Tag: SOA

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

The Quiet Evolution of SOA

We’ve all found ourselves looking at an organization’s web services and commenting on how “It’s not really SOA”. Maybe because the program still maintains point-to-point interfaces, or maybe the organization hasn’t put in place any form of governance, but for whatever reason, we declare that it simply isn’t comprehensive enough to be considered SOA. That begs the question then: who is actually doing TRUE enterprise wide SOA? Well… very few organizations. Anne Manes famously declared that “SOA is dead” back in 2009. So why is it that we still find ourselves evangelizing and building towards this vision?

The answer is that our understanding of what makes an SOA program successful has quietly evolved over the last few years. Enterprise-wide re-platforming and re-architecture initiatives gave way to tactical adoption of SOA. The success of SaaS and BPM adoption meant that organizations are implementing the principles of service orientation without explicitly calling it an SOA program. And instead of trying to figure out just how to effectively measure SOA ROI at the enterprise level, much greater success has been found measuring the value created within a given portfolio and/or capability.

So while we Architects have not given up on the hope of achieving SOA utopia, we have become more realistic in our approach:

  1. Identify a very specific problem to solve with an SOA approach, be it to reduce the time-to-market of a frequently changing business process, or to reduce the application footprint of a given line-of-business.
  2. Demonstrate the value of SOA by successfully solving that problem.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day, any plans for enterprise level SOA can only be built a critical mass of successful self-sustaining SOA capabilities/portfolios.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Fractal Governance

SOA landscapes today look very much like fractals. An organization may have several internal capabilities presented as reusable services that connect to each other. It may even connect to 3rd party and/or cloud based services. But if you drill down into each of these services, you’ll likely see a composite application that is made up of several finer grained services interconnected together. And as a math geek, I am naturally curious about all things related to fractals.

In fact the fractal pattern appears in almost anything that’s responsible for connecting things together: highway and road systems, power grids, the internet… the list goes on. In all of these systems, there exists a hierarchical system of management and governance to regulate its functionality. Each country, for example, have national standards and regulatory bodies that define how power is to be exchanged, managed, and consumed. At the regional levels, there are additional standards and regulatory bodies that deal with region-specific decisions such as how much power to generate, pricing, and what equipment is to be installed where. Similar structures are true for transportation and telecommunications. So why is it that most organizations see SOA governance as an all-encompassing enterprise wide responsibility?

The interaction requirements and lifecycle characteristics of enterprise level composite services or business processes are very different from those of a utility service. To paint the entire enterprise service landscape with an uniform set of standards and processes will either result in a high number of exceptions or a lowest common denominator scenario. To be effective, an organization’s SOA governance model must match its SOA deployment model. The governance model must exist not just at the top, but at a granularity that matches how the services are being deployed and managed. Service Portfolio Managers, then are not just another role within the governance model, but micro versions of governance domains themselves. Service Portfolio Managers must be allowed to define their own standards and processes that are appropriate for the specific services that they’re responsible for. The SOA governance model for the enterprise must consider what standards and processes are appropriate for all services, which are appropriate for only the ones being consumed across the enterprise, and which ones should be left up to the Portfolios to govern themselves.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Still a Thing?

The Oldest Buzzword Around

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) isn’t a new concept by any means.

It’s practically a decade old and, in IT years, that’s beyond the useful lifespan of just about all buzzwords. And that’s the problem; as a buzzword, SOA never attained the same level of popularity as Cloud or Big Data. The concept of SOA was nebulous and how an organization could achieve SOA was even more unclear.

Vendors were pitching anything ranging from just an asynchronous messaging infrastructure to a full blown process automation and orchestration suite as the “Conerstone of Enterprise SOA” solutions. Further confusion was caused by product vendors trying to differentiate their products by pushing the importance of interoperability standards (ie. WS-*) claiming that other competing products weren’t truly “SOA” for one reason or another.

This confusion created just as much negative stigma around the term SOA as positive sentiment. While product marketing folks were focusing on the discussion of just what is and isn’t SOA, the Architects were quietly picking and choosing the concepts of SOA that they liked and evolving their enterprises’ IT landscapes.

SOA – Still Alive & Kickin’

Fast forward to today.

RESTful has fully taken over as the web service integration style of choice for the Internet, relegating SOAP for internal enterprise interactions and transactions that are considered “low throughput”. JSON has gained traction in the same way over XML thanks to movement towards mobile computing and a renewed focus on making interfaces as lean byte-wise as possible. No one thinks twice about decoupling the UI from the business logic and integrating using a set of web service calls. And asynchronous messaging is practically the status quo method of propagating large amounts of data across the enterprise.

So yes, the key SOA concepts of:

  1. Developing applications that promote reuse
  2. Decoupling functional application components to improve flexibility and agility
  3. Standardizing the way interfaces are described and interacted with to promote predictable and consistent integrations are more prominent than ever. Exposing Big Data stores as RESTful services is one of the most popular ways of integrating with these technologies. And the SOA concepts of abstraction, service contracts, and reuse are at the foundation of SaaS solutions.

It Just Makes Sense

SOA is at a level of maturity where it no longer benefits from having its own buzzword.

After all, you don’t see organizations advertising that they’re a client-server shop or that they are prolific adopters of web architecture to differentiate themselves in 2013. We’re at a point where sound architecture principles put forward by the proponents of SOA nearly a decade ago, have become just good architecture practice.

The conversations today with IT executives should no longer be “Should you adopt SOA?” but “What should you do to better address reuse, flexibility, and consistency within your enterprise?”

  • Shan
  • Gu

Agile Governance in SOA

I know, at first glance it looks like the cramming together of 3 loosely defined and oft-debated buzzwords into the title, but got your attention didn’t it? So if you will bear with me for a few minutes, I will explain how applying Agile to a much more abstract of an activity such as building an SOA Governance Framework works.

SOA Governance is a fluid concept, with many differing, complementary, and overlapping point of views. Is it a framework focused on lifecycle management of service assets? How does it integrate with existing governance frameworks around other IT components such as infrastructure, database, packaged applications? Or should it be focused around the monitoring and management of business capabilities. The discussion could go on forever.

Because of this fluidity, I’ve seen two major problems come up again and again with clients when it comes to creating an SOA Governance Framework:

  1. The client has invested in a shiny new SOA Governance Framework complete with templates, registries and repositories, architectural review boards, the works. It takes a year to roll out. And the moment it’s done, people start finding scenarios that don’t fit within the framework; do not apply it consistently; or refuse to use it altogether.
  2. Various architects within the client organization can’t agree on the scope, focus, or business case around such an ambiguous concept as SOA Governance, so it keeps on getting pushed off.

The reason why the first problem occurs is that organizations are treating Governance like a traditional application build project. You need to define it all up front and build it once. And that can only lead to an SOA Governance Framework, or any Governance Framework for that matter, which is out-of-date before it’s even delivered. Governance needs to constantly evolve to adapt to the changes in an organization. Is the organization moving from being IT focused to being business focused? Is there an increased uptake in COTS implementations over custom development? Is the organization moving to an offshore support model? All of these changes in the organization will impact how the services should be governed. In short, the way the SOA Governance Framework is developed and managed over time needs to be flexible and adaptable to change. Sounds like Agile, doesn’t it?

The same general mentality also leads to the second problem: the idea that the SOA Governance Framework has to be perfect and all-encompassing the first time around. The fact of the matter is that instead of being stuck in analysis paralysis, we’re always better off with having something rather than nothing. Even an imperfectly managed SOA landscape is better than a completely unmanaged landscape. One of the key tenets of SOA is to enable continuous improvement of business capabilities and efficiency by building it out in loosely coupled modules. So why can’t we implement a SOA Governance Framework by starting small and building up additional components as we learn more about the landscape and become more experienced in working with it. Isn’t it better to solve a real problem that we encounter than to create a solution in anticipation of a problem? Once again, sounds a bit like Agile, doesn’t it?

That was a long preamble. So here’s our approach:

  1. Get the organization to agree on a core set of SOA Governance deliverables, creating a baseline of the framework. In Agile terms, this list is our backlog and includes:
    – a Service Definition template
    – a Service Contract template
    – a Taxonomy
    – a Service Registry and Repository
    – and some kind of org chart from at least a support perspective
  2. For each deliverable defined in the backlog, analyze whether something similar already exists in the organization today or needs to be created. Group similar/relevant deliverables together (ie. Service Definition template with Service Contract template). Implement it and deliver it to the organization. These are our sprints.
  3. While operating our SOA landscape, constantly be on the lookout for areas to improve. Did we have any services that didn’t fit the definition template? Did we have a project that identified inefficiencies within the architectural review process? Is the service inventory becoming too cumbersome to manage? Are people adhering to the change management process and if not, why? Was there a re-org that requires us to rethink the key roles and responsibilities? Frame these into deliverables and put them into the backlog.

The key to success here is continuously looking at the applicability and appropriateness of the framework and keep it aligned to the rest of the organization. If the users of the framework start to feel like they have to shoehorn something into a structure that no longer works for them, they will cease to use it. So don’t fall into that trap and let’s apply some agility to our SOA Governance initiatives.

  • Shan
  • Gu