Say It Ain’t So

image Flight Simulator is the biggest product casualty of the Microsoft layoffs?  The layoffs are a sad day for all the people affected and a disappointing milestone for the company, but Flight Sim is an industry institution dating back three decades.  It is painful to see as I was the Flight Simulator product manager early in my career.

I have no idea what the health of the Flight Sim business is of late(and haven’t for well over a decade), but it was a nice business back in the day and already an institution during my tenure.  When I took over the job, it was already grizzled enough to come with a box of relics accumulated by preceding product managers, including a bunch of 8-inch disks with versions of the product that ran on who knows what kind of extinct systems.

The product had unbelievably fanatical customers and you’d get a significant amount of (postal) mail from people sharing their obsession with the product.  Long before the days of powerful PCs and affordable aftermarket flight controllers, people were spending thousands of dollars to build out full cockpits around their PCs.

Beyond beating back the internal wet blankets at Microsoft who thought selling games “sent a bad message to our corporate customers”, it was a lot of fun.  Bruce Artwick and the developers were in Champaign, Illinois (coordinates 0,0 in the original Flight Simulator world).  It got a little self-referential to fly to Chicago, meet up with them and fly a small plane (alas, not a Cessna 182) out of runway 36 at Meigs Field down to Champaign.

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We got to tune Flight Sim’s 747-400 flight characteristics from inside the cockpit of the 747-400 simulator at Boeing.  The simulators ran 18+ hours a day training pilots, but when they’d have a free slot, invariably in the wee hours of the night, they’d let us come down to ensure the simulator handled like the real thing.  That’s why it took seven seconds to start moving from the time you went full throttle, just like the real thing.  The simulator had this irresistible board in the back where you throw all kinds of disasters at pilots — lightning strikes, head-on collisions, wind sheer engine failure, etc. — none of which helped the productivity of the developer in the pilot’s seat.

It was a great job and a great product.  Sorry to see it disappear.  Anyone know what happened?  I suspect the diminished mindshare in recent years also reflects diminished revenues.

SOA: “Never Mind”

Anne Thomas Manes of the Burton Group writes an obituary for SOA and says:

“SOA” has become a bad word. It must be removed from our vocabulary.  image

Coming from one of the bigger SOA enthusiasts, this is a milestone.  She attributes its death to the recession, underscoring it with the spiffy accompanying illustration.

But the dinosaur metaphor is much more apt than the cataclysmic economic meteor (remember other species survived the meteor impact, just not the dinosaurs).  We’re witnessing the technological equivalent of Warren Buffet’s line about not seeing who is swimming naked until the tide goes out.  The budgetary tide has gone out and the SOA dinosaur has no clothes (to egregiously mix a few metaphors).  Anne does acknowledge a general failure to deliver might have something to do with SOA’s demise:

Once thought to be the savior of IT, SOA instead turned into a great failed experiment—at least for most organizations. SOA was supposed to reduce costs and increase agility on a massive scale. Except in rare situations, SOA has failed to deliver its promised benefits. After investing millions, IT systems are no better than before. In many organizations, things are worse: costs are higher, projects take longer, and systems are more fragile than ever. The people holding the purse strings have had enough. With the tight budgets of 2009, most organizations have cut funding for their SOA initiatives.

No mention of the vendors (or analysts) involved.  Corporate IT evidently came up with the whole crazy SOA experiment all by themselves.

This claim goes a little far:

SOA is survived by its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS, Cloud Computing, and all other architectural approaches that depend on “services”.

Revisionist history requires at least a modicum of truth and this fails to meet the bar.  Beyond a common use of the word “service”, these “offspring” are all orthogonal or alternatives to SOA, not descendents.  It would be more accurate to say SOA was killed by a combination of its own failures and by the availability of lightweight, bottoms-up service approaches that addresses on real customer problems, as opposed to SOA’s heavyweight, top-down, consultants by the busload approach.

A few observations:

  1. imageOnce again, ESB is just a nice beer  (I am disappointed I can’t find the old Redhook ESB poster showing a beer bottle on a rocket gantry with the tagline “It Isn’t Rocket Science”).
  2. My friends at Microsoft can finally put off the big SOA push they’ve been threatening for years and regain some confidence in their own convictions amid the new race to fill the void in the future of enterprise architecture.  Enterprise software hype factories across the world are adding a graveyard shift to address this gap.
  3. Don’t worry for the Big Science-Big Brother-Busloads of Consultants guys who championed SOA.  They have already moved on to a new new thing that dwarfs even their rosiest SOA promises.  With the private sector presently chastened, gun-shy about overpromises and acutely aware of their limitations, there is still one place that believes the best and brightest can solve any problem and even have a preference for a heavyweight, top-down style.  And better yet, they’ve got trillions of dollars to spend.  Our protagonists are driving their buses down to Washington DC to “help” rebuild our infrastructure and make our planet “smarter”.  Who could argue with that?  So what if SOA didn’t work so well at an organizational level, maybe we just need to try it at even larger scale and use it to solve even bigger problems.  Energy crisis?  Climate change?  Hunger?  No problem.  I’m torn between dubbing this Service-Oriented Planet (SOP) or Service-Oriented Bureaucracy (SOB).  Shall we start a pool on how many years and trillions before the obituary on this one gets written?

 The modern day equivalent of "beware Greeks bearing gifts" is "beware IT consultants making big promises"