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Cloud Computing & SOA: Getting the Links Straight Between Them

How SOA benefits cloud computing

Want to know what gets my blood pressure up? It's when there's both a huge shift in thinking around how we should do computing, namely cloud computing, and at the same time, there's a bunch of information out there that causes confusion. As cloud computing hype spikes to a frenzy, so does the number of less-than-intelligent things that I hear about it and its relationship to SOA.

We've got a herd mentality in IT. We're always chasing the next paradigm shift, which seems to come along every five years, claiming that whatever the last paradigm shift was had "failed" and that's why we're looking at something new. However, these hype-driven trends are often complementary, and so the real power is in figuring out how known approaches fit with what's new, and not look to replace, but how to build on the foundation. The best case for that scenario has been how SOA benefits cloud computing, but few understand how and why.

The confusion continues. Stacey Higginbotham, a commentator for GigaOm, remarked that an HP presentation on cloud computing was "depressingly similar to the idea of service-oriented architecture." She noted that "HP offered clouds as merely a means to deliver IT as a service inside the enterprise." However, she was disappointed because "...most of HP's detailed talk of clouds in the first webinar was depressingly similar to the idea of service-oriented architecture."

I'm not trying to pick on Stacey. I see and hear a lot of this kind of stuff out there, and confused people make for more confused people. I suspect that many of the people who sell cloud computing are selling its replacement aspect and not focusing on how to leverage cloud computing into an architectural context. This is dangerous thinking that will quickly get many a naive enterprise into trouble.

The trouble here is that those in IT have a tendency not to understand new concepts in the context of the old, such as how cloud computing is leveraging most of the concepts and patterns around SOA. That's not "depressingly similar."

Let's get this straight: SOA is an architectural pattern, simply put the ability to create an architecture around the notion of many services that are bound together to create and re-create business solutions. Cloud computing is a set of enabling technologies as a potential target platform or technological approach for that architecture.

Thus, to say they're similar is the functional equivalent of saying that an approach to creating automobiles is "depressingly similar" to electric cars. It doesn't make sense. One is the way of doing something, while the other is a potential outcome. SOA doesn't go away. It's not replaced. It's architecture. Cloud computing is a potential outcome of that architecture, thus cloud computing needs architecture, and vice versa.

The core issue, I think, is that we like to oversimplify things when things aren't simple. While we attempted to solve SOA by tossing technology at the problem, we quickly found that SOA was something you do, not something you buy. The same risks are here with cloud computing. Those who toss things outside of the firewall onto the platforms of the clouds without architectural context, such as leveraging SOA, will find themselves in trouble.

We have too many people attempting to lead thought or provide commentary in the cloud space who have no context, and so have a tendency to oversimplify how this technology is leveraged or how it works in enterprise architecture and SOA. And I'm going to call them out when I see it happen.

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 david@bluemountainlabs.com. Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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Most Recent Comments
rebeccalawson 06/09/09 02:17:58 PM EDT

Nicely said: "Cloud computing is a set of enabling technologies as a potential target platform or technological approach for that architecture.”

And further, you mention “people who sell cloud computing” – I would contend you can neither sell nor buy cloud computing. When you get down to it, you sell (or buy) a technology-enabled service that might have any number of architectural principles that contribute to the services’ resulting value. Maybe faster access to compute, parallel processing, rich data access... foundational elements associated w/ cloud, powered by SOA, make possible new kinds and differentiated kinds of results.

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