Thinking in Services

Sometimes you go for weeks without a speaking engagement, and then you end up with two different ones in the space of two hours. I guess this is similar to the principle that store customers come in bunches, birds travel in flocks, or that people mob city streets following professional sports championships…
Anyway yesterday in San Diego I got up early to record from my hotel room a Webcast roundtable for the new SOA Institute along with John Crupi of Sun, Theo Beack of Software AG, and Paul Patrick of BEA. About 15 minutes later I was in the hotel’s conference center giving the opening presentation for the Delphi Summit’s SOA focus day.
I need to attribute “thinking in services” to JP Morgenthal, the roundtable moderator, who mentioned it in a question during the Q&A part of the Webcast. I had never heard it before and do not know whether or not JP invented it. I do know that I immediately picked it up and used it again during the Delphi presentation. And then Frank Martinez, who followed me onto that particular stage yesterday morning, also picked it up…
The significance of the phrase, thinking in services, is worth highlighting. The move toward service orientation and SOA probably is more about a change in thinking than any specific change in technology. Although recent advances in technology (i.e. XML and Web services) make it easier than before to implement an SOA, the design of the SOA is far more important than the implementation.
If done correctly, the definition of an IT service will long outlive any particular technology used to implement it. The service is what’s important to the business, not the technology behind it.
It is important not to confuse technology with services, since for example a service is not an object although it can be implemented using one. Or it can be implemented using a procedure, script, HTTP request, etc. The design must be independent of its execution environment in order to realize the true benefits of services and SOA – and this definitely can mean some different thinking.
A show of hands at the Delphi Summit indicated a broad range among the audience membership in terms of knowledge in SOA, with some indicating a fair bit of expertise and others acknowledging little to none.
The same held true at an informal SOA birds of feather session I crashed at Oopsla the night before. There I also had the good fortune to meet and talk afterwards with Olaf Zimmerman, a practitioner for IBM services whose book on Web Services perspectives recently came out. He was telling the story of the Sparkasse Bank’s SOA project in Germany, the same one that was highlighted at the Deutsche Post SOA Days conference last month.
Few SOA deployments reach the scale of that one, the project at Deutsche Post, the one at Credit Suisse, or at some of our telecom customers who ask not to be referenced, but it is mainly through the experiences of these pioneers, and the documentation of the stories, that the lessons will be learned and the industry’s thinking changes will be put into practice.
It is important to learn about services and SOA in the abstract therefore, and start thinking about the design of services long before thinking about the code you’ll use to implement them with. We do not see enough about this in the information provided by vendors since it focuses on produts and on the battle to “capture the developers” in Java or Microsoft tools. Development tools and products are not the place to start your thinking.
Another good book is Enterprise SOA, which contains a lot of good information from SOA projects based on CORBA.
One final note on the herd phenomenon – both presentations were in connection with primarily business process management (BPM) initiatives now adding focus on SOA. Does this mean we have reached critical mass?

One response to “Thinking in Services

  1. Ciaran McHale

    The expression “thinking in services” is probably a derivitive of “Thinking in C++” and “Thinking in Java”, which are two books written by Bruce Eckel. You can find his books on Amazon. He also has his own company: