Monday, August 24, 2009

Boiling SOA to 3 Simple Patterns

I love SOA. There I said it! It's done more than pay my bills, it's helped me strategize robust solutions to help businesses succeed. I can't see how any organizaiton can survive without a SOA an strategy! Ok, enough with the SOA love fest. Recently, I have been discussing and debating with some of my colleagues my thought process that Services should be the foundation for anything integration. Even when Ms. Maine proclaimed “SOA is Dead”, she followed up with “long live Services”. Let me explain my rationale. I see services as used and re-used in 3 simple, high-level integration patterns and this is how services can be the foundation for anything integration:

(1) System-to-System integration. Everyone should be very familiar with this pattern. This is 90% of all integration issues. Information Sharing. Data Exchanging. Synchronizing. Hetergenous systems, businesses, applications. Getting data from point A to point B in the right format, at the right time, and with the uptmost quality. This can be real-time or batch. It can be atomic transactions or bulk data loads. All of this should be used through services! Does this mean webServices? Not necessarily, as we know for example that ETL can’t afford the overhead of HTTP and XML. Not to beat a dead horse for the SOA experts, but I think many out there still don't understand that a service isn’t necessarily a webService. What is more important than webServices is the notion of architecting and exposing Business Services that can be consumed and re-used across enterprise. Not rocket science, and most SOA-educated get this!

(2) Business Process Management. A business process should ultimately simply be the orchestration of services across an end-to-end business process during runtime execution of the process. A BPM/BPEL should map business services to each Level 1 activity in a multi-level process flow or process map. Pretty simple: each activity is a business service at Level 1. This approach enables your business process, at runtime, to reuse the same services used in system-to-system integration from Pattern #1 and be easily managed and monitored. Ultimately, you can see where I am going-- our goal is to create a single version of the truth that can be used across all 3 patterns.

(3) Composite Applications: I recommend to clients to re-think their approach to building applications and that not everything requires development or integration to the back-end or legacy systems. Instead, they can focus on developing the business rules and the front-end functionality of these user-enabled applications. No longer do they require using "legacy" techniques that create complexity and more architecture hairballs; rather, they can leverage services to simplify all the plumbing required in a typical application development lifecycle. Why build 1-off websites, dashboards, reports, or mobile applications and re-invent the wheel with all the hard work required for interfacing, security, transformation, translation without re-using services that could already exist? Your creating a bigger architecture hairball! Instead, use a “mashup approach”, and re-use the same services from pattern #1 and #2 and make your life simpler! Re-usability! Hide the complexity and consume what has been exposed! See, my approach with SOA is to untangle the hairball that exists in organizations and not create more lines of code, more interfaces, more maintenance. If we are building another interface another integration to maintain for web or portal development, we are making the hairball worse. Instead, we should be using services to mask the complexity of integrating user-facing applications to legacy systems. This will allow us to reduce and wither away the hairball.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Architect Obstacles

I've been invited to participate in a podcast next week, to discuss challenges today's IT Architects face. I would like to open up to a broader audience, please send me any of your most pressing obstacles, and I will include it in our discussions.

I've listed a few that I have experienced most recently:

Non-Enterprise IT Dept:Individual pockets exist within the IT Dept. Even though architects exist in various areas throughout the organization, it is a disparate, federated architecture without a centralized framework. IT groups are not thinking “big picture” on how their individual kingdoms impact the greater enterprise. They are architecting in silos.
Businesses making IT decisions. This really annoys most IT departments and for good reason-- businesses don't know technology, IT feels undermined, but the business has the money! So, everyone says you "must sell to the business", but I say "don't leave IT behind!" We have businesses buying software, consulting, and trying to do architecture without IT's input. Often times, the Line of Business decisions doesn't necessarily fit into the architecture. This is why you find organizations with 3 BPM tools, 15 SOA products, and God-knows how many web and database products. All the vendors are licking their chops to sell to business, but remember that IT has the expertise to help with standards, architecture, and to bring together enterprise-level thought processes.
Industry and Technical Standards overload. It's funny, because some IT areas have too many standards to learn and try to digest (webServices, Security), while others have too few (i.e. Cloud Computing). Architects are confused which standards to use and when, which to ignore, and how to incorporate and apply the selected standards across their enterprise.
Architecture not tied to a “business initiative”. Because architecture often doesn't get tied to a specific business initiative, it often gets underfunded. Many times its a foundational IT initiative, and therefore businesses believe it doesn't help improve business (increase revenues)...This frustration is often a failure of the architecture team itself-- they have failed to show a direct linkage to benefits, and now can't prove their value. To their defense, that's not always easy task, but it must get done to validate their initiatives and ultimately prove their existence. Architecture is important, necessary, and should not be ignored-- but can quickly be undervalued or under appreciated by the rest of the organization.
Educating stakeholders This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the Architects job. They need to teach others the importance of Enterprise Architecture, SOA, Cloud, etc. If you think architects are challenged educating their Line of Business on what architecture is, but guess what-- not everyone in IT “get it” either. That is why you always see the architects so stressed and pulling their hair out :-)
Commoditization Many folks across the organization just assume architecture gets done and most don't even know it gets done. It's like when you move into a house, many of us don't appreciate all the work that went into building the house, all they way from digging the dirt to framing the house-- we only lavish at the beautiful bathrooms and granite counter tops. We don't see all the labor that occurred underneath. This is the same for users of software-- we only appreciate the end product and if the web page or dashboard looks nice. Certain things are expected to be there and to always work-- like a commodity. Therefore architecture team receives minimal respect and little patience from stakeholders and customers. Rarely does anyone know about all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building and architecting the system from scratch!