SOA Confusion — Practitioners versus Pundits

With the typical firm grasp of the obvious, the following quote appears at the top of a posting entitled “When all else fails, try SOA best practices“:

“We’re seeing a lot of people out there struggling with SOA, trying to do SOA,” said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink. “They are worrying about building services and running services. They are having to ask themselves questions. ‘Why am I doing this? What services do I really need to be building?’ They need methodology.”

Well and it’s no wonder given the various forums that SOA has on the Internet. The problem is, everyone has their own methodology with about 80% of it being identical to every other, 10% of it being somewhat different and 10% being absolutely useless. That is not much room for differentiation. In my reading of these different approaches, the difference appears to whether the methodology was created by an SOA practitioner or merely a self proclaimed pundit.

For a prime example of the chest thumping echo chamber of ego and useless opinion, take a look at the yahoo SOA ‘discussion’ group[warning, Yahoo login required to view content]. Here you have a handful of preening blovators who go on at great length about esoteric, impractical aspects of webservices and (sometimes) SOA. Endless rants about REST vs SOA, business services vs enterprise services, their out pet definitions of technology terms, on and on. When an unsuspecting non-blovator posts, there is a veritable feeding frenzy to see who can dissect the question and turn it into a rambling thread of gibberish and self promotion. Thus, the majority of the non-blovator questions go unanswered leaving the poster to think, ‘well if all of these smart people can’t come to a reasonable conclusion, then it must be really hard’. Run away from the pundit mosh pit!

This is not to say that there aren’t the occasional quality posts that provide some real value; there are. The problem is that there is so much noise that it is hard to find these nuggets. Just as there are some true practitioners you can go to to get quality information on a highly consistent basis. In my opinion, one of those (rare) individuals is David Linthicum. He consistently delivers the ‘here is what works and here is what doesn’t’ insights that I really appreciate. I just hope that this continues to be the case now that he is part of the ZapThink group.

Right, then there is Zapthink. You really want their website to be the good resource for SOA that it desperately wants to be but visitors are immediately put off by the newbie web design motif that makes it look like a pr0n site, circa 1998. Arrive at the site and you are greeted with: A horizontal scrolling banner, and vertical scrolling banner, an obnoxious flashing banner top center, a font that is about 3 sizes too small to be legible and no real information on the front page, only self promotional come ons. It is a disaster. When you get to the ‘content’ (most times behind a login) it is typically an excerpt that you then need to go to yet another web site to read the actual article. Tedious and unnecessary, especially since many of the linked article merely mention Ron Schmelzer name and some quip that he contributed.

So where does that leave those in search of quality information on SOA? Here are a few of my favorites:

The previously mentioned Real World SOA blog by David Linthicum

SearchWebServices Occasionally has some good postings in and amongst the vendor diatribesn

Steve Jones’ Service Architecture – SOA is worth a look, as wel
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SOA and EDA Though I wish Jack would ditch the annoying snapshot preview popup

SOA Consortium Insights is updated infrequently, but the posting are typically info dense

The SOA Magazine tends to have good, in depth postings

Todd Biske’s Outside the Box has thoughtful posts on not just SOA but BPM and Enterprise Architecture in general

webservices.org can be a bit hit or miss, but you can usually pan a few nuggets away from the vendor annoucements and whitepaper-cum-advertising literature that you find there

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Ajax and Accessability

sitepoint has an excellent posting on Ajax and Screenreaders: When Can It Work? With more and more sites resorting to Ajax-y interfaces (sometimes for questionable, buzzword compliance reasons), I have often wondered what the effect on the usability of these site is for those users who require screen readers to surf the web. In summary the author states:

Let’s face it, a great many AJAX applications (dare I say, “most”?) use this approach for its own sake, and don’t really benefit from it all — they could just as well use traditional POST and response.

I would even go a step further to call for a fundamental re-assessment of our priorities here. What we’re talking about is making dynamic client interfaces work effectively in screen readers, but maybe that was never the point. Isn’t the real point to make the applications themselves work effectively in screen readers?

Some may read this article and think, ‘meh, why should I care?’. I think that you should because a growing part of Internet users are (or are becoming) ‘senior citizens’ who may need a screen reader at some point. Why lock out a large part of your potential audience/market by succumbing to the need to chase the latest buzz? Besides, isn’t this the same sort of lesson in exclusivity that the ignorant ‘IE only’ sites are continuing to learn to this day?

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SOAP Intentionally Obtuse

While reading through yet another article on SOAP vs REST, I came across a quote from Tim O’Reilly that confirms something that I always suspected about SOAP:

I think there are also some political aspects. Early in the web services discussion, I remember talking with Andres Layman, one of the SOAP architects at Microsoft. He let slip that it was actually a Microsoft objective to make the standard sufficiently complex that only the tools would read and write this stuff, and not humans. So that was a strategy tax that was imposed by the big companies on some of this technology, where they made it more complicated than it needed to be so they could sell tools. [Emphasis added]

Everything I have seen about SOAP has let me to this conclusion. The funny thing is that many corporations cling to SOAP as if they couldn’t possibly have web services without it (though many crafted and successfully implemented their own simple XML over HTTP services before the SOAP spec saw the light of day).

I think that Tim missed the boat with this comment as well:

It’s not necessarily just Machiavellian scheming. I think Microsoft really believes that you can create better user experiences with tools that give people so much more power.

Not quite. It took vendors like Borland (who has now left the compiler/IDE business) and others creating much more robust and productive environments in the 80s for MS to finally wake up to the need to have a viable IDE. In typical monopolistic fashion, MS latched on to the IDE as yet another means to vendor lock in. So, once it inserted itself into the IDE business, MS ‘strategy’ has always been creating the most obscure, convoluted means to implement code, libraries, frameworks, etc to tie developers to their toolset, plain and simple. If the languages and frameworks were able to stand on their own, there would be no lock-in to the MS tools. Incidentally, you will hear similar arguments around JavaServer Faces and Sun tools as well.

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BBC Television Program Info Searchable in RDF

Apparently this site (open.bbc.co.uk) contains 75 years worth of information about every program that the BBC has aired over the years in a searchable format using semantic web technologies under the covers.

I wanted to try this out and write about it a bit, but apparently the site is not responding. Is this a server problem or a Ruby problem? Either way it probably has to due with enormous demand at the rollout of this new tool. I guess we will find out later…

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FlickrExport

A new version of FlickrExport, a superb plugin for iPhoto that makes it incredibly easy to upload and tag photos on Flickr. Of all the Flickr upload tools out there, this is absolutely my favorite.

Oddly enough, this version was released as beta yesterday, but it’s good to go today.

I did find one significant bug — if you don’t have any photos selected and you click on File->Export, iPhoto will hang (apparently due to flickrExport hanging). If you let it sit for a minute or two it will select your entire photo library to export — probably not what you intended. I am confident that this will be quickly and proficiently fixed.  I stand corrected — this is a ‘feature‘ of iPhoto: if you have no photos selected when you Export, it assumes that you want all of them exported.

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The Effect of Standards on IT Business Strategy

As always, a compelling and insightful commentary by IBM’s Irving Wladawsky-Berger (via AlwaysOn); this time discussing the effect that technology standards are having (or will have) on IT Strategy. One of the points that he makes is that standards aren’t just about software leverage; hardware and web services standards are going to allow enterprises to grow and share in ways they couldn’t easily before.

Now, what we have seen is the continuing emergence of standards as we keep going up the stack. In this world of grid computing, what you’re really trying to do is share all kinds of IT resources—computing capacity, storage, files, applications, and so on—all built around the common standards that everybody uses. So you can essentially begin to virtualize the system so that people can access your resource without having to know precisely where that resource is. A very difficult example that must have been used in let’s say supercomputing systems is that you can form a grid out of multiple supercomputers in a location or in a country, and when somebody submits a job they submit it to the grid. And then the systems themselves get their act together, find where they have capacity, and make sure they can access everything, but you’re essentially sharing all the extreme capacity that wasn’t there before.

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