Generalizing the Cloud vs. SOA Governance debate

There have been some interesting discussions recently about the relationship between Cloud management and SOA management/governance (run-time and design-time). My only regret is that they are a bit too focused on determining winners and loosers rather than defining what victory looks like (a bit like arguing whether the smartphone is the triumph of the phone over the computer or of the computer over the phone instead of discussing what makes a good smartphone).

To define victory, we need to answer this seemingly simple question: in what ways is the relationship between a VM and its hypervisor different from the relationship between two communicating applications?

More generally, there are three broad categories of relationships between the “active” elements of an IT system (by “active” I am excluding configuration, organization, management and security artifacts, like patch, department, ticket and user, respectively, to concentrate instead on the elements that are on the invocation path at runtime). We need to understand if/how/why these categories differ in how we manage them:

  • Deployment relationships: a machine (or VM) in a physical host (or hypervisor), a JEE application in an application server, a business process in a process engine, etc…
  • Infrastructure dependency relationships (other than containment): from an application to the DB that persists its data, from an application tier to web server that fronts it, from a batch job to the scheduler that launches it, etc…
  • Application dependency relationships: from an application to a web service it invokes, from a mash-up to an Atom feed it pulls, from a portal to a remote portlet, etc…

In the old days, the lines between these categories seemed pretty clear and we rarely even thought of them in the same terms. They were created and managed in different ways, by different people, at different times. Some were established as part of a process, others in a more ad-hoc way. Some took place by walking around with a CD, others via a console, others via a centralized repository. Some of these relationships were inventoried in spreadsheets, others on white boards, some in CMDBs, others just in code and in someone’s head. Some involved senior IT staff, others were up to developers and others were left to whoever was manning the controls when stuff broke.

It was a bit like the relationships you have with the taxi that takes you to the airport, the TSA agent who scans you and the pilot who flies you to your destination. You know they are all involved in your travel, but they are very distinct in how you experience and approach them.

It all changes with the Cloud (used as a short hand for virtualization, management automation, on-demand provisioning, 3rd-party hosting, metered usage, etc…). The advent of the hypervisor is the most obvious source of change: relationships that were mostly static become dynamic; also, where you used to manage just the parts (the host and the OS, often even mixed as one), you now manage not just the parts but the relationship between them (the deployment of a VM in a hypervisor). But it’s not just hypervisors. It’s frameworks, APIs, models, protocols, tools. Put them all together and you realize that:

  • the IT resources involved in all three categories of relationships can all be thought of as services being consumed (an “X86+ethernet emulation” service exposed by the hypervisor, a “JEE-compatible platform” service exposed by the application server, an “RDB service” expose by the database, a Web services exposed via SOAP or XML/JSON over HTTP, etc…),
  • they can also be set up as services, by simply sending a request to the API of the service provider,
  • not only can they be set up as services, they are also invoked as such, via well-documented (and often standard) interfaces,
  • they can also all be managed in a similar service-centric way, via performance metrics, SLAs, policies, etc,
  • your orchestration code may have to deal with all three categories, (e.g. an application slowdown might be addressed either by modifying its application dependencies, reconfiguring its infrastructure or initiating a new deployment),
  • the relationships in all these categories now have the potential to cross organization boundaries and involve external providers, possibly with usage-based billing,
  • as a result of all this, your IT automation system really needs a simple, consistent, standard way to handle all these relationships. Automation works best when you’ve simplified and standardize the environment to which it is applied.

If you’re a SOA person, your mental model for this is SOA++ and you pull out your SOA management and governance (config and runtime) tools. If you are in the WS-* obedience of SOA, you go back to WS-Management, try to see what it would take to slap a WSDL on a hypervisor and start dreaming of OVF over MTOM/XOP. If you’re into middleware modeling you might start to have visions of SCA models that extend all the way down to the hardware, or at least of getting SCA and OSGi to ally and conquer the world. If you’re a CMDB person, you may tell yourself that now is the time for the CMDB to do what you’ve been pretending it was doing all along and actually extend all the way into the application. Then you may have that “single source of truth” on which the automation code can reliably work. Or if you see the world through the “Cloud API” goggles, then this “consistent and standard” way to manage relationships at all three layers looks like what your Cloud API of choice will eventually do, as it grows from IaaS to PaaS and SaaS.

Your background may shape your reference model for this unified service-centric approach to IT management, but the bottom line is that we’d all like a nice, clear conceptual model to bridge and unify Cloud (provisioning and containment), application configuration and SOA relationships. A model in which we have services/containers with well-defined operational contracts (and on-demand provisioning interfaces). Consumers/components with well-defined requirements. APIs to connect the two, with predictable results (both in functional and non-functional terms). Policies and SLAs to fine-tune the quality of service. A management framework that monitors these policies and SLAs. A common security infrastructure that gets out of the way. A metering/billing framework that spans all these interactions. All this while keeping out of sight all the resource-specific work needed behind the scene, so that the automation code can look as Zen as a Japanese garden.

It doesn’t mean that there won’t be separations, roles, processes. We may still want to partition the IT management tasks, but we should first have a chance to rejigger what’s in each category. It might, for example, make sense to handle provider relationships in a consistent way whether they are “deployment relationships” (e.g. EC2 or your private IaaS Cloud) or “application dependency relationships” (e.g. SOA, internal or external). On the other hand, some of the relationships currently lumped in the “infrastructure dependency relationships” category because they are “config files stuff” may find different homes depending on whether they remain low-level and resource-specific or they are absorbed in a higher-level platform contract. Any fracture in the management of this overall IT infrastructure should be voluntary, based on legal, financial or human requirements. And not based on protocol, model, security and tool disconnect, on legacy approaches, on myopic metering, that we later rationalize as “the way we’d want things to be anyway because that’s what we are used to”.

In the application configuration management universe, there is a planetary collision scheduled between the hypervisor-centric view of the world (where virtual disk formats wrap themselves in OVF, then something like OVA to address, at least at launch time, application and infrastructure dependency relationships) and the application-model view of the world (SOA, SCA, Microsoft Oslo at least as it was initially defined, various application frameworks…). Microsoft Azure will have an answer, VMWare/Springsouce will have one, Oracle will too (though I can’t talk about it), Amazon might (especially as it keeps adding to its PaaS portfolio) or it might let its ecosystem sort it out, IBM probably has Rational, WebSphere and Tivoli distinguished engineers locked into a room, discussing and over-engineering it at this very minute, etc.

There is a lot at stake, and it would be nice if this was driven (industry-wide or at least within each of the contenders) by a clear understanding of what we are aiming for rather than a race to cobble together partial solutions based on existing control points and products (e.g. the hypervisor-centric party).

[UPDATED 2010/1/25: For an illustration of my statement that "if you’re a SOA person, your mental model for this is SOA++", see Joe McKendrick's "SOA's Seven Greatest Mysteries Unveiled" (bullet #6: "When you get right down to it, cloud is the acquisition or provisioning of reusable services that cross enterprise walls. (...)  They are service oriented architecture, and they rely on SOA-based principles to function.")]

6 Comments

Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Cloud Computing, CMDB, Everything, Governance, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Mgmt integration, Middleware, Modeling, OSGi, SCA, Utility computing, Virtualization, WS-Management

6 Responses to Generalizing the Cloud vs. SOA Governance debate

  1. Stu

    “There is a lot at stake, and it would be nice if this was driven (industry-wide or at least within each of the contenders) by a clear understanding of what we are aiming for rather than a race to cobble together partial solutions based on existing control points and products (e.g. the hypervisor-centric party).”

    Death panels! Pre-Existing Conditions! Socialism! Big Pharma! Wait, wrong debate… Though now I’m thinking through bad jokes about the debate between the “Public Cloud Option” and the “Private Cloud Status Quo”.

    The main challenge, I think, is that despite the enormous hype out there, we really haven’t seen a lot of pressure from the bottom or the top of IT to make the process or cultural changes to drive such drastic changes in service transition & service operations (to use the ITIL terms). Most middle-IT managers have barely heard about cloud computing, or think it’s a sick joke. Though, if the economy remains to suck for another year or two, then this change might be forced….

  2. “IBM probably has Rational, WebSphere and Tivoli distinguished engineers locked into a room, discussing and over-engineering it at this very minute, etc.”

    spat coffee over my keyboard…

    My view is the cloud versus SOA thing is more about people wanting to be seen to do the right thing. I wrote this just over a year ago http://cathcam.wordpress.com/2009/01/11/is-soa-dead/ to address this mob think pattern we so often see in the IT Industry. I genuinely thing it has as much to do with many IT Guys social skills as any technology.

  3. Hello Mr Vambenepe,

    What is OVF over MTOM/XOP? I know a lot but not that!

    Friendly greetings,

    Drs. Albert Spijkers

  4. To Drs. Albert Spijkers:

    MTOM/XOP is the kosher, standard, way to send binary content over SOAP. OVF is a wrapper around a virtual disk, and usually the whole package comes as a zip archive, therefore it’s a candidate for being transported over MTOM/XOP.

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