Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Preparing for WSO2Con 2011

Well, it looks like I'm going to be attending WSO2's annual technical conference WSO2Con in Colombo this September (12th-16th). It'll be good to hear speakers from around the world speak about SOA-related topics and the WSO2 product suite in particular. I believe the latter is one of the SOA industry's best-kept secrets. Here is a comprehensive suite of middleware products that is completely Open Source, and for which commercial support is available at very reasonable rates. I'm surprised more organisations aren't using it. Perhaps the awareness wave is just breaking and we'll see a surge in adoption in the next couple of years. Let's see.

I'm also slated to conduct an introductory tutorial on SOA on the first day of the conference, and I'm excited about that. Over the last few years, I've been developing a few ideas on "Practical SOA for Solution Architects" that I'd like to present, and I'm eager to get feedback on that approach.

What I've seen to my disappointment over the past several years is that in spite of extensive coverage of SOA in the IT industry, the actual payoff from the application of SOA is embarrassingly low. In fact, I hear from sources in large IT shops that have rolled out multi-million dollar SOA initiatives that the cost of building services today is higher than in the past when older EAI techniques were used.

I've been puzzled at this, and have discussed it at length with colleagues and peers. It looks like three different factors are at work.

  1. Cynicism: There is a view among many IT professionals that SOA is yet another buzzword that has come and gone, and it's no longer relevant to the industry. So they don't even bother to learn what it's about.
  2. The theory-practice gap: Lots of IT folk have been exposed to core SOA concepts ("Loose coupling"), but they don't seem to be able to apply it in real-world solution designs. SOA remains in the realm of theory, which is a pity, because it can be a real money-saver.
  3. Products as surrogates for principles: Organisations have collectively spent a packet on SOA products from IBM, TIBCO, Oracle and the like, but the actual solution designs being produced in-house for business projects are as tightly-coupled as ever, suggesting that IT practitioners seem to think the use of SOA products is an adequate substitute for Service-Oriented application design.
I have come to the conclusion that what's required is a new approach to educating people about SOA. It has to be less theoretical and more focused on real-world situations. And it has to be lightweight, because people are busy and don't have the attention span required for a heavyweight methodology. Above all, it has to be sound, because we don't want to spread incorrect practices in the name of simplicity.

I'm preparing a whitepaper on this, and it will probably be released through WSO2, since a lot of the encouragement for it has come from Sanjiva Weerawarana, WSO2's CEO. It's only fitting that WSO2 get the credit for bringing this educational tool to a wider audience.

I'll also be posting my slides from the conference on this blog when I'm done. I'm sure they'll also be available from the WSO2Con conference website.

Stay tuned.