Using JavaScript and JSON as a Common Language in Orbital Bus

Large enterprises usually have many programming languages across their departments. These departments, often located in different cities, will build teams out of what they see as the best-available local resources. It’s fairly common to find large-scale enterprise or government groups that have applications written in .NET and Java, never mind the plethora of other languages and flavours thereof. This technological mishmash is a major challenge to any sort of enterprise service bus; one that Orbital Bus is trying to overcome.

In creating Orbital Bus, we decided at the start that developers shouldn’t have to learn any new languages to implement our solution. The learning curve had to be minimal to ensure wide-spread adoption. We were able to deliver some of that goal by creating our Code Generation utility. This tool would allow us to take a single input and compile it to code usable by our ESB. However, this tool still needs input, so what were we to do?

Enter Javascript. We decided that by making the code generation input Javascript we would make it accessible to as many developers as possible with no extra work. No matter what language you develop in, you’ve probably had to work on some Javascript, whether to create visual effects or to load data with an Ajax call. We could implement Javascript with a high degree of confidence that users would be able to work with it without any sort of intimidating ramp. Javascript also provides a feature-rich environment that we don’t have to worry about maintaining. If developers want functionality that already exists in a library it’s minimal work for them to implement it. Along with Javascript, we were also able to rely on the JSON schema standard for modelling objects. We don’t have to worry about maintaining an API for describing models in our system. We simply have to point towards the standard we support and let the JSON schema community do the heavy lifting.

What exactly are we doing with all this Javascript? I mentioned the use of schemas to define models. We use models to define the types which are expected for the receiver. We take in standard JSON schemas to create C# classes which are then deployed as part of a contract library with the receiver. This library is used by receiver and the dispatcher. (Check out our article about using MEF with our contact libraries.) The models defined in this schema are also the ones expected by our translation engine. The receiver node of Orbital Bus takes Javascript translation files which it executes in both directions. With this feature developers can implement any translation they want as the information passes through the receiver node. These translations are simple .js files with method calls. We even support logging and business errors through integrated methods. Check out our documentation for more information on implementation. We even used JSON files for our configurations rather than XML to make sure that our points of contact with Orbital Bus are as unified as possible. As we grow Orbital Bus’ functionality we expect to grow its use of Javascript.

The default Javascript translation template.
The default Javascript translation template.

It was tough trying to think of the best way to support a polylinguistic development environment. Thankfully Javascript gave us a single point of entry we could use across many development environments. There’s still work we want to do with our Javascript implementation. We want to integrate libraries by default in our translations, allowing developers to use library calls without having to include them manually. We also want to add Javascript to our collection of connectors for the Orbital Bus. Thankfully, with a common input set out, Orbital Bus will be free to grow its implementations while continuing to support developers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

  • Joseph
  • Pound

Dynamic Plugin Loading Using MEF

The Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF) is a library that enables software to discover and load libraries at runtime without hard-coded references. Microsoft included MEF in .NET framework version 4.0 and since then it has been commonly used for dependency resolution and inversion of control patterns.

Orbital Bus makes communication possible between different parties by sharing contract and schemas. A receiver has a contract library that has all the information needed for a dispatcher to make proper synchronous and asynchronous calls all the way to an end consumer. The dispatcher downloads a receiver’s contract library and then uses it to construct calls with the right data schemas. It became very clear to us during development that a crucial requirement was that the dispatcher to be able handle any downloaded contract library DLL and process it without code changes. This is where MEF comes into play. It lets us inject libraries, in this case the receiver’s contract libraries, at the start-up stage.

Once we chose to use MEF as our integration tool, we were able to start the Code Generation Project. This project is a convenient CLI tool that efficiently generates the contract libraries and plugins which are loaded by the receiver. These libraries are made available for download to any dispatcher on the mesh network. One challenge we encountered downloading multiple contract libraries for the dispatcher was how to distinguish between these contract libraries. What if two contracts have similar operation names? How can the dispatcher tell what is the right operation to select from its composition container? We were able to solve this challenge by making sure that each contract library generated has a unique ServiceId that would be exported as metadata within the contract library. This setting enables the dispatcher to filter out various operations based on their ServiceId:

    namespace ConsumerContractLibrary
    {
        [ExportMetadata("ServiceId", "ConsumerLibrary")]
        public class AddCustomerOperation : IOperationDescription {}
    }

When the receiver starts up, it will pull the plugins from its Plugins folder and load the plugin.dll and adapters into MEF’s CompositionContainer, a component used to manage the composition of parts. Those dependencies will be injected into the receiver as it loads. In addition to handling messages destined for the consumer, the receiver also serves as file server that waits for the dispatcher to download the contract library when needed.

    public PluginLoader(IConfigurationService config)
    {
        this.config = config;
        var container = this.BuildContainer(); // load the plugin DLLs and create composition container
        this.RegisterAdapters(container);
        var details = this.RegisterPlugins(container);
        this.BootStrapSubscriberDetails(details); //Creates needed dependencies and bootstraps the given details.
    }

After a dispatcher downloads the available contract library specifications into a composition container, it will filter out and return all the exported values in the container corresponding the given ServiceId.

    public static IEnumerable<T> GetExportedValues<T>(this CompositionContainer container,
            Func<IDictionary<string, object>, bool> predicate)
    {
        var exportedValues = new List<T>();

        foreach (var part in container.Catalog.Parts)
        {
            foreach (var ExportDef in part.ExportDefinitions)
            {
                if (ExportDef.ContractName == typeof(T).FullName)
                {
                    if (predicate(ExportDef.Metadata))
                        exportedValues.Add((T)part.CreatePart().GetExportedValue(ExportDef));
                }
            }
        }

        return exportedValues;
    }

Where the predicate clause is actively the filter we need for ServiceId:

    metadata => metadata.ContainsKeyWithValue(METADATAKEY, serviceId)

After filtering the process, the dispatcher has all the contract library operations that are supported by the receiver.

MEF proved invaluable in solving the problem of runtime library integrations and to enable the plugin architecture. This implementation allows Orbital Bus the flexibility for developers to customize or update their contract libraries, service configurations, and translations without affecting other services on the bus. As our work continues, we plan on looking closer at the issue of versioning in the dispatcher to keep its cache in sync with the receiver’s contract libraries, making Orbital Bus an even more agile messaging solution.

  • Dan
  • McCrady

Continuous Integration: Balancing Value and Effort

Continuous integration can be a tough sell to managers. It’s hard to describe the need for extra time and resources to build automated tests that should mimic what is already being done by developers. This advocacy can be especially difficult early in development when CI failures are common and the pipeline will need a lot of work. Why would any manager want a tool that creates more problems and interferes with the development cycle? A robust continuous integration pipeline is vital during development since it protects from the deployment of broken code and will generate more issues to remove bugs before production. Since Orbital Bus is an internal project, we decided to use it as an opportunity to build the kind of CI pipeline we always wanted to have on client sites.

Early on we looked at the possibility of automated provisioning of multiple machines for integration tests. We looked at a variety of tools including Vagrant, Salt Stack, and Chef and Puppet. What we found is that this automation was not worth the time investment. This post is supposed to be about the value of investing in a CI pipeline, so why are we talking about work we abandoned? To demonstrate that the value of a CI pipeline has to be proportionate to the time cost of maintaining it. When it came to automated provisioning we realized that we would spend more time maintaining that portion of the pipeline than reaping the benefits, so we stood up the VMs manually and replaced provisioning with a stage to clean the machines between runs.

As development progressed, we added to our pipeline, making sure that the time investment for each step was proportionate to the benefits we were receiving. Gradually we added the build process, unit tests, and automated end-to-end integration tests. As we continued to experiment we began using the GitLab CI runners to enhance our testing. We also discovered that GitLab could integrate with Jenkins, and brought our pipelines together to create an integrated dashboard on GitLab. As we neared the public release, we added a whole new stage for GitLab pages to deploy our documentation.

A shot of our Jenkins Continuous Integration pipeline builds.
A shot of our Jenkins pipeline builds.

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. Neither was our continuous integration. We added to it gradually, and as we did we had to overcome a number of obstacles. Our greatest problem has been false negatives. False negatives immediately negate the benefits of continuous integration because the team stops respecting the errors being thrown by the system. At one point, our disregard for the failures on the CI pipeline prevented us from noticing a significant compatibility error in our code. Each failure was an opportunity for us to understand how our code was running on multiple platforms, to explore the delta between development and production environments, and ultimately made our solution more robust. From the perspective of productivity it was costly, but the time greatly outweighed the value of hardening of our solution.

A capture of one of our Continuous Integration GitLab pipelines.
A capture of one of our GitLab pipelines.

You would be mistaken if you thought we’ve stopped working on our pipeline. We have plans to continue to grow our CI, expanding our integration tests to include performance benchmarks and to work with the multiple projects which have originated in the Orbital Bus development. These additional steps and tests will be developed alongside our new features, so as to integrate organically. As our solution matures, so will our continuous integration, which means we can continue to depend on it for increased returns in our development cycle.

  • Joseph
  • Pound

Getting Started with Orbital Bus

You’ve heard people talk about enterprise service buses and you think it’s time you learned out to use one. You read an awesome blog post about this new thing called Orbital Bus and you think it would be a good project to play around with. Where should you start? Let’s start here.

Understanding the Architecture

I’m sure you’ve checked out our project README, but just in case you need a refresher here’s a quick overview of how Orbital Bus works.
Everything starts with the Producer and the Consumer. The Producer produces calls into the system. These calls can be synchronous requests or asynchronous fire-and-forget messages. What’s important is that the Producer is what initiates the action. The Consumer consumes messages off the queue. Both the Producer and Consumer are external to Orbital Bus. They might be third-party services, COTS products, or custom code applications made by your developer(s). The Orbital Connector is a library the Producer uses to get messages into the system. We have a whole project dedicated to connectors. The Connector uses RabbitMQ to pass messages to the Dispatcher. The Dispatcher listens for incoming messages, finds services via Consul, and sends messages to the Receiver via it’s queue. Receiver’s do the heavy lifting. They load custom libraries, transform messages, and use adapters to send messages to the Consumer.
Here’s a diagram to give you an idea of the general flow of information:
An overview of the Orbital Bus flow.
An overview of the Orbital Bus flow.

Getting ready

For this little test, let’s put everything on your local machine. You’ll need to prepare by installing two third-party components: Consul and RabbitMQ. We use these for service discovery and message communication respectively. If you want some help you can check out our more detailed instructions. Since Orbital Bus is ready to communicate with any RESTful web service, we’re going to use JSONPlaceholder. Feel free to check it out and get a feel for the kind of messages you want to send.

Build a Producer

The Producer is the instigator of the pipeline. It calls out using the Orbital Connector and RabbitMQ to get the Dispatcher communicating with other nodes. Since our current Orbital Connector is written in .NET, you’ll want a .NET application that references it. We have a NuGet package to make it simple. We have four methods for sending with the connector: synchronously, asynchronously, synchronously that can be awaited, and a one-to-many route. We recommend starting with a synchronous call. All the producer needs is the service ID for the destination service (which you add to Consul below) and a JSON-serialized payload.
For more detailed instructions on making a Producer, check out our How-To Guide. It’s got a thorough process with code samples and everything!

Use Code Generation

Next we’ll setup the side of the Consumer. As we said above, we’re not going to bother building a web service (though you can if you really want to).
To get started you’re going to have to download the Code Generation project. We made this tool to help generate the necessary libraries for the Orbital Bus Receiver to connect with a service. All the files you work on for Code Generation are Javascript, so your C#, Java, Python, and Ruby developers should all be able to use it. Of course we have a handy guide to making a library. When you’re done building your library keep track of the `bin` folder in the project directory. We’re going to need all its contents.

Configure your Nodes

I know what you’re thinking: “Where’s the actual Orbital Bus?” That’s the beauty of our distributed system. The bus has no central hub to stand up. Each service has a node or nodes that live alongside it to facilitate communication.
To get our local instance up we’ll need both a Dispatcher and a Receiver node. You can download them on our release page. With the release package unzipped in a location of your choosing, you’ll want to copy over your code generation output. Remember that bin folder we told you to keep track of? Copy all its contents into the Plugins folder for the Receiver. The Receiver will pull in those libraries at runtime and then it’s ready to communicate to your web service.
You’ll also want to set the values of the configuration files to the appropriate values for your local deployment. We have a handy article about all the configuration properties. Be sure to open up any ports you’re planning on using for your Dispatcher and Receiver!

Run!

Now it’s time to set everything in motion! If your Consul and/or RabbitMQ aren’t already running start them up. Start up your Receiver and register it with Consul. (We also have a Consul Manager tool in the release package. Check out this article to see how you can use it to register your service.) Start up your Dispatcher and your Producer and start sending messages!
If you’ve run into any snags or want a more thorough description, check out our How-To Guide. It describes each step in detail so you can see how every part of the process should be configured.
What’s next? Try implementing a second call. Check out our other documentation, like our Handshake Diagram to better understand the paths of the messages. Maybe add another Receiver with another web service to give you an idea of multiple nodes on the network. Hopefully this test will be a small step along your long future with ESBs. Enjoy!

  • Joseph
  • Pound

IT Organizations Need to Practice More, Dunk Less

Whenever I walk into a new client, the first things I hear from the Technology Executives are typically: “We need to modernize”, “We need to transform”, “We need to adopt <insert trendy tech buzzword>”. What I never hear is: “We need to bring our development and testing methodologies up to date”, “We need more collaboration across our teams”, “We need to inventory our skills and see what’s missing”.

If we think of the IT organization as a basketball team, that would be the equivalent of the coach saying: “We need more 3-pointers”, and “We need those fancy new shoes to be able to dunk”.  Whereas even the most inexperienced youth coach knows that the key to winning includes: “We need to practice dribbling and footwork”, “We need to communicate better on the court”, and “We need to improve our free throws/jump shots/rebounds”.

While it is both valid and necessary for IT organizations to push towards the big picture objectives highlighted by glossy Gartner and Forrester whitepapers, these have to be supported by continuous and deliberate investment in foundational concepts.

Let me step in as coach for a moment and propose a strategy for focusing on the foundation…

1)    Invest in the basics: Invest in good basic IT delivery concepts, kind of like dribbling, footwork, and basic fitness in basketball:

  • Make Business Analysis about teasing out the requirements from the Business’ objectives, rather than simply asking the Business to write down their requirements
  • Encourage good testing rigor and embed it throughout the entire solution delivery lifecycle, and not just at the end just before go-live
  • Promote good documentation habits and create templates for common documents (e.g., logical solution architecture, functional designs, interface specifications, data models)
  • Spend adequate time and budget to implement solutions which improve developer productivity (e.g., continuous integration, 3rd party frameworks)
  • Allocate budget for developers to learn different languages so they can be exposed to different software concepts and improve their coding skills
  • Spend generously on training for system analysis, modeling, design methodologies (e.g., domain driven design, SOA, microservices architecture, semantic modeling, BPMN), and not only on those being standardized by the organization, but to improve people’s ability to make smart decisions

2)    Communication is key: Create an environment that promotes collaboration and teamwork:

  • Create communities of practice across your organization (or connect to external groups) to build on collective knowledge and experience
  • Implement real-time collaboration tools (no, Sharepoint and instant messenger don’t count)
  • Make governance less about formal approvals and more about ensuring the right expertise is pulled in at the right stage of a given project
  • Adopt iterative delivery methods to promote frequent touch points between IT and Business obtaining feedback and ensuring alignment

3)    Focus on the right skills: Build the skills that support your strategic objectives. After all, dunking is only made possible by training to jump higher:

  • Strengthen Information and Data Management capabilities as a foundation for Big Data Analytics
  • Educate the team on hashing algorithms, binary trees, digital contracts, and distributed storage to bring Blockchain to the table naturally
  • Leveraging Cloud means good distributed system design, loosely coupled interfaces, container-ready applications, and security frameworks that can deal with 3rd party infrastructure
  • Adopting COTS requires strong technical Business Analysis, ability to negotiate requirements with the Business, and strong platform administration skills

We all want to work with the cool new tech and follow the latest trends. Working with the latest and greatest is what draws people to technology work. But the team will be stronger if the foundation is strong and the team is well connected so take time to build our own skills and our teams’ foundations so we can all up our game.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Introducing the Orbital Bus

Today, we are proud to announce the public beta launch of the Orbital Bus open source project. The Orbital Bus is a distributed Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) intended to make it easier for developers to implement smart, reusable, loosely coupled services. We believe that a peer-to-peer mesh of lightweight integration nodes provide a much more robust and flexible ESB architecture than the traditional hub/spoke approach. Please check out our public repository and documentation.

I have been working in Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and with Enterprise Service Bus (ESB’s) for the majority of my career. I can’t even count how many debates I’ve been in on the value of implementing an ESB and how a hub/spoke architecture is more sustainable than point-to-point integrations. In fact, for a number of years, I took the architectural benefits of an ESB for granted.

By 2013, I was starting to see a pattern of large enterprise clients struggling to adopt SOA not for architectural or technology reasons, but for organizational and cultural reasons. I came to the realization that while ESB’s were being sold as bringing about a certain type of architectural rigor, it could only do that if the organization was very hierarchical and centralized. The ESB is really not well suited for an IT organization made up of more distributed teams and governance structures.

We thought of a better way to solve the real-time integration problem. With the help of some funding from NRC’s IRAP program, we started development of the Orbital Bus in 2015. The goal was to solve some of the major shortcomings that we see in traditional ESB’s:

Single Point of Failure – An ESB creates a single point of failure, as all common integrations must pass through it. Enterprises spend a significant amount of money to improve the availability of their ESB infrastructures (e.g., hardware redundancy, DR sites, clustering). What if the responsibility of translation and routing was pushed out to the edges to where the service providers are hosted? There would be no point of failure in the middle. The availability of each service would purely be dictated by the service provider and the lightweight integration node sitting in front of it, which means one node going down wouldn’t impact the rest of the ecosystem.

Implementation Timelines and Cost – ESB’s take a long time and a lot of money to stand up. A lot of effort is needed to design the architecture so it’s future proof and robust enough for the entire enterprise. And then there’s the cost of the infrastructure, software licenses, and redundancy. Never mind the cost of bringing in external expertise on whichever platform is being implemented. What if the platform actually promoted more organic growth? Each node is lightweight and could be stood up with no additional network zone or infrastructure. Developers will be able to build decoupled interfaces between handful of systems in a matter of days rather than months. And instead of needing to fiddle with complex platform configurations and go through 200+ page installation guides, the ESB could be stood up with a handful of scripts and created native service bindings in commodity languages such as C#.

Developer Empowerment – ESB’s move the responsibility of creating decoupled interfaces from the developer of the service into a central ESB team. It’s no surprise that nearly every SOA program I’ve ever worked on faced significant resistance from the development teams. And let’s face it, most IT organizations are poorly equipped to handle major culture changes, and that resistance often results in the killing of a SOA program. What if the architecture actually empowered developers to build better and more abstracted interfaces rather than try to wrestle control away from them? The platform would promote a contract-first implementation approach and generate all the boring binding and serialization code so developers can focus on the more fun stuff. By having the service interface code artifacts tied more closely to the service provider code, it opens up opportunities to better manage versions and dependencies through source control and CI.

We’ve had a lot of fun designing and developing this product over the last two and a half years. We are excited to offer the Orbital Bus to the community to collaborate and gather as much feedback as we can. Working with the open source community, we hope to create a more efficient and developer-centric way of integrating across distributed systems. We hope you will join us on this journey!

  • Shan
  • Gu

Embracing the Technology Meltingpot

One of the most common objections I hear among my large enterprise and government clients when discussing adopting new technologies is “We’re a Microsoft shop so why would we look at a Java-based tool?” or open source, or Google, or Salesforce, and the list goes on.  This objection is grounded in the opinion that increasing the technology mix increases complexity, and thus increases the operational risk and cost.

However, the biggest challenge for IT executives has shifted from tightening their operational budgets to managing the constant risk of technologies becoming unsupported or having a vendor development path that no longer aligns with the enterprise’s needs.  The technology market is evolving and changing faster than ever.  Programming languages grow and wane in popularity and support over a cycle of just a couple of years; new frameworks breath new life into technologies that were previously left to die; acquisitions can make entire enterprise platforms obsolete overnight; and new innovations are happening constantly throughout the IT stack from networking, to virtualization, to application platforms, to business applications.

In such a rapidly changing and unpredictable environment, the best approach to managing risk (as any good investment adviser will tell you) wordleis to diversify.

In fact, any IT organization that doesn’t have an openness to innovate and investigate new technologies will ultimate die a slow death through obsolescence and operational bloat.

Instead of being afraid of the operational complexity and cost introduced by shaking up the technology stack, IT executives should be embracing them as opportunities for their teams to develop new skills and to gain a wider perspective on how to implement solutions.  Instead of remaining within the comfortable confines and protections of a given development framework, developers should be pushed to understand how different technologies interoperate and the importance of having disciplined SDLC methodologies to deal with complex deployments.

The key to success in all of this is integration.  Developing mature integration practices like modular design, loose coupling, and standards-based interoperability ensures that new technologies can be plugged into and unplugged from the enterprise without cascading impacts on existing systems.  Disciplined SDLC methodology especially around configuration management and change control allow different technology teams to work in parallel, resulting in more efficient project delivery.

IT organizations must adopt a culture of openness and curiosity to from the inevitable changes to their technology ecosystem.  They must invest in mature and disciplined integration practices to effectively manage those changes.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Prescriptive Governance Leads to Shadow IT

Let’s face it, to most people in IT, “Governance” is a dirty word.  That perception is not born out of an idea that IT governance is bad, but out of the reality that IT governance is badly implemented in most organizations.  When an organization confuses good IT governance with overly detailed and prescriptive IT governance, it starts to constrain rather than enable its people.  And when people feel constrained and not empowered to make the decisions, they work around or against the process, which then results in proliferation of shadow IT.Governance_ShadowIT

The reason for this phenomenon is that many organizations approach IT governance with a few very flawed assumptions around how software and technology projects work:

  1. Changes are bad;
  2. Consistent results are driven from consistent processes;
  3. Standardization reduces the number of decisions, which makes the process more efficient and consistent; and
  4. Measure of a good project is on-budget and on-time.
These assumptions are fatal to any IT organization because they fail to recognize the realities of the nature of technology and the people implementing it:
  1. Technology is about change.  The whole point of implementing technology is to support and enable more rapidly changing business needs.  Add that to the speed of technology changes, the default position of any good IT governance process should be to assume constant change and deal with it head on instead of trying to contain and avoid it.
  2. Speaking of change, there is no way for a one-size-fits-all process to anticipate all the different ways a technology project can unfold.  In fact, the more prescriptive a process is, the less likely it will fit the next project.  There are simply too many variables and moving targets in modern enterprise IT projects.
  3. You hired smart people to implement technology and guess what?  Smart people like to make decisions and feel ownership of their work.  By over-standardizing, talented tech resources are turned into the IT equivalent of assembly line workers.  At best they become disengaged and stale in their skills.  But more likely, they take matters into their own hands and create opportunities to make decisions or fight the governance process to retain some ownership of the work they’re being asked to do.
  4. IT initiatives exist to make your business better and the users happier.  While budget, scope, and schedule are important, they’re management measures on the process rather than whether a project was truly successful.
So how do we fix this?  In a word, simplify!  And here are some things to think about when slimming down your IT governance process:
  1. Reduce and align the number of gates to the number of “point-of-no-return” decisions on a project (e.g., business case, functional design, technical design, go-live).
  2. For each gate, focus on what kinds of decisions need to be made, guidance on people who should be involved, and some basic examples of information that should be provided as input.  Let the smart people do what they’re being paid to do, which is talk it out and own the decision.
  3. Standardize only the mundane and highly repeatable decisions.  Standards are about helping speed up the process and focusing the effort of only debating things that deserve to be debated.  It’s not about compliance metrics and enforcement.  If you have to put in an exception or exemption process, you’ve gone too far.
  4. Ensure communications on what the project will deliver in terms of functionality and value.  Most stakeholders care a lot more about whether a particular feature set is being implemented for their users rather than whether a particular deliverable is green or yellow.
In the end, this is about creating a process that helps to focus people on the real objectives of the business and fostering communications.  It’s about assuming that people are intelligent and reasonable and capable of making good decisions when given the opportunity.  And if that turns out not to be the case, it’s a HR problem and not something that should be fixed with yet more governance processes.
  • Shan
  • Gu

Announcing Foci Solutions

A little over three years ago, I had the great fortune to reconnect with an old friend from my university days. I lured him away from his well-paying and stable position at one of the Big 5 consulting firms to help me incubate an Integration practice focused on helping large enterprise clients connect their various COTS investments.

Since convincing him to recklessly quit his job and join BoldRadius, Shan and I have been through a lot of ups and downs. His relentless focus on operational and delivery excellence and sharp strategic mind is a strong complement to my ability to create strong culture and set up structures for success. Throughout the time we’ve worked together, I’ve learned to be objective, fair and direct. And my entrepreneurial approach to getting initiatives off the ground has rubbed off on him. Lean, Agile, and Kanban replaced the large and heavy institutions of Waterfall and PMI.

We looked at the market around us and saw that we were building something special, something that landed neatly between the armies of independent consultants and the giant multi-billion dollar consultancies. We have been able to fully leverage our entrepreneurial approach in combination with our experience in large-scale IT implementation to cut through the noise on enterprise IT transformation programs and to focus on the core actions needed to drive it forward. We have become that small tactical team that could help our clients get out of the infinite spin of analysis and to just do something. To move boldly forward instead of being paralyzed with fear when staring down a massively complex problem.

The Integration practice we built within BoldRadius has attracted some amazing talent and has established a strong reputation. Through trial and many errors, we’ve learned what we need to do to secure and maintain enduring relationships built on results for our clients. Finally, we’ve established solid financial footing and the ability to invest in furthering our success.

The Integration business has matured – it needs focus, direction, independence and talent. It’s time for it to spread its wings and take its own path under a new structure, new brand and a new name – Foci Solutions.

Speaking for Shan, myself and the team, we’re excited about what the next chapter holds for Foci. We’re looking forward to solidifying our success and expanding into new areas. We’re relishing the possibilities of new client interactions around better, more mature ways to manage IT and we’ve got big plans to build capabilities that don’t currently exist for IT teams.

Keep an eye on this company – it’s going places.

  • Mike
  • Kelland

Why .NET Doesn’t Have to be Expensive

.NET is a proven and mature framework that has great benefits, however it is often overlooked when companies are deciding on a language and framework. Many developers remember the Microsoft of old where you were immediately stuck with proprietary frameworks and Microsoft-only products that have high initial costs and outrageous scaling overhead. Fortunately for the industry, Microsoft is taking a sharp turn away from proprietary restrictions and is moving towards open source.

Let’s examine CheapMumble, a project which has been successfully deployed using .NET with no licensing costs. I’ll take a look at the frameworks, software, and hosting that has been used to make his project successful. I’ll also explore other options and the future of .NET in the open source world.

The CheapMumble Project

To understand what CheapMumble does, you first need to understand what mumble is. From the Mumble wiki: “Mumble is an open source, low-latency, high quality voice chat software primarily intended for use while gaming.” CheapMumble is simply a cheap hosting solution for mumble servers.

Take a look at the software stack used to create CheapMumble.

Front End

Razor (Open Source)

The beloved view-rendering engine of MVC.Net has been open sourced and has been freely available for some time.

Application Tier

.NET Framework 4.5

The same framework you read about or are familiar with, including Async Await, Linq, and all other features.

Mono (Open Source)

The team was able to use the framework by choosing the ever growing project Mono. At the time this article is written, Mono just recently released version 3.6.0. If you want to know about compatibility take a look here.

Nancyfx (Open Source)

Nancy is the web framework chosen to drive CheapMumble. You may have never heard of it, however it’s a full featured web framework ready to be used in any of your next web projects. The great thing about Nancy is the firm dedication of support for the Mono libraries. Take a look at their blog to learn more and see what they are up to.

Entity Framework (Open Source)

Don’t compromise on your data access. Use the best ORM out there (and yes I’ll fight you on that). Entity Framework has been open sourced for a long time and has great support under the Mono framework. Linq your hearts out on your next project.

Backend

MySQL (Open Source)

Entity Framework allows you to connect to any relational database you please, including MySQL, using the .NET Connector. Setup is easy and you will forget about your database while using code first features and strong object relational models.

Software during development can be a substantial cost if you’re not careful. Especially if you consider the cost of Visual Studio Ultimate MSDN subscriptions. Visual Studio is the best development IDE out there, however do you really need all its features? Let’s take a look at some cheaper alternatives.

Visual Studio Express

Free Visual Studio! What could go wrong? I’d love to tell you this is the solution to all your problems. It isn’t. They have, however, added a lot to the express editions over the years. Ability for multi-project solutions, unit testing, NuGet, code analysis. Trying to find the limitations online was not easy, and I didn’t find a reliable source. I would recommend giving it a shot. See what happens. It could very well be all your team needs.

Xamarin / MonoDevelop

MonoDevelop evolved into Xamarin whether on Windows or Mac. Don’t get scared by the price tag. The only price for Xamarin is when you want to compile source code to work with Android or iOS in a closed-source application. This means that all web applications can be developed free of use on Xamarin.

Sublime Text

Wait, really? Though sublime isn’t a full, feature-rich IDE, it is still a very strong candidate for a lot of developers. Recently on the Nancyfx blog they went through a tutorial on setting up Sublime to work with ASP.Net development.

With these technologies, the CheapMumble team was able to develop and deploy their software on whatever platform they saw fit. The best part was that no licensing cost was required.

The future of open source on the .NET framework is bright. Everything in this post works today, and tomorrow there will be even more. Recently, Microsoft unveiled ASP.Net vNext with a large amount of the software being open source. A great rundown of features was given from Scott Hanselman in his post Introducing ASP.NET vNext. The most exciting part is at the end:

ASP.NET vNext (and Rosyln) runs on Mono, on both Mac and Linux today. While Mono isn’t a project from Microsoft, we’ll collaborate with the Mono team, plus Mono will be added to our test matrix. It’s our aspiration that it “just work”.

The future for ASP.NET development is clear: Open Source and CHEAP!

  • Dan
  • McCrady