Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Want Reusability? Sell Off Your ESB and Hire a Data Architect


I'm not being facetious. I'm sometimes subjected to entirely earnest arguments about how services must be implemented within an ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) and not at various endpoints, - in the interests of reusability! Apparently it's OK to host non-reusable services at arbitrary endpoints, but reusable ones need to be wrapped up in centralised wrapping paper and hosted on the magic box in the middle.

The words hogwash, baloney and fiddlesticks come to mind.

I've always been a fan of scalable, federated "endpointware", because I believe that services naturally form a "flat" address namespace that enables them to be hosted in a location-transparent manner, so centralising them within a physical component achieves nothing more than provide the organisation with a nice little performance bottleneck and a single point of failure. Oh, and a fat revenue stream for the vendor who can then address those limitations with an expensive HA (High-Availability) option. When was the last time the Internet was down for maintenance while someone upgraded the central server?

I'm not entirely joking when I suggest that organisations can achieve service reusability more effectively by selling their ESB (to a more gullible one) and using the money to hire a good data architect. After all, IT budgets are always tight and there are usually headcount restrictions, so some sort of swap seems the most feasible way to acquire these skills :-).

I believe most organisations have very poor data modelling skills in XML. Most organisations probably have data modellers who are skilled in relational database technology and can draw a mean ERD (Entity-Relationship Diagram). But I haven't seen too much evidence that any thought is given to XML Schemas as enterprise-reusable resources.

Banking experts! In what way is a savings account similar to a loan account? In what way is it different?

Insurance gurus! In what way is a workers compensation claim similar to a home & contents claim? In what way is it different?

A good data architect should be able to state these similarities and differences - in terms of an XML schema!

A good data architect would be able to define base types for common, abstract concepts and derived subtypes for each specialised variant. This would automatically guide the design of the service interface by constraining the elements and even the structure of message documents. Then regardless of whether the services are hosted on a single node or distributed across multiple disparate nodes and implementation technologies, the organisation will achieve service reuse. Over time, fewer versions of services will need to be maintained (another common bane), because variants have been catered for through insightful data modelling.

I'm not sure this point is appreciated enough. IT professionals are human beings, after all, and tend to understand tangible products better than abstract concepts. That's why most of them believe in magic product-based solutions rather than intellectual and conceptual disciplines. But the architects within IT must rise higher, and make their voices heard.

The alternative is a bunch of non-reusable, non-scalable non-services.

2 comments:

Kiriki said...

"That's why most of them believe in magic product-based solutions rather than intellectual and conceptual disciplines" Great phrase!!!

Maybe I misunderstood you but somehow, when I was reading your post, I felt you affirm that data services are valuable/reusable services. Is my contention true?

Ganesh Prasad said...

> Maybe I misunderstood you but somehow, when I was reading your post, I felt you affirm that data services are valuable/reusable services. Is my contention true?

Data Services...hmmm
We're coming dangerously close to REST territory here! Yes, I think a RESTian view reconciles "regular" business services and "mere" data services because the four CRUDish verbs are polymorphic and can scale up and down in granularity depending on what we operate on.

Yes, definitely valuable, especially when there's so much talk within organisations about bypassing "heavyweight" services to let applications connect directly to each other's databases (shudder). The big and clumsy SOAP-based service approaches have let people down. We need services that are quick to build and callable with very low overhead. I think RESTian services (whether Data Services or something more coarse-grained) can fit the bill very well.

Regards,
Ganesh