Mutual Embrace of SOA and Cloud Computing Builds into Productivity Waltz Across the IT Landscape

Updated: February 18, 2010

Here with us now, however, to plumb the depths of how SOA and cloud computing do or don't come together, are Dr. Chris Harding, director of the SOA Work Group at The Open Group; Stephen G. Bennett, Senior Enterprise Architect at Oracle, and Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Search for Salesforce.com. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Harding: Five years ago, when we started getting into SOA, there was a huge amount of excitement and a great deal of buzz about it. Now, we can see that the hype cycle has run its course, but we're still seeing a great deal of technical interest in SOA and we're also seeing that companies are using it and are increasing their use of it. So, there is a steady uptake in the use of SOA, although the excitement about it has died down.

It's very interesting that service orientation is very much a business concept, and SOA has been about the application of that business concept to the technology. Cloud computing, on the other hand, is very much a technical concept. It's about what you can do with technology over the Internet.

It is a technical concept, but it has had really a big impact on the business structure. So you can see them as complementary. SOA has been the application of business principles into the technology. Cloud is a technical concept, which has had a huge impact on the business. So, yes, there probably are different parts of the organizations looking at cloud and looking at SOA, but there is a big dynamic that says they should be working together on both of them.

Coffee: I've been covering SOA for a long time. I'd say the people who adopted SOA in the previous decade got considerable upside, but those who did not didn't really suffer any penalty for not doing so.

In the situation we're in now, where the economics of cloud computing are becoming quite compelling, the downside of not having a SOA is becoming quite apparent. If you don't have a service environment, then your ability to extend your current assets and integrate them with cloud services is going to be somewhat hampered.

So, people are realizing now that the wait-and-see option is more perilous than it used to be. This is accelerating the actual adoption of what we would call SOA, except that's no longer the label du jour.

Beyond integration

It seems to me that SOA very quickly became a label of products that vendors wanted to sell. So, you saw a lot of things like enterprise service bus (ESB) products and so on.

It became dangerously easy to think that you were doing SOA, if you were buying the tools and failing to appreciate how much of a cultural and management achievement it was to get people to think of themselves not as owners of and the gatekeepers to an IT asset, but instead being publishers of and supporters of a service to other parts of the business.

It's absolutely critical to understand that you can view SOA as simply a way of integrating the stuff you have, or you can move to the next level and start to think of it as the way you do your business. The way your business units interact with and support each other with the technology is just the enabler for that.

The same is true of the cloud. It's possible to take the existing IT model of isolated applications, each with their own data stores, and replicate that model in the cloud with elastic scalability of capacity. That would be the level of the cloud industry that's typically called infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Or, it's possible to use the cloud as a much more interesting and fluid medium for interaction among much more granular and business-oriented services at the level that's traditionally been called in the industry either platform as a service (PaaS) or software as a service (SaaS). It depends on the level at which you choose to consume other people's application work, instead of doing new application development yourself.

It's possible to do SOA without the cloud. It's possible to do better SOA with it. It is also possible to do an isolated silo-oriented architecture locally and also to do that in a cloud environment. Neither one necessarily implies or impels the other.

Bennett: The majority of large enterprises today are doing SOA in one fashion or another at different levels of maturity, whether that's from the quite immature approach of seeing it as a pure integration play all the way up to seeing it more as a business agility kind of play.

So, it's becoming a norm and, therefore, we don't need to keep hyping it or pushing it. We need to use the characteristics it offers with other supporting technology strategies such as cloud

I actually see recession as an opportunity within IT, because it gives you opportunity to reset thinking and reset IT's approach to actually delivering IT to the business.

It's a combination of technologies that are finally ready for prime time, and an ecosystem that's ready to support those technologies well.



Coffee: The economics of being able to have elastically scalable capacity to be able to handle peak loads without needing to own the peak capacity and wind up with very low utilization rates on your capacity are becoming so compelling that people are asking how they're going to take advantage of this opportunity of this cloud environment.

It's a combination of technologies that are finally ready for prime time, and an ecosystem that's ready to support those technologies well -- providers of services and providers of expert assistance in using those services.

That's a very important enabling ware, when your major system integration firms begin fully to understand how they can incorporate cloud services into the portfolio of technologies that they make available to their customers. When you put that all together, the downside of not moving to an SOA becomes an embarrassing lack of ability to take advantages of these incredible economies.

... The combination of SOA, which makes your various business units able to cooperate more effectively, with cloud environments which allow you to handle very "bursty" workloads and conduct very cost-effective pilot projects and scale the ones that work very rapidly, increase the ROI of IT spending.

The IT budget, as a line item, is not conspicuously bigger. In fact, it may actually shrink, because the IT department now is a composer and integrator of stuff that may now be getting done with the operating budget by personnel, who are on the payroll as members of a business unit, instead of members of an IT organization.

Business capability maps

Bennett: What people are talking about is the opportunity to redirect costs to area such as business architecture, and business architecture is part of enterprise architecture (EA). That's not purely IT focused, but the wider concern -- investing stuff like business capability maps to understand exactly where I should utilize SOA and cloud with my organization -- is going to be key.

This will, in turn, enable the consuming enterprises to concentrate on the things that they are particularly good at.



Harding: That certainly must be one of the factors that will enable cloud computing to make enterprises more efficient -- the elasticity and the take-up effect. It also has a major effect on the risk that an enterprise needs to take on. But, there is a bigger factor, which is meant to drive down cost, and that is competition.

If you take service orientation and cloud in combination, you're seeing the ability of people to buy services from different suppliers, for those suppliers to compete, and for those suppliers to concentrate on the services that they are particularly good at. This will, in turn, enable the consuming enterprises to concentrate on the things that they are particularly good at.

So, you don't need to dissipate your efforts on running an inefficient IT department, which is not your core business. You can outsource that, get a specialist to do it much better, and concentrate on what you're good at. That is the real dynamic that will improve things economically.

Now, from an Open Group perspective, there is a danger that you may become locked into a particular supplier. Part of our role in promoting open systems is to push for the standards to be in place so that that doesn't happen. Provided we can prevent that locking, it's altogether a very healthy situation.

Coffee: The granularity of this marketplace is quite surprising to many people who haven't looked at it closely. We see already people building applications, in which they have shopped the marketplace and found a cloud storage proposition from one provider, a cloud application development platform from another, social networking algorithms and facilities from yet a third provider and have built some really interesting strategic business solutions. It's quite startling to many people to realize what a supermarket of services has already come into being.

Bennett: The combination of cloud and SOA obviously brings together kind of speed and modularity. Those basic principles are going to allow us to take evolutionary technologies and approaches and probably revolutionize the way that IT actually interacts with the business.

So, in terms of IT being siloed -- "please develop and look after this application" -- it's going to be more a move toward collaboration of how we can actually deliver business solutions to the ever-changing business dynamics.


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