Make sure SOA truly starts with service

The SOA lable is not an automatic seal of quality

Ecclesiastes was clear that there is nothing new under the sun, and where would we be without nonchalantly adding “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” to a presentation?

So we can agree on two things: increasing complexity does not mean that we have to create a new paradigm, and that IT has always had a service oriented architecture (SOA). It is quality, not the label, that matters.

Computers have always been designed to deliver a service. It just looked relatively simple to end-users because all of the device they wanted to use was in front of them.

Perhaps it is only when they do not work that end-users get an inkling that there are any combinations of hardware, firmware, operating systems, utilities and applications that come together to do the job they want done.

What’s in a name?

SOA is a nice name but you may only use it if you agree that (a) you are just using it to describe the increasingly complex components of IT and (b) it will not make it any easier to achieve the commensurate level of quality required from IT.

Quality management never changes. You can try to tie it down into a checklist, but that is all about managing as many of the risks you can think of at the time of drawing up the checklist. We must appreciate that we have been out of control for years.

Pandora’s box is open and we have a professional duty to reduce to an acceptable level the risk emanating from it. We are doing this by, for example, outsourcing our networking to the internet to get the mobility we crave.

But as we do this we are making new demands on systems whose activities may never be fully predictable. We can test so much but no more or the systems will never be delivered; the benefits never realised.

Value for money

I can warm to the term SOA as long as it is just there to remind suppliers what they need to deliver and users what they need to ask for: service.

To get the service that suppliers can deliver at rewarding prices for which customers get value for money, work together for the future and heed the lessons of the past.

There are no shortcuts to developing an up to date reference point of what end-users need. It is a complex mix of technology, the environment in which the service is needed, and the people who will benefit.

But whatever the mix, SOA needs its functionality, reliability, usability, efficiency, maintainability and portability, and you can manage the opportunities and risks that govern the requirements for these attributes.

The black boxes change their names but the components stay the same.

Set quality objectives, select the activities to achieve them and test the results. Monitor the environment and adjust objectives accordingly.

Be transparent with the risks you choose to accept and take responsibility now. As my supervisor said on my first day at work, “If it is easy, you are not ­doing it right.”

Daniel Dresner is standards research manager at the National Computing Centre

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