Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SOA Registry, Repository and Service Catalog

While implementing enterprise SOA, it is important to consider deploying a service catalog for services. There is a lot of confusion between the concepts of registry, repository and service catalog.

Traditionally a registry has been a lookup service provided to service consumers. Service providers register their services in the registry and service consumers select an appropriate service for their needs. Standards such as UDDI addressed these needs.The Registry would contain service descriptions, service contracts and service policies that describe a service. Service registries have also been practically used for determining a service end-point address at runtime based on the service unique name.

So what is a repository? As the importance of SOA Governance grew, it became necessary to capture more meta-data about a service. A service repository integrates information about a service from multiple sources and stores it in a centralized database. Service information may include design artifacts, deployment topologies, service code repository, service monitoring stats, etc. Vendors have started positioning their generic asset management products as SOA repositories. For e.g. Rational Asset Manager.

A lot of vendors now sell a combined product that consists of the registry and repository. For e.g. IBM Websphere Registry and Repository.

A service catalog is a concept that can be implemented using SOA registry/repository products.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Entities Vs Value Objects

In Domain Driven Design, we often separate Entities and Value Objects. Junior architects always get confused between these 2 concepts.
The essential difference is that domain entities have an identity and a lifecycle. So each Entity has a unique identity and with a given domain, no two entities can have the same identity. Value objects need not have an identity. So if we have an "equals()" method that compares the parameter values of each value object, then we can have value objects that are identical. Value objects should ideally also be immutable.
The following links offer interesting stuff on this concept.
1) Lostechies
2) StackOverflow
3) Devlicious

Friday, December 17, 2010

TCO of applications during Portfolio Rationalization

In my previous blog post , I had narrated the process of portfolio rationalization. During the fact finding process, we need to calculate the TCO of  an application. It’s a good idea to have a predefined template for entering all the parameters that add to the total cost of the application, i.e. hardware costs, software license costs, maintenance costs, data center costs, etc.

We should also try to collect the TCO statistics over a time period; i.e. over the last 3-5 years. This data when plotted on a graph would help us in identifying patterns and spotting trends. For e.g. if the TCO of an application is showing steep increase with every passing year, then we need to be wary of the “cost of inactivity”. Cost of inactivity means what will happen if no action is taken?

The TCO of applications should also be compared against the business value that the applications are providing. It may be that 70% of the TCO could be consumed by applications having 30% business value.
Another important dimension to capture would be the usage statistics and performance SLAs over the last few years. If the number of uses are increasing and the SLAs are not been met, then it’s time for some proactive action.

Monday, December 06, 2010


Yesterday, we were having a discussion with one of our customers on the hot topic of SOA and BPM strategy, i.e. can SOA/BPM initiatives be combined?, what are the challenges, pitfalls, best practices, etc. Jotting down some of the key points of the brainstorming session.

  • To start with, its important to realize that both BPM/SOA has a common goal - greater business agility and to align IT with business. SOA and BPM complement each other and the potential benefits are compounded when you have a unified enterprise wide strategy for them.
  • BPM drives a process-centric thought process - right from design, implementation, monitoring and continuous optimization. BPM forces a paradigm shift from an application centric view to a process centric view. SOA is an architectural style where as BPM is a management discipline.
  • A combined BPM/SOA initiative will do the delicate balancing act between incremental and transformational change. Also a combined initiative should enable stakeholders to decide what important processes need that extra agility and prioritize them to be re-engineered as services because funding is always limited.
  • Top-down BPM appraoch drives the discovery of services since they provide important insights into understanding what parts of the IT portfolio can be exposed as SOA services. Thus BMP can provide a structured approach for identifying reusable business services.
  • SOA services also enable faster integration in BPM as the need for custom integration touch points reduces and this in turn enables faster deployment of BPM. SOA also enables rapid change of business processes which is not possible if the business process in embedded in a lot of traditiona non-SOA applications. For e.g. when a process needs to change to comply with a new regulation or due to a change in business strategy, then a loosely coupled BPM process orchestrated using SOA services is easier to change. New services can be plugged-in or existing services can be rearranged. 
In today's fast changing business dynamics - "as is" and "to be" are simply temporal states of reality. The future state cannot be predicted, we can only stay prepared by keeping our business processes agile.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

SONAR tool

My team has been evaluating the SONAR tool to manage code quality. I was impressed with the features and the user friendliness of the tool. SONAR can be used for both Java and .NET projects. It has a open plug-in architecture that allows any code quality tool to be plugged in.

For example, for static code analysis it combines the power of popular tools such as PMD, checkStyle and FindBugs into an unified user interface that is great to use :)

SONAR also has support for free code coverage tools such as JaCoCo.  Code coverage can be measured by unit tests or integration tests. You can even drill down to source code level - something I love to do :)

SONAR also integrates with new tools such as SQALE that have a formal approach for defining code quality in terms of maintainability, Testability, Reliability, Changeability, Efficiency, Security, Portability, Reusability, etc. Overall it is an invaluable tool to access Technical Debt.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Activation bar in UML Sequence Diagrams

A lot of folks get confused between the "life-line" concept and "activation bar" concept in Sequence Diagrams.

The vertical lines drawn are called the lifeline of the object. When the object is no longer alive, then we can draw an 'X' at the bottom of the line. So why do we need an activation bar? I have seen a lot of architects choosing not to draw the activation bar to keep the diagrams simple.

The activation bar (a.k.a focus of control) represents the time the object is "active", i.e. doing some processing, computing something, waiting for a response from a sub-routine, etc. So it is possible to model multiple interactions in a single diagram - for e.g. a lifeline can have nultiple activation bars.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Good whitepaper on WSRP Portlets

A friend of mine was confused on the concept of remote portlets and the WSRP protocol. I forwarded him this cool whitepaper that explains the concept of remote portlets in a simple and lucid language.

Some snippets from the whitepaper:

Remote portlets enable dynamic integration of business applications and information sources into portals.
This approach only works if all portlets are physically installed at the employee portal; the process of making new portlets available is tedious and expensive.

Instead of just providing raw data or single business functions that still require special rendering on the portal side, Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) are presentation-oriented, interactive web services.
They are easy to aggregate and can be invoked through a common interface using generic portlet-independent code that is built into the portal. In addition, re-implementation of the presentation layer on each portal is avoided. The use of generic portlet proxies consuming all WSRP services conforming to the common interface eliminates the need to develop service-specific portlets to run on the portal.

The big difference between WSRP services and data-oriented web services is that they are presentation-oriented, interactive services that all have one common interface. This means that they simple plug into portal servers and do not require any service-specific code on the consuming portal.

Another point to consider is the comparison of remote portlets with mashups? Are they the same? Remote portlets and WSRP standards can be used to create mashups, but portlets also bring in the advantage of personalization and customization. Mashup's also need not just refer to aggregation of content. Wikipedia describes mashup as "A mashup is a website or Web 2.0 application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service. This is akin to transclusion." For e.g. tons of new applications built on top of Google Maps.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The case for IT Portfolio Rationalization

Un-rationalized IT portfolio is a critical issue facing many organizations. There are a plethora of reasons why an IT portfolio becomes ‘bloated’ with an ever increasing inventory of applications running of multiple platforms. It could be because of mergers and acquisitions, lack of enterprise architecture standards and IT governance, legacy applications that need to undergo a technology refresh cycle, etc. As a result of this, a majority of the IT budget is spent on “keeping the lights on”, rather than investing on new strategic initiatives. This in turn results in poor business-IT alignment.

Continuous Portfolio Assessment and periodic Rationalization of IT assets is needed to lower the TCO of the IT portfolio and enable business agility. Portfolio assessment and optimization should be an integral part of the organizations EA group.

Any portfolio rationalization exercise would start with an assessment of the current state. Here pre-defined templates to capture the high level IT landscape would be beneficial. More comprehensive templates would be required to capture the details of each application. Information parameters such as application infrastructure, business process supported, TCO, pain areas, etc. would be captured.

The second step would be group applications into clusters. A ‘cluster’ is nothing but a group of applications that are similar in semantics - from a business perspective or a technology architecture perspective. For e.g. applications collaborating or orchestrated to fulfill a business process, a cluster of web applications running of the same technology stack - Websphere App Server on Solaris.

Each application cluster is then evaluated across various dimensions – such as Business value, Business functionality adherence, Current or Future Technology standards adherence, EA standards conformance, SLA conformance, TCO, etc. Based on the rating and the weightage given to each parameter, we would arrive at final scores. Based on the scoring, application clusters would be segmented into 4 categories – retain, enhance, replace, retire/sunset.

The final step is to define roadmaps for the transformation – a set of project streams/initiatives that would be required. A project prioritization framework would help in sequencing the selected initiatives. Pre-defined templates for project prioritization would come in handy here. Here again a metrics driven approach would work; wherein we evaluate the priority of the selected work streams based on parameters such as business impact, risk, technology skills, cost/investment required.

It is also very important to define a governance body to manage the rationalization program and sustain it. The governance body would have participation from both business and IT stakeholders.

The end deliverables of the rationalization exercise would be:
1. Matrix of applications segmented into 4 categories – retain, enhance, replace, retire/sunset
2. Define project streams (rationalization roadmaps) and project sequencing (prioritization) to meet the future state E A vision
3. Define opportunities/initiatives for business process optimization and reduction of TCO

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Estimates and Scheduling

Read an interesting article by Joel on software scheduling. Most organizations either use the use-case point estimation method or the function point estimation method.

But the best estimates come from experienced designers and developers - because you have done something similar in the past, you are more confident of the estimates you give.
But how can you bring in these past experiences of people into your estimation process. We would need to collect data on all past and present projects and extract metrics from them.

In the article, Joel talks about "evidence-based scheduling (EBS)" - i.e. base your future estimates on past experiences and developer productivity. It might be difficult to record the productivity of each and every developer, but we can create clusters for a developer group based on yrs of experience.

The most interesting point regarding EBS was that you do not have a single delivery date - you only have probabilities assigned to a range of dates. I always struggled selling this concept to program managers and customers. The point is that its impossible to predict the exact date of shipment at the start of the project. Based on fine granular tasks and past estimation data, we can use algorithms such as "Monte Carlo Simulation" to arrive at a range of dates each with a probability index assigned to it - similar to the image below.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Use of Generics in .NET webservices

Recently, one of my team members was trying out an idea of using a generic container "response" object for all return types from the webservice. The advantage of doing so was that we would just have one generic "Response" object instead of many response objects for different operations - hence it would be easier for clients to extract data and consistently get other meta-data information in the Reponse object such as "Success/Error messsage", "Count", etc.
Given below is sample code showing the generic response data contract.

public class Response
public T Data { get; set; }
public List DataCollection { get; set; }
public string ErrorMessage { get; set; }

public class Customer
public string Name { get; set; }
public int Age { get; set; }
public decimal ContactNo { get; set; }

public class Vendor
public string VendorName { get; set; }
public int Rating { get; set; }

As you can see, the actual return object (e.g. vendor, customer) is wrapped in a generic response object. Given below is code snippet of the webservice/WCF service.
public class GenericService : IGenericService
public Response DoOtherWork()
Response res = new Response();
Vendor c = new Vendor();
c.VendorName = "Rocky"; c.Rating = 3;
res.Data = c;
res.ErrorMessage = "Big Errors";
return res;

public Response DoWork(int i)
Response res = new Response();
List lstcust = new List();
Customer c = new Customer();
c.Name = "Rocky"; c.Age = 26; c.ContactNo = 7688890909;
int j = 0;
Customer c1 = new Customer();
c1.Name = "dfgdfgRocky"; c1.Age = 26; c1.ContactNo = 7688890909;

lstcust.Add(c); lstcust.Add(c1);
res.DataCollection = lstcust;
res.ErrorMessage = "No Errors";
return res;

It was interesting to see how the .NET framework handled this in the WSDL. What complex types are created in the WSDL? This was important because the WCF services could potentially be used by Java and Ruby clients.
Here we found a hitch - the WSDL schema had 2 complex types such as "ResponseOfCustomer24335423" and "ResponseOfVendor24r58sdf". This WSDL worked fine when we created stubs in Java by importing the WSDL. But only the random numbers appended at the end of the complex schema was a problem from naming standards and clarity point of view. You would not want your callers to keep wondering why such strange names were given.
But here again, we found an easy workaround. While defining the data-contract, we have the option of specifying the name of the complex type it should appear as in WSDL.
So we just added one key value pair to the Data Contract attribute as follows.
[DataContract(Name = "ResponseOf{0}")]
public class Response
public T Data { get; set; }
public List DataCollection { get; set; }
public string ErrorMessage { get; set; }

This was cool as could have a placeholder "{0}" for the type passed to the generic container class.
Once we did this, the complex types in the WSDL has user friendly names such as "ResponseOfCustomer" and "ResponseOfVendor".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What rules to put in a BRE?

Most organizations today understand the value of externalizing rules from application code by using a Business Rules Engine. The agility and flexibility derived from BREs allows for quicker roll out of new business rules and better business IT alignment.

But how do we determine what business rules should go into the BRE? Not all business logic needs to go into a BRE. The following methodology can be used to arrive at a good set of externalized business rules.
  • Prepare a set of variable data/rules for the application. Ask questions such as: What changes? Frequency of change? Who/What triggers the change?
  • Assign importance of agility to each variable data. What changes are time-critical? Business Impact if a business rule is not changed in time? Business benefit if we can change the variable data quickly.
  • Check if business users can make changes to the variable data. For e.g. if-else conditions can be handled by a business analyst, but change in complex statistical formulas may not be easy.
If we go through the above thought process, we can arrive at a logical set of variable data and rules that should be externalized by the system.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CLUE database in Insurance

The CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) is a database of insurance losses and claims that was created and is maintained by ChoicePoint. ChoicePoint was taken over by LexisNexis some time back. LexisNexis C.L.U.E. Property reports contain up to seven years of personal property claims matching the search criteria submitted by the inquiring insurance company. So it's the equivalent of credit reports in the insurance industry. ChoicePoint also maintains a database for personal auto claims history.

When we apply for a homeowner's or auto insurance policy, the insurance company orders and review our CLUE report. A CLUE report is a document containing your personal information, as well as data regarding past property claims that have been paid under your previous insurance policies. CLUE reports includes the type of property (vehicle or home), dates of losses, loss descriptions and amounts paid.

Insurance companies use information on CLUE reports to evaluate homeowner's and auto insurance applicants for acceptability. Information can also be used to determine your policy premiums. CLUE reports are used almost exclusively to underwrite and rate new policies. Most insurers renewing existing policies do not access CLUE reports at renewal, largely because they already have loss histories for these properties in their own database. Only insurance companies that subscribe to CLUE can submit loss data and access CLUE reports.

A software program called Quick Connect has been designed by ChoicePoint for sending and receiving information electronically to and from ChoicePoint.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conceptual model for SOA

Just read a very interesting blog post from Nick Malik, where in he provides a Common Conceptual Model for SOA. I was bowled over by the simplicity of the language and diagram. So easy to explain to a fellow architect embarking on a design assignment based on SOA.

The most important things to work on in a SOA project:
  • Canonical Data Model

  • Canonical Message Model (Shared Message Contract)

  • Service Interfaces

  • Business Event Taxanomy
I have seen that if you get these fundamentals right during the design process, then building scalable SOA based systems is a lot easier.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Enterprise Architecture?

Recently a friend of mine asked me to explain in simple terms the benefit of having an Enterprise Architecture for an organization. The challenge was to translate the message in non-technical non-complex terms without any jargon. He apparently had read an EA white-paper by a big analyst firm and had his head spinning :) . I won’t blame him – this is a problem with ‘complex definitions’.

As architects, the most important challenge that we solve day-in and day-out is in reducing and managing IT complexity. Yet, it’s an irony that many architects/analysts use ‘complex long phrases’ to describe even the simplest of concepts.

Enterprise architecture is required to give a holistic view of the entire IT landscape of the organization. This enables the organization to view its current state and plan for the future state of its IT operations. EA is very useful to plan and prioritize your IT budgets in accordance with your important business priorities. It serves as a powerful communication tool between the business and IT teams and helps align new IT investments appropriately. Organizations have also started using EA as a tool for risk management and SWOT analysis.

Thus having an Enterprise Architecture Framework helps us in visualizing the ‘big picture’ and the relationship between different domains. It also leads to better governance and low maintenance cost enabled by enforcement of technology standards and architecture guidelines.

Quite often, EA is compared to ‘city planning’. In city planning, you look at the big picture and establish zones for specific purposes. It lays down the guidelines and best practices for buildings, roads, water supply, hospitals, etc. The design of each building is analogous to ‘Solution Architecture’. The special skill of designing a kitchen is analogous to ‘technical/application architecture’.

So to summarize, EA has the following advantages:
  • Helps build a common understanding of the future IT direction of the enterprise.
  • Provide clear mapping of the business processes and the IT systems supporting it. Provides visibility into how the business processes enable the mission of the enterprise.
  • Improves interoperability and integration by defining enterprise canonical message models and data models. Also integration standards and guidelines - for e.g. SOA, MOM, etc.
  • Enables organizational agility - If we need to respond to a business change, what is the impact on the IT systems, etc.
  • Less cost due to technical homogenity that is easier to support and maintain.
  • Powerful tool for communicating risk and change to all stakeholders in the enterprise.

There are a number of frameworks for defining EA – popular among them are the Zachman Framework and TOGAF. I had also blogged earlier about tools used for creating an EA.

OpenSource EA tools

Planning to evaluate a couple of open source Enteprise Architecture tools that are becoming popular. IBM System Architect was the de-facto commercial EA tool in the market and we were actively using it for our customers.

First is "The Essential Project" that was launched last year. It is based on the Protégé ontology tool and allows you to create a meta-model for your EA. It has a EA repository and reporting tools.

Second is a tool called "
iteraplan". This tool is more popular in Europe and also has an Enterprise Edition that is free for use, but without the source code.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Creating Dynamic classes in Java

Earlier I had blogged about the ability to create new classes from scratch in .NET.
I was looking for something similar to Reflection.Emit() in Java. Found a few examples on the web that use the Java compiler to compile source code dynamically and use Reflection to execute the methods.

Other option is to use byte-code manipulation libraries such as BCEL, ASM, etc. A good list of open source byte code libraries are given at:

Payment Gateways

We were exploring the various options for selecting a payment gateway for a new business opportunity. Found this site that has a good explanation of payment gateways and compares the popular payment gateways available in the market.
The site has a brief explanation on each payment gateway. The following gateways are explained.
  • Amazon Payment Gateway
  • PayPal PayFlow Pro
  • VeriSign
  • Google Checkout
  • Moneybookers
  • VerePay
  • WorldPay

Monday, May 10, 2010

Parsing and reading text from PDF files

One of my development teams was looking for a PDF parsing library. They essentially wanted to search and extract data from PDF files. At first, I thought that OCR is the only way to achieve this, but there are libraries available to help us :)

PDFBox : This seems to be most popular library for extracting text out of PDF files. This is a Java library, but also has a .NET wrapper around it using iKVM.NET
Simple examples using this library can be found here and here.

iText & iTextSharp : These libraries are very popular for PDF generation and can also be used for extracting text from PDF files. Sample example can be found here.

I have heard that also provides you with a Java API that can be used to create and manipulate PDF files, but have not tried it yet.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Datawarehouse vs Datamart

The debate between creating a datamart or sourcing data from the datawarehouse springs up from time to time across organizations. Found some good links on the web on this great debate:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Performance issues with an in-memory Datatable select clauses

Very often, we cache .NET Datatable objects in memory. This could be for lookup tables or for other frequently accessed data. The following article on MSDN points out that using 'select' on a Datatable can be very very slow.

Snippet from the article:
"Select takes arbitrary criteria and returns an array of DataRows. Essentially, DataTable.Select has to walk the entire table and compare every record to the criteria that you passed in. "

The performance stats for LINQ in the article look very impressive. Looks like Microsoft has made a lot of optimizations on LINQ. It would be great to know (see source code) of what happens behind the scenes and why LINQ is so damn fast!

.NET PDF creation tools

Some time back, I had blogged about the opensource tools available in Java and .NET for PDF creation. Recently came across another commerical library called "Dynamic PDF" for PDF creation. This library has a Java and .NET version of the API.
The library is easy to use and is very robust. It handles 'over-flowing' tables and text areas in PDF files very gracefully.
Another interesting library that Dynamic PDF sells is the DynamicPDF™ PrintManager for .NET . This library makes it so simple to print PDFs and also has callback handlers for error messages from printers - all pure managed code. Now that's what I like :)

Two opensource .NET PDF generation tools are PDFSharp and iTextSharp.

XSD to XML and vice versa

I was looking for a quick and free tool that could convert XSD schema files to sample XML files and also generate a XSD file from a sample XML file. Commerical tools such as XML Spy and OxygenXML were powerful tools that provided these features, but I was looking for a free one.
First I checkout the open source Java IDEs.
  • Netbeans had a beautiful editor to visualize and edit a XSD schema in a graphical tree structure. But unfortunately it did not have the ability to generate sample XML file or vice versa.
  • Eclipse too had a visual editor and allowed visual editing of schema elements. It could generate a sample XML file from a XSD file, but had no option for the reverse; i.e. generating a schema file from a sample XML.
  • VS 2008 SP1 had both the options - coversion between XML and XSD. For schema files, right click on a node in XSD Explorer view and select "Generate XML". For XML files, select "Tools -> Generate schema" to create the XSD file. Both these operations are very quick in Visual Studio.
  • VS 2010 has extensive support for XML tooling. You have 3 different views for schema designing that should suffice for most complex schema definition.

Besides these free tools, there are other command line tools that can be used. For e.g.

XSD.exe tool can be schema to XML and vice versa transformation.

There was another .NET tool that I found on MSDN for generating XML documents from XSD.

Another cool Java desktop tool that supported these features was XMLSpear.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Updatable Views Vs ORM tools (ADO.NET Entity Framework)

Recently during one of our design brainstorming discussions, our database developer was having a hard time trying to understand the benefit of using a ORM tool such as NHibernate or ADO.NET Entity framework. For our example scenario, he said that he could easily create database views that would serve the same purpose - abstracting the logical schema and helping the developer avoid complex joins for simple business queries.

For the use-case we were working on, his statement made sense. But there are a lot of cases and reasons why database views would not be the best choice. Here is a snippet from a MSDN article.

An obvious question at this point would be why not just use traditional database views for this. While database views can abstract many of the mappings, often that solution won't work for several process and functional reasons: (a) many of the views are simply too complex to be generated and maintained by developers in a cost-effective way, even for some simple conceptual to logical mappings, (b) the classes of views that have the property of being automatically updatable at the store are limited, and (c) databases for core-systems in medium and large companies are used by many central and departmental applications, and having each individual application create several views in the database would pollute the database schema and create significant maintenance workload for the database administrators. In addition, database views are limited to the expressivity of the relational model, and typically lack some of the more real-world concepts of the Entity Data Model, such as inheritance and complex types.

ADO.NET client-views work entirely on the client, so each application developer can create views that adapt the data to a shape that makes sense for each particular application without affecting the actual database or other applications. The class of updatable views supported in the Entity Framework is much broader than those supported by any relational store.

Profilers for .NET

Way back, I had blogged about the profiling capabilities of VSTS 2008 and Numega DevPartner Studio.

Came across this site that lists down the most of the .NET profiling tools available in the market.

I have had good experience with .NET memory profiler and ANTs profiler.
Both of them allows you to collect stats on elapsed time for the entire call-stack and also allow you to walk the heap and check the effect of GC runs across heap generations.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Referential Integrity across databases in SQL Server

Having worked on Oracle databases for a long time, I was quite comfortable with the idea of maintaining RI across different schemas in same database. For e.g. Ur database may have a schema containing master tables and your transaction schema references the lookup data in the master tables.
But to my suprise, prior to SQLServer 2005, it was not possible to have separate schemas in SQL Server. This meant that there was no easy way to maintain RI across databases in SQLServer. The only options were using messy triggers or a CHECK constraint with a UDF (user defined function)

Maintaining RI across databases is still not possible in SQLServer, but SQLServer 2005/2008 have added the concept of schemas in databases; i.e. it is possible to have multiple schemas in each database and each schema offers the same logical separation that a separate database would. We can also configure the schema to be located on a separate filegroup or a separate disk, thus maximizing performance. In SQLServer 2005/2008, it is possible to have RI constraints across schemas. I think this is the best design approach to take. If it is not possible to have your master data in the same database, then the second best approach is to use replication to get the master data into your database.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

What is Micro-Architecture in software design?

Recently I came across the term 'Micro-Architecture' on a number of pages on Sun's site. Sun's engineers have an interesting definition for this term. They refer to Micro-Architecture as a composition of a set of patterns that can be used to realize a subsystem.

In the book - "Core J2EE patterns", Micro-Architecture is described as below.

We define micro-architecture as a set of patterns used together to realize parts of a system or subsystem. We view a micro-architecture as a building block for piecing together well-known, cohesive portions of an overall architecture. A micro-architecture is used to solve a coarser-grained, higher-level problem that cannot be solved by a single pattern. Thus, a micro-architecture represents a higher level of abstraction than the individual patterns.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Critical Success Factors for SOA

A lot of organizations are embarking on the SOA journey and it is important to understand the factors that would make the SOA initiative successful. Based on our experience in SOA consulting, we have learned the following.

1. Adopt an evolutionary approach to SOA: It’s impossible to sustain a big-bang approach to SOA at the enterprise level and even more difficult to make a business case for the large investment. The best approach is to have an enterprise level SOA governance and adopt an incremental and iterative approach. This approach is called the ‘hybrid’ or ‘middle-out’ approach.
After gaining success in early iterations, it becomes easier to make a business case for further investment or create a self funding model. It is a great idea to focus on immediate business pain points during the initial iterations, such as automation, reducing duplicity, etc.

2. Ensure top management support: This is very crucial because SOA strategies would require many departments/LOB’s to come together and function as one unit. And unless you have the top level executive sponsorship to support the SOA initiative, you could get entangled in a mesh of organization politics.
Also it is important to address the cultural issues and involve all layers in the organization during decision making. If we are able to define WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for each important business stakeholder, then the changes of SOA success are very high.

3. Implement SOA Governance from the start: SOA governance is a very board area and covers many aspects. SOA governance includes 2 dimensions – the methodology/process that is established and the tools and technologies used for governance.
Service Life Cycle Management, Service monitoring and Service SLA management are all important points of SOA governance. In fact, if the organization has a EA practice, then SOA governance should be part of it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ruminating on Requirements Elicitation

Last night, I was ruminating on the lessons learned during my experience in business architecture, business analysis and requirements elicitation. I think at the broad level, there are 2 kinds of requirements.

The first kind is - Where we know, what we don't know: These requirements are easy to capture since we have an idea about the pain areas of the customer, we know what is the vision of the project, what is being planned to be done, etc. Hence we can ask appropriate questions, dig deeper and after a few iterations of interviews can get a pretty good understanding of the requirements.

The second kind of requirements are - Where we don't know, what we don't know !
Digging out these requirements is the most challenging task - because we never ask the right questions about things that don't know, our past memory/experiences make implicit assumptions on certain things. Such kind of requirements result in last minute suprises and everyone wonders why these points were never discussed or brought out !!!

How do we elicit these requirements? I think the following techniques during requirements elicitaiton would help:
1. Question each and every assumption - both implicit and explicit. Assumptions may not hold true in every scenario. Check if the assumption is valid for the current scenario.
2. Ask 'stupid' questions - Yes, this works !!!...I have seen that often, analyst's refrain from asking questions because they are self-conscious, are afraid of being ridiculed for lack of knowledge in a domain area, etc. i.e. they are afraid of sounding 'stupid'. But clarifying even the simplest doubt could open up a plethora of new requirements.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Migrating applications across platforms

We often require to migrate applications from one platform (OS/hardware) to an other platform - either as part of a portfolio rationalization program or because the current platform is reaching its EOL. For e.g. migrating Java apps from Solaris/SPARC to Linux/IBM Power, etc.
During such migrations, it is essential to have a well documented plan covering all the aspects, so that we do not miss anything. Listed below is a brief set of points that must be included in the brainstorming discussions during the planning phase.
  1. Migration of the Runtime environment: For e.g. miration of the Java runtime from Solaris to Linux. There are many JRE's available on Linux and we need to select the appropriate one.
  2. Migration of the Application Infrastructure: The application may require a webserver, application server, a Message queue, etc. These infrastructure components would need to be ported to the target platform or other alternatives selected.
  3. Migration of application code: Does the code need to be recompiled/linked on the target platform? Was the application using any platform specific API for performance?
  4. Migration of application configuration: What configuration needs to change on the target platform? e.g. file paths, endian-ness, max-memory settings, thread pool settings, etc.
  5. Migration of development environment: Would it be required to migrate the development environment? Will the same IDE work? IDE-Runtime integration issues, etc.
  6. Migration of Build and Deployment process: Need to change build scripts - ANT, Maven, Shell scripts, etc.

Also it makes sense to leverage the expertise of the target platform vendor during the migration exercise. For e.g. IBM, HP, SUN, RedHat, Novell, etc. all have guidelines, recommendations and migration kits for migrating from a target platform to their platform.