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 Thursday, 03 February 2005
« Remoting vs Web Services vs ES/COM+/DCOM... | Main | Can a Service have Tiers? »

I am afraid that I'm rapidly becoming more convinced than even Ted that SOA == web services == RPC with angle brackets.

The more people I talk to, the more I realize that virtually no one is actually talking about service-oriented analysis, architecture or design. They are using SOA as a synonym for web services, and they are using web services as a replacement for DCOM, RMI, remoting or whatever RPC protocol they used before.

I think the battle is lost, if battle there was. The idea of a loosely-coupled, message-based architecture where autonomous entities interact with each other over policy-based connections is a really cool idea, but it doesn’t resonate with typical development teams.

The typical development team is building line-of-business systems and just needs a high performance, reliable and feature-rich RPC protocol. Sometimes web services fits that bill, and even if it doesn’t it is the currently fad so it tends to win by default.

People are running around creating web services that do not follow a message-based design. What would a message-based design look like you ask? Like this:

result = procedure(request)

Where ‘procedure’ is the method/procedure name, ‘request’ is the idempotent message containing the request from the caller and ‘result’ is the idempotent message containing the result of the procedure.

Then if you want to be a real purist, you’d make this asynchronous, so the design would actually be:

procedure(request)

And any result message would be returned as a service call from ‘procedure’. But that really goes out of bounds for almost everyone, because then you are truly doing distributed parallel processing and that’s just plain hard to grok.

So in our pragmatic universe, we’re talking about the

result = procedure(request)

form and that’s enough. But that isn’t what most people are doing. Most people are creating services as though they were components. Creating methods/procedures that accept parameters rather than messages. Stuff like this:

customerList = GetCustomerData(firstName As String, lastName As String)

Where ‘customerList’ is a DataSet containing the results of any matches.

There’s not a message, idempotent or not, to be found here. This is components-on-the-web. This is COM-on-the-web or CORBA-on-the-web. This is not SOA, this is just RPC redux.

And that’s OK. I have no problem with that necessarily. But since this is the norm, I am pretty much ready to concede that the “Battle of SOA” is lost. SOA has already become just another acronym in the long list of RPC acronyms we’ve left behind over the decades.

Too bad really, because I found the distributed parallel, loosely coupled, message-based concepts to be extremely interesting and challenging. Hard, and impractical for normal business development, but really ranking high on the geek-cool chart.

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