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SOA: An integrated approach

The post of the break was one by Joe McKendrick, “SOA is integration. SOA is not integration. Simple as that.” In essence, he looks at some of the confusion around the value that SOA brings to the enterprise: Is it integration, agility, or something else? Indeed, there is a renewed debate raging about the relationship between the practices of SOA and integration, according to Joe. He writes:

Agility — while a commendable goal that everyone needs to shoot for — is a vague, hard-to-quantify state of existence that SOA-based approaches may or may not be able to accomplish. But the results of integration are often measurable.

At issue is that fact that people want to define SOA more tactically these days. Thus, they want to focus more on the value of the integration byproduct of SOA and not as much on the architectural value of agility. Is this a good thing?

First, let's put things into context. Integration as I defined in my now-aging but popular EAI book, was really presented as an architectural sub-pattern, thus the value of integration within the context of the core strategic direction of the enterprise architecture. In my view, you need both, including defining integration at both the information and service levels (yes, I was talking about SOA in 1996).

First, integration by itself has value as a part of architecture, but it's not architecture unto itself. Indeed, you can have a well-integrated enterprise, but with a crappy architecture that's very difficult to change without breaking a dozen things.

Second, SOA, while also leveraging integration as a sub-pattern — and integration is a byproduct of SOA — is really about architecture, or at least it should be. You get to SOA through integration, or more accurately the loose coupling of systems that create and architecture that's easy to change. You can call this agility, changeability, or whatever, but I call it good architecture. Integration indeed has value, don't get me wrong, but the largest value is the ability to get to an SOA, if you ask me. Or, at least to the SOA that's right for your enterprise.

Finally, you can measure the value of agility. I've written on this topic time and time again, and my clients have figured this out time and time again. Some enterprises have huge returns from having an agile architecture, and thus SOA; others not as much, and SOA perhaps should be less of a priority. So, if you can get the value from agility, than leverage integration to get to SOA. Else, leveraging just integration is just fine.

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