and, perhaps within the next 10 years, reach a point where enterprise IT investment will stagnate. Instead, the business will come to depend on outside providers for their technology needs. Wherever that goes, ZapThink has been there for the past 10 years, and we expect to be here another 10. In what shape and what form we will be, that is for you, our customers and readers to determine.

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