David Chappell


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SOA Lives! APIs and Microservices  
# Wednesday, February 17, 2016
A dozen years ago, service-oriented architecture (SOA) was all the rage. The idea of exposing application services in a standard way (which at the time meant via SOAP) was so attractive. Why not remake our software to reflect the then-new agreement on how applications should communicate?

But the SOA bubble burst pretty quickly. It turned out that solving the technical problem of communicating between software wasn't enough to solve the real problems. In particular, organizations had a very hard time agreeing on what services applications should expose, how those services should be versioned, and who should pay for what. Much like the software reuse bubble engendered by the advent of objects, and for many of the same reasons, the enterprise dream of universal integration through SOA didn't work out for most organizations.

Yet today, the descendants of SOA live on. Rather than focus on enterprise integration, each of these descendants picked up on a stream of SOA thought and took it further, eventually finding real success. The two most important of these are:
  • API management, where cloud-based services provide a standard mechanism for exposing, managing, and controlling access to software of various kinds. The dominant protocol is now REST, not SOAP, but the idea has gone mainstream through offerings from smaller firms (e.g., Apigee) to big ones (e.g., Microsoft and Amazon). In fact, API management has become so important that CA thinks it's worth running ads in the New York Times to explain the idea to non-technical readers.
  • Microservices, where applications are built from self-contained chunks of code that interact via interfaces.. Rather than the grand enterprise integration schemes that drove much of the original SOA hype, microservices are primarily about building a single application. This simplifies communication--you can often dispense with authentication, for example--while still providing a way to create manageable, easily deployable application components. Once again, the big vendors are here, providing technologies such as Microsoft's Service Fabric to support this approach.
When a new technology appears, it's always hard to know how best to use it. When SOAP first showed up, it kicked off the original SOA thrust toward enterprise integration. This was certainly a worthy goal, but over time, it's become evident that API management and microservices are the approaches that actually worked. It's also become apparent that the complexity of SOAP and its fellow travelers wasn't required--a RESTful approach (or with microservices, maybe something simpler) was usually good enough.

The startup that was SOA a dozen years ago has pivoted to become the much more successful API management and microservices of today.

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