Now, I have been around the software world for longer than I would like to admit. (I’d be giving away my age if I told you.) I have watched many trends come and go. There has been a lot of innovation—some that resulted in pretty interesting products and companies, which made their mark on the world and then went away. The one consistent pattern I see is the slow progression over the past 20 years toward distributed computing. The advent of service-oriented architecture (SOA) is not simply another fad with another set of products and services. I really believe that it will have the same long-term impact as the Internet did when it arrived on the scene as a commercial venture in the early 1990s. If one thinks back to those days, many people had no idea of how this cute piece of technology would actually be used in the commercial world. As we say, the rest is history.
I expect that, just as the Internet produced unintended consequences for the future of computing, SOA will have its own unintended consequences. Service-oriented architectures will force a dramatic change in the balance of power in the software world—both on the vendor and the customer side. Why do I make this rash statement? Start by thinking about the implication of SOA. It is a dramatic change in the way software is created, reused, recombined, managed and sold. From a customer perspective, SOA puts the power in the hands of the business user.
So, what could change? First, over time, SOA will level the playing field. Today the major infrastructure vendors are all vying for control over who owns the customer’s infrastructure. Will SAP, Oracle, HP, IBM, Microsoft or an open-source player like JBoss be the winner? Will one of these companies convince enough customers to do it their way? Perhaps. But I am assuming a different possible scenario. Imagine that we get to the stage where vendors converge around codified standards such as XML and all its flavors that are necessary for creating this highly distributed architectural framework. Imagine also that there are enough good adapters that allow components from various environments to more easily connect to each other. And now imagine that what customers really want to do is reuse their existing software assets by encapsulating them into business services that are used over and over again to create new virtual applications.
If you follow my thinking here, it opens up interesting opportunities. Here are a few thoughts worth considering:
- Customers will take SOA seriously—not just as a technology initiative, but also as a business strategy—and they will demand that industry leaders cooperate to make the customers’ job easier.
- New vendors will emerge that can leverage the SOA work done by infrastructure leaders to provide commercialized services to address specific problems in specific vertical markets.
- The first era of the industrialization of software is initiated. Vendors will begin to create modular offerings based on an SOA model that are designed to fit into existing frameworks (kind of like steering wheels that can be used on 20 different car models).
- The packaged application that has been the mainstay of the software industry for the past 25 years begins to transform into these industrial packages. In time—give us another 10 years—the traditional software package disappears.
- SOA opens the door to a new world where software as a service is the norm. This transition will take at least 15 to 20 years. But it is real and will have a dramatic impact on the entire industry from financial models to the importance of comprehensive hosting providers.
I know I have given you a lot to consider. While many companies are trying to figure out whether SOA is real or a passing fad, will the phrase service-oriented architecture serve as a linchpin of the future or be edged out by hot new silver bullets? Given the history of the computer industry, it is not surprising that people would be nervous. As we noted, trends come and go at a rapid pace. But I predict that this one is real. Let me warn you: It is not a quick fix. We are, in fact, at the beginning of a big emerging market trend that will have ripples in the software market for the next decade and beyond.
Judith Hurwitz is president of Hurwitz and Associates, a consulting and research company.