Friday, August 31, 2012

Centralized Clustered ESB vs Distributed ESB

Often folks ask me the difference between traditional EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) products and ESB (Enterprise Service Bus). Traditionally EAI products followed the hub-spoke model and when we look at a lot of topology options of ESB's then one would see that the hub-spoke model is still followed!

Given the fact that almost all EAI product vendors have metamorphized their old products to 'ESB' adds to the confusion.  For e.g. The popular IBM Message Broker product line is being branded as 'Advanced ESB'. Microsoft has released a ESB Guidance Package that depends on the BizTalk platform, etc.

In theory, there is a difference between EAI (hub-n-spoke) architecture and ESB (distributed bus) architecture. In a hub/spoke model, the hub 'broker' becomes the single point of failure as all traffic is routed through it. This drawback can be addressed by clustering brokers for high availability.

In a distributed ESB, there is a network of brokers that colloborate to form a messaging fabric. So in essence, there is a small lightweight ESB engine that runs on every node where a SOA component is deployed. This lightweight ESB engine would do the message transformation and routing.

For e.g. in Apache ServiceMix, you can create a network of message brokers (ActiveMQ). Multiple instances of ServiceMix can be networked together using ActiveMQ brokers. The client application sees it as one logical normalized message router (NMR). But here again, the configuration info (e.g. routing information, service names, etc.) are centralized somewhere.


So then what is the fundamental difference between hub-n-spoke and ESB? IBM did a good job in clearing this confusion, by brining in 2 concepts/terms - "centralization of control config" and "distribution of infrastructure".  A good blog explaining these concepts from IBM is here. Loved the diagram flow on this post. Point made :)

Snippet from IBM site:
"Both ESB and hub-and-spoke solutions centralize control of configuration, such as the routing of service interactions, the naming of services, etc. 
Similarly, both solutions might deploy in a simple centralized infrastructure, or in a more sophisticated, distributed manner. In fact, if the Hub-and-spoke model has these features it is essentially an ESB."

As explained earlier, some opensource ESBs such as Apache Service Mix and Petals ESB are lightweight and have the core esb engine (aka service engine) deployed on each node. These folks call themselves "distributed ESB". Other vendors such as IBM, use the concept of "Federated ESBs" for distributed topologies across ESB domains.