Is SOA Still Relevant in the Cloud?

Remember SOA?  Service oriented architecture?  It was all the rage 8 to 10 years ago, and held our attention for a good chunk of time.  Then cloud computing came along and the concept of SOA kind of fell off the radar for many in IT.

But, did it really?   You may be surprised to find that it’s playing just as big a role, but the semantics have changed.
First of all, I’m not at all objective about the use of SOA in the context of cloud computing.  Back in 2008, I wrote a book entitled: “Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide.”   I should also mention my many SOA-related blogs, articles, and speaking events around the evolving use of SOA as cloud computing began to rise in hype-driven interest.
One of the largest issues with SOA is that it’s so complex.  Much like cloud computing, it’s defined differently depending upon whom is doing the talking.  For our purposes, let’s define SOA as: A strategic framework of technology that allows all interested systems, inside and outside of an organization, to expose and access well-defined services, and information bound to those services, that may be furthermore abstracted to process layers and composite applications for solution development.  If this sounds a lot like cloud computing, you’re right, and that’s the core point of this post.
The thing to remember about SOA is that the “A” is for Architecture.  SOA is a pattern of architecture, something you do.  It’s not something you purchase, which was the core confusion around SOA as the technology vendors attempted for many years to tightly couple SOA with their products.
It was not unusual to hear the term “SOA in a box” or “SOA device” from the larger enterprise players.  Many enterprises tried to purchase this magical SOA technology, and the results were less than stellar.
Public and private clouds are built around the use of services (typically Web services), or APIs, to access their core resources such as storage, compute, and data.  We leverage these cloud computing services in any number of different ways to meet the needs of the business application we’re looking to support.
The more powerful concept here is that we’re able to quickly configure and reconfigure these services to support the changing needs of the business.  Thus, the use of services provides the value of business agility, which is the ability to adapt quickly to the changing nature of the business.
So, if it appears that the use of cloud computing also means we should leverage SOA approaches and patterns, you’re spot on.  However, you will rarely hear the term “SOA” in IT shops these days.  Indeed, many IT pros avoid using the term “SOA” because they see it as outdated and with years of baggage.  I’ve even been told not to mention it in the company of some people due issues they have with the term “SOA.”
You don’t have to go far to find statistics that agree with the premise that SOA is a buzzword on its way out.  As you can see by the figure which tracks the number of SOA jobs on the market at any given time, the heyday of the “S word” was about 2010/2011, and it’s fallen off the radar ever since.
Number of “SOA” job postings from 2006 to today.   Source:
What’s going on today is that SOA is alive and well, and living in the cloud.  Indeed, we leverage services to access cloud computing resources, we mix and match those services to create solutions, and we have to protect and govern those services in order to make them useful.  It’s a SOA, as it’s classically defined.
The danger is to not leverage what we’ve learned over the years around SOA best practices and best technologies as we define SOAs on cloud-based resources.  Many of those who implement cloud-based systems don’t understand the basics of SOA.  Thus, they are bound to repeat many of the same mistakes of the past.
So, SOA is alive and well, and living in the cloud.  The term “SOA” is falling in popularity, but the pattern of architecture is more popular today than it ever was, thanks to the rise of cloud computing.
I’m not sure if this makes me happy, confused, or sad.  Perhaps I feel all three.