February 28, 2005, 10:58 AM — It is at least a week since I had a new half-formed notion about computing. Today a picture popped into my head. It was an odd picture because it somehow depicted the impossibility of visually depicting certain types of enterprise architecture.
Obviously, I cannot draw you a picture to explain what I'm thinking. I'll use words. Let's see how we go.
Over the years, there have been various schools of thought about systems analysis, systems design, enterprise architecture, all that stuff. Thinking about it, it occurred to me that each era or movement or season in enterprise computing has been crisply symbolized in one or two key pictures.
When I think of of entity/relationship modeling I see pictures. When I think of data flow diagramming I see pictures. When I think of Jackson Systems Design I see pictures. And so on it goes through network databases to relational modeling to distributed objects.
Until we arrive at some of today's buzzwords du jour. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a case in point. When you hear the phrase, does a commonly accepted, industry-wide picture pop into your head? No? Me neither.
Why is that? Let us try the positive and not-so-positive explanations in turn. The positive explanation is that SOA is a new area and the industry is still coalescing around the key abstractions. It is only when the key abstractions of the SOA paradigm are nailed that pictorial representations will be possible. The not-so-positive explanation is that there are no pictures of an SOA because there is nothing much under the acronym to draw pictures of.
Personally, I believe it is the former rather than the latter but I can fully understand the skepticism that is gathering ground out there. Today, if N architects are asked to draw an SOA, they will produce N different pictures, all labeled 'SOA'. Skepticism is completely understandable.
I have discovered that over the years I have been using the presence/absence of pictures as a sort of subconscious vacuity-test for new concepts in computing. If pictures of the key concepts exist, make sense and are generally accepted in the community of interest, then you are in good shape. Without them, you are in trouble.
Without a good set of pictures, SOA might as well stand for Some Other Architecture. On today's pictorial evidence, perhaps it does. Let's get the pictures together guys.