Many industry leaders believe that SOA should be started small and evolve over time. The argument is that this approach gives companies an opportunity to implement SOA practices on a small scale, test them out in a controlled environment, and understand how everything would work within the organizational boundaries. This is not a bad idea. However, I believe that the most effective way to introduce SOA is to build out the whole infrastructure, introduce the necessary technology, and establish all the patterns, best practices, reference architectures, and governance mechanisms before creating a single service.
The reasoning for this is simple. SOA on a small scale is not SOA. It is just a bunch of services. SOA’s goal is to create and leverage services across the organization. A single project or a couple of services cannot achieve this. Furthermore, effective governance, best practices, and lifecycle processes cannot be established on a small scale. They need to be designed and implemented with the large scale in mind. Testing them on a single project is not only impractical – it doesn’t provide any knowledge of how SOA will truly work within the organization.
Any successful SOA implementation will eventually have all of its elements in place – infrastructure, technology, governance, practices, processes, and people. Consider the impact of growing all this organically. You will end up with a hodge-podge of services implemented on different platforms using different approaches and design patterns. The technology set will be inconsistent. Governance mechanisms that typically tend to be established late in the game will most likely allow inadequately designed and implemented services to go into production. All this would have to be remediated at some point of time. Imagine the effort required to clean up years of organic growth! Most companies simply move on and leave the mess behind.
Now imagine what will happen if all of the SOA elements are in place from the very beginning. No rework, re-platforming, or cleanup will be required. All of the services will reside on the right platform that can be scaled for future demands, all of the best practices will be followed, and the governance mechanisms will be able to catch most, if not all the subpar services. The company will be able to reap SOA benefits right away without having to do the costly cleanup or conversion.
Of course, waiting to complete all the preliminary work can take years. No company, regardless of how strong its commitment to SOA is, can wait that long to start seeing the benefits of something that will require a lot of upfront investment. Thus, the most pragmatic approach is to introduce as many SOA elements as possible that will provide the most complete and consistent SOA foundation for the future. This should be achieved within a reasonable timeframe, so that services can start to be built and benefits can be quickly shown. All the remaining strategic tasks should continue to be addressed in parallel with the ongoing tactical service implementations.
The prescription above will not cure all of your SOA ills but will introduce a dose of prevention for the future. Building services following a consistent set of standards, using a consistent set of tools, and deploying on a consistent platform from the very beginning will ensure the success of your whole SOA program, not just a few projects or services.