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i-Technology Viewpoint: "SOA Sucks"

"I don't think that all of our problems will be solved if we move in this direction as an industry."

From time to time, I find myself lassoing a sacred cow in this Editorial space, dragging it over to the slaughterhouse of rhetoric, and ultimately barbecuing its falsehood over the stainless-steel, six-burner, propane-powered grill of real-world experience. To wit, the current industry obsession with SOA as a panacea for every information system ill from performance to security is, in my humble opinion, a phenomenal load of crap.

Now, please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that there isn't a myriad of benefits to be derived from exposing systems' functionality for access by other automated systems simply by passing XML across industry-standard networking protocols such as HTTP and TCP. Web services are great! If you have to interoperate with non-Microsoft systems, they may be your only option. If you are building a system today and you suspect that some other system might want to tap into its functionality at some point in the future (hint: you can almost always safely assume that this will happen at some point), then you are wise to architect in a way that will lend itself to exposure via Web services.

What I do not buy into is the idea that all systems should be seen either as services that expose their functionality only via unidirectional XML messaging or as clients of such systems. Specifically, I don't think that all of our problems will be solved if we move in this direction as an industry, nor do I think that such an approach is without colossal problems of its own.

What problems have I seen at clients that have tried this? To begin with, the move to asynchronous system operations requires a massive change in thinking on the part of most developers. Having a separate Architect role on a team can offset a lot of this difficulty by allowing just one individual to orchestrate how a set of discrete, asynchronous services can be aggregated into various useful systems.

Versioning and reliability are two problems that are more tactical, and in some ways harder to resolve. If one considers the move from COM to .NET, for example, one of the major problems that .NET was intended to solve was the so-called "DLL Hell" versioning conflicts that were common in the days of COM. Many of these problems return with a vengeance when one begins to rely heavily upon external Web services, because a change in a Web service that is beneficial to one system may be quite detrimental to another system using that same Web service. Unlike .NET code that is run in process, there are no out-of-the-box standards and tools to help with the versioning of .NET Web services.

Finally, of course, are the eternal problems with all new technologies - unclear return on investment and quickly changing standards. These are the difficult questions that SOA must answer if it is to remain relevant in the computing environment of the early 21st century and beyond! As always, I welcome your feedback via e-mail to [email protected].

More Stories By Derek Ferguson

Derek Ferguson, founding editor and editor-in-chief of .Net Developer's Journal, is a noted technology expert and former Microsoft MVP.

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Most Recent Comments
jabailo 05/15/09 05:56:07 PM EDT

Wait...so you're criticsim of SOA is primarily that entrenched IT thinking and current locked mindsets can't comprehend it!

Simple answer: fire the laggards!

SOA is the right answer in so many ways.

However, the technology press doesn't get it because it's not proprietary, it doesn't have a single owner, you can't download it, you can't get a free t-shirt about it.

SOA is about good old fashion smart programming using the latest tools and technologies and eschewing all the Tinker-Toy "application servers" that have been foisted on us as the cure-all and yet sit there wasting server space.

I can build SOA with sendmail servers running on Debian messaging smtp.

I can build SOA with EJBs sending each other Jason strings.

I can use ticker files and the c# FileWatcher to notify automated execution of web services.

I can build a scheduling table on a database that organizes a set of tasks at destinations worldwide.

All of these things are SOA! And if you don't get it...you're SOL!

david 01/18/08 08:40:31 AM EST

face it without XML SOA wouldn't exist, and quite frankly XML sucks anyway -- ever look at all the documents that need to exist and be generated?

the XML community is on crack -- and the technology is out of control.

david 01/18/08 08:36:12 AM EST

why is the JRE backward compatible, but with MS you need every .NET framework to make sure everything is "interoperable"?

why should folks use an inferior model like MS .NET?

David deMilo 10/06/05 11:21:22 PM EDT

good article, dumb headline. Fire your editor.

Dan 10/06/05 02:30:34 PM EDT

First off I think it is interesting that you are smoking a technology that the very magazine you are writing for depends on. A bit amusing to me actually.

Second, although your article doesn't cause me major objection around web services. I do object to the continued misunderstanding of what SOA is trying to accomplish both in the vendor world as well as the business world. Everyone equates Web services as a 1-1 mapping to SOA, while most implementations end up this way it isn't the intent of the panacea as you stated in your article.

The intent of SOA is to start thinking of your business process and how all your systems are supporting those process whether they are distributed or not. A service doesn't necessarily mean that it is remote from the application or even a webservice. I can imagine within a batch process you have an NDM service that will provide a part of your business process.

The true intent and the best way to look at SOA is that it is an IT methodology shift from a silos of departments working on everything that every other department is working on to a specialized view of fulfilling an over all business function or infrastructure function which is needed from a holistic business architecture.

Now of course your point is about the clients you have worked with, which is why your article is skewed in the first right probably since you don't seem to have any meat on what SOA seems to accomplish from your standpoint.

I don't see SOA as an end all solution but it does help to establish a new way of thinking for business and IT which in the long-term will help to feed a more efficient organization if done right.

Thank you for your time in reading this feedback.

- Dan

Justin Fite 10/04/05 11:39:53 PM EDT

As with all "new" technologies, the good is over-hyped and the bad is conveniently underestimated. Derek you mentioned reliability problems, but did not elaborate. The act of creating functionality by linking together independant services will give business what they need: increase business flexibility, but with nasty side effects of unpredictability (thus hard to plan and support), much higher reliability risk (a giant AND condition of every service you request), and the urge for every business to convert many batch processes to dynamic processes. All of this will cause more complexity, higher infrastructure costs, and lower overall reliability. All because we continue to push all our execution through limited, expensive compute resources. The web has taught us the economics of deploying software to end users (scale out), yet we still execute our core business like we did decades ago (scale up), causing a choke point. Virtualize the application and the server so every service gets "it's own machine, it's own instance of the application" This would eliminate compute constraints...

George 09/30/05 06:20:12 PM EDT

On the second thought, you're right again. Not only SOA sucks. There are many things that Sun Microsystems has not bothered to fix for years.
Example: int java.sql.ResultSetMetaData.getColumnType(int)

Software engineering is not an exact science yet.

luke 09/28/05 02:46:29 PM EDT

I respectfully disagree as noted on my latest blog post.

George 09/27/05 05:54:18 AM EDT

You're right: Each made by Microsoft including 'DLL Hell' and many other is a phenomenal load of crap. Switch to Linux and forget MSFT.

archie 09/27/05 03:38:40 AM EDT

Well, we all know that SOA is still an infant, it cries a lot and does poo-poo all over the place, nevertheless it does show some potential. If you treat it as if it were an adult, you are very naive and in deep trouble.

The whole industry is behind this because for the first time in history, Microsoft has agreed to sort of cooperate with it's competitors in creating a framework for the future. They have actually agreed to compete without reserving for themselves the role of rule-maker, referee and lead player. They are *only* the 800lb gorilla in the playground. The only way this would work is if the technology itself is immature and over-hyped.

The funniest part of the article is the claim that WS is the only way of accessing non-Microsoft systems. WOW! Unix has supported all the distributed computing paradigms that have been invented by mankind in the last 30 years and these are myriad. There main weakness was that none of them were accepted by Microsoft. What SOA offers is exactly the opposite: the only way to include Microsoft systems in distributed computing scenarios and this is the main reason for our unreasoning support.