Monday, 18 February 2008

"Oracle's Ellison: SOA migration a slow process" no surprise

Just before Christmas, InfoWorld published an article quoting Larry Ellison on the slow uptake of SOA. Among other things, Ellison said "It takes about 10 to 20 years before [you can] rewrite all of your applications [to take advantage of SOA]" therefore implying the benefits of SOA are a long way off yet.

I'm not surprised Larry has had to go on the defensive here. Admittedly as CEO of Oracle I wouldn't like to announce the huge investment in the SOA Fusion Middleware is seeing poor growth (well, at least the criticism of poor growth).... I'm guessing my shareholders wouldn't want to hear that either.

I'm also not surprised that this sort of criticism and concerns are coming about. From my own experience, while Web Services & SOA/BPEL are great enabling technologies, they're opening a huge can of worms in inter-system and inter-organisational communications that haven't even been really broached yet. Just because the underlying Web Service communications allow you to communicate in a standard fashion, it doesn't mean the systems or organisations you communicate to are following any standards internally. And this is where the problems really start ... and you thought the technology was difficult enough?!

I'll give you an example from my past.

We built a Web Service system to take purchase-orders (PO) from numerous point-of-sale (POS) systems, and distribute them to 3 distinct suppliers to complete. The POS systems were all under our control and the POS interfaces were clearly defined.

With the suppliers it was a complete mess. While each supplier did have a web service interface and we were able to use XSLT to transform our invoices into whatever format they required, what they each did with the invoices was completely different.

One supplier did exactly what you expected. Given a PO, they raised an invoice and an out-of-stock record (if necessary) and sent them back. Easy.

Another supplier took the PO, and returned multiple updates to a single invoice as they discovered stock. Our understanding is this is against Australian laws, where an invoice is meant to be a binding document. But never mind.

The final supplier took the PO, sent an invoice record for what they could find, and an out-of-stock record for what they didn't have. However over time the PO would roll out to other warehouses where they could submit an invoice for the remaining part, or then an out-of-stock for what they didn't have. And so on. Groan.

Now the SOA advocate will yell well that's great! SOA will take care of this mess, as you can build different solutions for each supplier. True, but each supplier wasn't guaranteed to maintain these modes of operation. In fact behind the scenes they had manual processes sometimes that dynamically changed the result. And in time we wanted to add over 50 suppliers, all with "interesting" legacy system based processes. It was very conceivable we'd just need full time person to keep track of what mess 1 of those 50 suppliers had got us into this week, changing interfaces, changing processes, making mistakes and so on.

In addition only 1 of the 3 suppliers actually had test systems we could build our application against. And for the supplier that did have a test system we literally had to phone them to ask them to flush the data each time we did a test. So much for quick agile development.

You could argue they should just standardise their systems!? But that's a pretty immature attitude. Most organisations have trouble establishing standards internally, let alone have enough clout and smarts to boss around external organisations; not many of us are a Walmart. In turn those external organisations may have big $$$$s invested in their IT systems, and won't or can't or just change over night. Maybe that's years from now.

So then you say, maybe there should be industry standards! Well there are. We stumbled across some standards, but none were being used by our suppliers, and again they weren't interesting in changing.

....and so on....

So like Larry, I truly believe we're years away from the SOA revolution, and it's something that will seep in an evolutionary sense, no big revolution here I'm afraid. Coincidentally like Larry I predict the real benefits are 10 to 20 years away too, and I'm sure the technology will move on so it doesn't look like what we think it will now.

I have a further problem with Oracle here, or the way they're selling this. Oracle is marketing a technology solution that will solve all of your problems, when integrating systems internally and externally. But in reality you've only just started on this highway to hell, and you're going to have a hell of time working with your organisational peers in enabling SOA for all the reasons mentioned above and more. Oh yes SOA advocates will argue this is solvable, but in my words "good luck, you're going to need it." Several generations of your IT staff will come and go I'm sure before you see huge success.

I'm also a bit suspect of Oracle, and in particular Oracle Australia for focusing so heavily on the SOA arena recently when it's overkill (and overpriced) for most small to medium organisations (which Australia mostly contains). It's another case like the database where Oracle's solutions seem to be pricing themselves out of the market, and creating solutions very few people use (relatively to the entire IT market).

Don't get me wrong, I see a need for SOA technologies, or more precisely the goals of system integration, and I wouldn't bet against Oracle's solution being a technically savvy one, I just don't see SOA as the immediate White Knight to *all* IT's woes.

What are your thoughts on the future of SOA and all things Web Service oriented?


Reginald said...

Can't agree with you more. We don't believe the weatherman when he's predicting for next week (or even for tomorrow). But we have to buy into SOA because in 10-20 years we will see the results? Yeah right. Give me a prediction that Java will still be around by then, since that's the way to go with Oracle.

andrejk said...

My thoughts: overused, oversold, overly complex, but useful in some cases, especially when dealing with heterogeneous systems. More here:


Chris Muir said...

Thanks for the link Andrej, your article puts it so more succinctly to mine :)


Noons said...

"I'm also a bit suspect of Oracle, and in particular Oracle Australia for focusing so heavily on the SOA arena recently when it's overkill (and overpriced) for most small to medium organisations (which Australia mostly contains)."

Amazing! I've only been saying this for what, 5 years now? I'm quite sure we'll now see a "sudden" change of tack, with the utter rejection of this ultra-complex technology, totally unsuited to the conditions of our market.

Chris, I alerted to this many many times, although you have chosen to think it was directed at you and the OAUG. It wasn't.

Although that organization is more than guilty of blindly following the last market "wave" rather than LISTENING TO USERS.

Ah well, we'll see what sort of disaster is going on as time sorts this one out.

One thing I know for sure: there isn't ONE SINGLE representative Oracle site in NSW spending time with any of this cacophony of acronym soup for their own development.

They might use it as a corollary of buying a package, but that's it and that is not "development".

Let's hope it's not too late to change tack and rescue this one...

Chris Muir said...

Ah, Noons, Noons, Noons. I like your technique. You're brilliant. We used to argue about JDeveloper, ADF, JEE and Java, but now when I switch to Oracle's SOA you claim my opinion for your own.

Are you telling me all this time you actually meant SOA rather than JDev when posting on my blog? Nah, don't worry, I can't keep up with your changing point of views, you're just too brilliant for me.

I also like how you claimed on my blog in your comment your lashings have not been directed at me, but then you imply on your website I'm just too much of an idiot to work this stuff out for myself, but "everyone else has already figured [this] out for years!"

But finally, there's 1 interesting thing in your comment. So who is your current source at Oracle for reporting nobody in NSW is using Oracle's SOA? And can you give any stats on the rest of Australia? I'm sure readers would be interested in some hard facts about sales/users in Australia.

BTW, for the follow up readers I don't have any affiliation with the OAUG. My affiliation is with AUSOUG. I also don't work for Oracle but I am an Oracle ACE Director.

Chris Muir said...

(The following comment was posted by Chris Muir on behalf of Grant thanks to a technical issue on submitting the comment via the normal route)

Two main points I would make here. Firstly, its not just Oracle who are talking about SOA. Second, I think you have to give Oracle (us!) credit in that this is the exact step we are taking with our own business applications. So, we're putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak!. I think that says more about what we think will succeed and what we think will still be around in 20 years more than any single opinion.


Saul Cunningham said...

Hi I work for Oracle so my view maybe tarnished ;)

However I would say a couple of things.

1. Just because the most sophisticated tools we have (the large SOA stacks) don't reduce all problems to the realm of the trivial doesn't mean they have no value. I'm not sure how we can complain that SOA is oversold because of the "messy" nature of the messaging in the supply chain example. That particular situation is a human issue of getting a "proper" agreement in place between you and your partner. The problem is independent of the technology. I don't see this as a valid reason to reject SOA. If a vendor promised their particular SOA stack would remove this problem then they are full of it!

2. Whatever we think of SOA it is unstoppable. All the vendors are busy ensuring this. I wrote a blog about this recently. See

3. Lastly it is UNTRUE that there exists no Oracle SOA customers in NSW. In fact there are plenty - they are in the Telco, Finance, Government, Utilities, High Tech spaces and there are dozens of them. We are growing very fast.

Saul Cunningham
SOA Lead - Oracle ANZ

Chris Muir said...

Hi Saul

Thanks for taking time out to comment and also post on your blog. It's nice to see more Aussie (cough - ANZ) lads sticking their necks up into the blogosphere.

I wont do a Noons and start a tit for tat discussion and discount your points (even if I don't agree with them;) We can leave our opinions on the respective blogs and let the readers decide.

Just to clarify your point 3 though, if readers will appreciate that Saul's response in point 3 is addressing Noon's claim that there are no NSW SOA customers, and Noon's point was not mine. My counter-questions to Noons was to get him to give evidence to his claims.

Finally for those interested my original post was picked up in a number of forums including:

Process Development by Tom Baeyens
ZDNet by Joe McKendrick
And by IT Business Edge as a front page comment (which may disappear by the time you read this).

Seems I must have picked up the pulse of the times.


Saul Cunningham said...

Hi all,

Chris thanks for posting my previous comment.

You are correct it was the comments of "Noons" that where the subject of my third point. However representing Oracle it is an assertion that I cannot let pass. I can backup my claim of a solid customer base, of course, and am happy to do so. I just need to make sure I can publically refer to any names I reference.