At some point in the past few years SOA apparently became a four-letter word (as opposed to just a TLA that leaves a bad taste in your mouth) or folks are simply unwilling – or unable – to recognize the parallels between SOA and cloud computing .

This is mildly amusing given the heavy emphasis of services in all things now under the “cloud computing” moniker. Simeon Simeonov was compelled to pen an article for GigaOM on the evolution/migration of cloud computing toward PaaS after an experience playing around with some data from CrunchBase. He came to the conclusion that if only there were REST-based web services (note the use of the term “web services” here for later in the discussion) for both MongoDB and CrunchBase his life would have been a whole lot easier.

quote-left For an application developer, as opposed to an infrastructure developer, all these vestiges of decades-old operating system architecture add little value. In fact, they cause deployment and operational headaches—lots of them. If I had taken almost any other approach to the problem using the tools I’m familiar with I would have performed HTTP operations against the REST-based web services interface for CrunchBase and then used HTTP to send the data to MongoDB. My code would have never operated against a file or any other OS-level construct directly.


Most assume that server virtualization as we know it today is a fundamental enabler of the cloud, but it is only a crutch we need until cloud-based application platforms mature to the point where applications are built and deployed without any reference to current notions of servers and operating systems.

-- Simeon Simeonov  “The next reincarnation of cloud computing

Now I’m certainly not going to disagree with Simeon on his point that REST-based web services for data sources would make life a whole lot easier for a whole lot of people. I’m not even going to disagree with his assertion that PaaS is where cloud is headed. What needs to be pointed out is what he (and a lot of other people) are describing is essentially SOA minus the standards baggage. You’ve got the notion of abstraction in the maturation of platforms removing the need for developers to reference servers or operating systems (and thus files). You’ve got ubiquity in a standards-based transport protocol (HTTP) through which such services are consumed. You’ve got everything except the standards baggage. You know them, the real four-letter words of SOA: SOAP, WSDL, WSIL and, of course, the stars of the “we hate SOA show”, WS-everything.

But the underlying principles that were the foundation and the vision of SOA – abstraction of interface from implementation, standards-based communication channels, discrete chunks of reusable logic – are all present in Simeon’s description. If they are not spelled out they are certainly implied by his frustration with a required interaction with file system constructs, desiring instead some higher level abstracted interface through which the underlying implementation is obscured from view.


Whether we’re talking about compute, storage, platform, or infrastructure as a service the operative word is service.

It’s a services-based model, a service-oriented model. It’s a service-oriented architecture that’s merely moved down the stack a bit, into the underlying and foundational technologies upon which applications are built. Instead of building business services we’re talking about building developer services – image messaging services, data services, provisioning services. Services, services, and more services.

Move down the stack again and when we talk about devops and automation or cloud and orchestration we’re talking about leveraging services – whether RESTful or SOAPy – to codify operational and datacenter level processes as a means to shift the burden of managing infrastructure from people to technology. Infrastructure services that can be provisioned on-demand, that can be managed on-demand, that can apply policies on-demand. PaaS is no different. It’s about leveraging services instead of libraries or adapters or connectors. It’s about platforms – data, application, messaging – as a service

And here’s where I’ll diverge from agreeing with Simeon, because it shouldn’t matter to PaaS how the underlying infrastructure is provisioned or managed, either. I agree that virtualization isn’t necessary to build a highly scalable, elastic and on-demand cloud computing environment. But whether that data services is running on bare-metal, or on a physical server supported by an operating system, or on a virtual server should not be the concern of the platform services. Whether elastic scalability of a RabbitMQ service is enabled via virtualization or not is irrelevant. It is exactly that level of abstraction that makes it possible to innovate at the next layer, for PaaS offerings to focus on platform services and not the underlying infrastructure, for developers to focus on application services and not the underlying platforms. Thus his musings on the migration of IaaS into PaaS are ignoring that for most people, “cloud” is essentially a step pyramid, with each “level” in that pyramid being founded upon a firm underlying layer that exposes itself as services.


If we return to the early days of SOA you’ll find this is exactly the same prophetic message offered by proponents riding high on the “game changing” technology of that time.

SOA promised agility through abstraction, reuse through a services-oriented approach to composition, and relieving developers of the need to be concerned with how and where a services was implemented so they could focus instead on innovating new solutions. That’s the same thing that all the *aaS are trying to provide – and with many of the same promises. The “cloud” plays into the paradigm by introducing elastic scalability, multi-tenancy, and the notion of self-service for provisioning that brings the financial incentives to the table.

The only thing missing from the “as a service” paradigm is a plethora of standards and the bad taste they left in many a developer’s mouth. And it is that facet of SOA that is likely the impetus for refusing to say the “S” word in close proximity to cloud and *aaS. The conflict, the disagreement, the confusion, the difficulties, the lack of interoperability that nearly destroyed the interoperability designed in the first place – all the negatives associated with SOA come to the fore upon hearing that TLA instead of its underlying concepts and architectural premises. Premises which, if you look around hard enough, you’ll find still very much in use and successfully doing exactly what it promised to do.

Simeon himself does not appear to disagree with the SOA-aaS connection. In a Twitter conversation he said, “I still have scars from the early #SOA days. Shouldn't we start with something simpler for PaaS?”

To which I would now say “but we are”. After all it wasn’t – and isn’t - SOA that was so darn complex, it was its myriad complex and often competing standards. A rose by any other name, and all that. We can refuse to use the acronym, but that doesn’t change the fact that the core principles we’re applying (successfully, I might add) are, in fact, service-oriented.

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last modified: July 21, 2010

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