Using scissors and tape, one can stitch street maps and road maps together to obtain an aggregated map showing how to go from downtown Palo Alto to downtown San Francisco. The equivalent in IT management is to stitch together different model repositories by federating them, as a way to get a complete view of an IT system of interest. As we go about creating the infrastructure for model federation, there is a lot to be learned from the evolution of street maps.
Let’s go back to paper maps for a minute. A map of the Bay Area will tell me what highways to take to go from Palo Alto to SF. But it won’t help me get from a specific house in Palo Alto to the highway and once in SF it won’t help me get from the highway to a specific restaurant. For this, I need to find maps of downtown Palo Alto and downtown SF and somehow stitch the three maps together for an end to end view. Of course all these maps have different orientations, different scales, partial overlap, different legends, etc. Compare this to using Google maps which covers the entire itinerary and allows the user to zoom in and out at will.
Let’s now go back to IT management. In order to make IT systems more adaptable, the level of automation in their management must drastically increase. This requires simplification. Trying to capture all the complexity of a system in one automation point is neither scalable nor maintainable. But one cannot simply wave a wand and make a system simpler. The basic building blocks of IT are not getting simpler: the number of transistors on a chip is going up, the number of lines of code in an application is going up, the number of data items in a customer record is going up. Literal simplification would be going back to mechanical calculators and paper records… What I really mean by simplification is decomposing the system into decision points (or control points) that process information and take action at a certain level of granularity. For example, an “employee provisioning” control point is written in terms of “mail account provisioning” and “payroll addition”, not in terms of “increasing size of a DB table”. That’s simplification. Of course, someone needs to worry about allocating enough space in the database. There is another control point at that lower level of granularity. The challenge in front of us is to find a way to seamlessly integrate the models at these different levels of granularity. Because they are obviously linked. The performance and reliability of the “employee provisioning” service is affected by the performance and reliability of the database. Management services need to be able to navigate across these models. We need to do this in a way inspired by Google Maps, not by stitching paper maps. Let’s use the difference between these two types of maps to explore the requirements of infrastructure for IT models federation.
Right level of granularity
The publishers of a paper map decide, based on space constraints, which streets are shown. With Google Maps, as you zoom in and out smaller streets show up and disappear. Similarly, an IT model should be exposed in a way that allows the consumer to decide what level of granularity is presented.
Paper maps are for people, Google Maps can be used by people and programs. IT models must be exposed in a way that doesn’t assume a human sitting in front of a console is the consumer of the information.
Open to metadata and additional info
To add information to a paper map, you have to retrieve the information, find out where on the map it belongs and manually add it there. Google map lets you overlay any information directly on top of the map (see Housingmaps.com). Similarly, IT model federation requires the ability to link metadata and extra model information about model elements to the representation of the model, even if that information resides outside the model repository.
Google provides documentation for its maps service. It’s not a standard, but at least it’s documented and publicly accessible. Presumably they are not going to sue their users for patent violation. Time will tell whether this is good enough for the mapping world. In the IT management world, this will not be enough. Customers demand real standards to protect their investment, speed up deployment and prevent unneeded integration costs. Vendors need it as protection (however imperfect) against patent threats, as a way to focus their energy on value-added products rather than plumbing and just because smart customers demand it.
I don’t know if Google gets all its mapping information from one source or from several, and I don’t need to know it. As I move North, South, East, West and zoom in and out, it is a seamless experience. The same needs to be true in the way federated models are exposed. The framework through which this takes place should provide seamless integration across sources. And simplify as much as possible discovery of the right source for the information needed.
Support for different metamodels
Not all maps use the same classification and legend. Similarly, not all models repositories use the same meta-model. Two meta-models might have the notion of “owner” of a resource but call it differently and provide different information about the owner. Seamless integration requires support for model bridging.
Federated models repositories need to be efficiently searchable.
Up to date
Paper maps age quickly. Google Maps is more likely (but not guaranteed) to be up to date. Federated models must be as close a representation of the real state of the system as possible.
As you are composing information from different sources, the seamless navigation among these resources needs to be matched by similar seamless integration in the way the access is secured, using security federation.
Note 1: When I talk about navigating “models” in this entry, I am referring to an instance model that describes a system. For example, such a “model” can be a set of applications along with the containers in which they live, the OS these containers run on and the servers that host them. That’s one “model”. If the information is distributed among a set of MBean servers, CMOM, etc, then this is a federated model. I know some people don’t call this a “model” and I am not married to this word. Based on the analogy used in this entry, “system map” and “federated system map” would work just as well.
Note 2: This entry corresponds to the presentation I gave when participating in a panel (which I also moderated) on “Quality of Manageability of Web Services” at the IEEE ICWS 2005 conference in Orlando last week. The other speakers were Dr. Hemant Jain (UW Milwaukee), Dr. Hai Jin (Huazhong University of Science and Technology), Heather Kreger (IBM), Dr. Geng Lin (Cisco). Unfortunately, the presentation was made quite challenging when (1) the microphone stopped working (it was in a large ballroom), (2) a rainstorm had us compete with the sound of thunder, (3) torrential rain started to fall on the roof of our one-story building, turning the room into a resonance box and, to top it off, (4) the power went off completely in the entire hotel leaving me to try to continue talking by the light of the laptop screen and the emergency exit lights…. With all this plus time constraints, I am not sure I did a good job making my point clear. This entry hopefully does a better job than the presentation. The conference was quite interesting. In addition to the panel I also presented a co-authored paper based on an HP Lab project. The paper is titled “Dealing with Scale and Adaptation of Global Web Services Management”. The conference also allowed me to finally meet Steve Loughran face to face. Congrats to Steve and Ed Smith for being awarded the “Best paper” award for “Rethinking the Java SOAP stack“, also known as “the Alpine paper”. When a papers gets a nickname you know it is having an impact…