This is a guest post from Joe McKendrick of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Joe on his ZDNet blog Service Oriented, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

The year 2008 was the best of times and the worst of times for service oriented architecture. SOA seemed to become more and more pervasive across companies, and many companies in general seemed positive about the results being delivered so far. At the same time, there has been no shortage of anti-SOA backlash and skepticism about the return on investment and business value of SOA.

What lies in the year ahead? Here are some fearless predictions about the shape of things to come:

1) Economic turmoil will return SOA to its roots – bottom up, incremental. Uncertainty in the economy will carry through 2009, but we’ll move into the recovery stage. However, this won’t change the razor-edge competitive environment – companies will continue to seek solutions that help streamline and cut costs. This is a natural role for SOA-based practices — remember, Web services and SOA were forged in the wake of the downturn of 2001 as a way to increase IT efficiency and value to the business with minimal additional investments. There will be fewer big-bang SOA projects rolled across the whole enterprise, and many more incremental, bottom-up efforts — many of which may be under the radar. More guerrilla SOA, if you will. SOA will also make it easier for companies in mergers, acquisitions, or restructurings to reconstitute themselves.
2) Vendors will de-emphasize SOA as a distinct “product” offering. There will be less hype about SOA, but that doesn’t mean it will have gone away. New solutions and applications will have service-oriented aspects. Cloud offerings will be built in accordance with SOA principles. There won’t be a lot of start-up vendors pitching SOA solutions, but plenty of start-ups will be offering Web 2.0-type and cloud-based services, which will be underpinned by SOA principles.
3) Internal clouds and micro-outsourcing. There has been a lot of industry discussion about the “internal cloud,” in which services are provided to users and systems within organizations. The beauty of internal clouds, of course, is that they offer more control over applications and data. Clearly a natural role for SOA, which will be the backbone of any emerging internal clouds. As part of this role, expect to see SOA play a greater role in grid computing and virtualization as well. Externally as well, more SOA initiatives will include services from outside the firewall — a sort of “micro-outsourcing” of application functionality.
4) More attention to the data element. Companies may do a great job of streamlining and leveraging processes, but often ignore the quality and viability of the data flowing through these processes. Which makes for unsuccessful processes and unsuccessful SOA. At a time when “competing on analytics” will make a difference, companies will be paying more attention to the data their SOAs are serving up.
5) More Web 2.0 tools in the SOA world – and new governance issues. The convergence of Web 2.0 and SOA practices means more interesting approaches to old problems, such as gathering business intelligence. And mashups – many of which may even be designed by users themselves under the watchful eyes of IT — will become the default composite application of choice for accessing services both internally from SOA-enabled systems and externally. Organizations that have already been wrestling with governance issues for SOA will find themselves with the question of how deeply to regulate mashups and other Web 2.0-ish activities.