Category Archives: Grid

YACSOE

Yet another cloud standards organization effort. This one is better than the others because it has the best domain name.

A press release to announce a Wiki. Sure. Whatever. Electrons are cheap.

Cynicism aside, it can’t hurt. But what would be really useful is if all these working groups opened up their mailing list archives and document repositories so that the Wiki can be a launching pad to actual content rather than a set of one-line descriptions of what each group is supposed to work on. With useful direct links to the most recent drafts and lists of issues under consideration. Similar to the home page of a W3C working group, but across groups. Let’s hope this is a first step in that direction.

I am also interested in where they’ll draw the line between Cloud computing and IT management. If such a line remains.

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Filed under Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, Grid, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, W3C

IT automation: the seven roads to management middleware

You can call it a “Cloud operating system”, an “adaptive infrastructure framework” or simply “IT management middleware” (my vote) as you prefer. It’s the software that underpins the automation engine of your Cloud. You can’t have a Cloud without an automation engine, unless you live in a country where IT admins run really fast, never push the wrong button, never plug a cable in the wrong port, can interpret blinking lights at a rate of 9,600 bauds and are very cheap. The automation engine is what technically makes a Cloud. That engine is an application whose business is to know what needs to be done to maintain the IT environment you use in a state that is acceptable to you at any point in time (where you definition of “acceptable” can evolve). Like any application, you want to keep its business logic neatly isolated from the mundane tasks that it relies on. These mundane tasks include things like:

  • collecting events and delivered them to the right place
  • collecting metrics of the different IT elements
  • discovering available resources and accessing them (with or without agents)
  • performing coordinated actions on IT elements
  • maintaining an audit of management actions
  • securing the management interactions
  • managing long-running tasks and processes
  • etc

That’s what management middleware does. It doesn’t automate anything by itself, but it provides an environment in which it is feasible to implement automation. This middleware is useful even if you don’t automate anything, but it often doesn’t get called out in that scenario. On the other hand, automation means capturing more business logic in software which makes it imperative to clearly layer concerns, at which point the IT management middleware can be more clearly identified within the overall IT management infrastructure.

This is happening in many different ways. I can count seven roads to IT management middleware, seven ways in which it is emerging as an identifiable actor in data centers. Each road represents a different history and comes with different assumptions and mindsets. And yet, they go after the same base problem of enabling IT management automation. Here is a quick overview of these seven roads.

Road #1: “these scripts have to grow up”

This road starts from all the scripts common in IT operations and matures them. It’s based on the realization that they are crucial business assets, just like the applications that they support. And that they implement reusable patterns. Alex Honor described it well here. Puppet and Powershell are in this category.

Road #2: “it’s just another integration job”

We’ve been doing computer integration almost since the second piece of software was written. There are plenty of mechanisms available to do so. IT management is just another integration problem, so let’s present it in a way that allows us to use our favorite integration tools on it. That’s the driver behind the use of Web Services for management integration (e.g. WSDM/WS-Management): create interfaces to manageable resources so that existing middleware (mostly J2EE application servers, along with their WS stack) can be used to solve the “enterprise IT management” integration problems in a robust and reliable way. The same logic is behind the current wave of REST-based IT management efforts (see this presentation). REST is a good integration approach, so let’s turn IT resources into RESTful resources so we can apply this generic integration mechanism to enterprise IT management. Different tool, but same logical approach. Which is why they can be easily compared.

Road #3: “top-down”

This is the “high road”, the one most intellectually satisfying and most promising in the long term. But also the one with this highest hurdle off the gate. In this approach, you create a top-down model of your system and you try to mediate management actions through this model. But for this to be practical, you need to hit the sweetspot in many dimensions. You need composable sub-models at a level of granularity that makes them maintainable. You need to force enough uniformity but not so much as to loose all optimizations. You need to decide which of the myriads of configuration variables you include in your model. Because you can’t take the traditional approach of “I’ll model it and display it to my user who can decide what to do with it”. Because the user now is a piece of software and it can’t make a judgment of whether it is ok if parameter foo differs from the desires state or not. This has been worked on for a long time (remember HP’s UDC?) with steady but slow progress. Elastra has some of the most interesting technology there, and a healthy dose of realism and opportunism to make it work.

Think of it as SCA component/composites but not just for software artifacts. Rather, it’s SCA for all IT elements, with wires and policies that are just rich enough to allow meaningful optimization but not too rich to be unmanageable. If you can pull off such model-driven IT management middleware, then the automation code almost writes itself on top of it.

Road #4: “management integration is another feature of our management console”

That was the road followed by the Big Four. Buy enough of their products (CMDBs, network management console, operations console, service desk, etc…) and you’ll get APIs that allow you to leverage their discovery, collection, eventing and process management features. So you can write your automation on top. At least on paper. In reality, these APIs are too inconsistent and import/export-oriented to really support SOA-style (or REST-style) integration, even though they usually have a SOAP and/or plain HTTP option available. It’s a challenge just to get point to point integration between these products, even more a true set of management services that can be orchestrated. These vendors know it and rather than turning their product suites into a real SOI (Service Oriented Infrastructure) they have decided to build/buy automation engines on the side that can be hard-wired with the existing IT management products. That’s your IT management middleware but it comes bundled with the automation engine rather than as an independent layer.

Road #5: “management integration is another feature of our hypervisor”

If the virtual machine (in the x86 virtualization sense of the term, a.k.a. a fake machine) is the basic building block of your IT infrastructure then hypervisor interfaces to manipulate these VMs are pretty much all you need in terms of middleware to build data center automation on top, right? Are we done then? Not really, since there is a lot more to an application than the VMs on which it runs. Still, hypervisors bring the potential of automation to what used to be a hardware domain and as such play a big part in the composition of the IT management middleware of modern data centers.

Road #6: “make it all the same”

From what I understand about how Yahoo, Google (see section 2.1 “System Health Infrastructure”), Microsoft (see the “device manager” and “collection service” parts of Autopilot) and others run their Web applications, they have put a lot of work in that management middleware and have made simplicity a key design goal for it. To that end, they are  willing to accept drastic limitations at both ends of the IT infrastructure chain: at the bottom, they actively limit the heterogeneity of resources in the data center. At the top, they limit the capabilities exposed to the business applications. In an extreme scenario, all servers are the same and all the business applications are written to a few execution/persistence/communication environments (think GAE SDK as an example). Even if you only approximate this ideal, it’s a dramatic simplification that makes your IT management middleware much simpler and thinner.

Road #7: “it’s the Grid”

The Grid computing and HPC (High Performance Computing) communities have long been active in this area. There is a lot of relevant expertise in all the Grid work, but we also need to understand the difference between IT management middleware and the Grid infrastructure as defined by OGSI. OGSI defines a virtualization layer on which to build applications. It doesn’t define how to deploy, manage and configure the physical datacenter infrastructure that allows OGSI interfaces to be exposed to consumers. With regards to HPC, we also need to keep in mind that the profile of the applications is very different from your typical enterprise application (especially the user-driven apps as opposed to batch jobs). In HPC environments, CPUs can run at full capacity for days and new requests just go in a queue. The Web applications of your typical enterprise don’t have this luxury and usually need spare capacity.

All these approaches can complement each other and I am not trying to pin each product/vendor to just one approach. In this post (motivated by this podcast), Stu Charlton discusses the overlap and differences between some of these approaches. Rather than a taxonomy of products, this list of seven roads to IT management middleware is simply a cultural history, a reading guide to understand the background, vocabulary and assumptions of the different solutions. This list cuts across the declarative versus procedural debate (#1 is clearly procedural, #3 is clearly declarative, the others could go either way).

[UPDATED 2009/6/23: Stu has a somewhat related (similary structured but much more entertainingly writen) list of Cloud Computing approaches. I feel good that I have one more item in my list than him.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Cloud Computing, Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Middleware, Utility computing

Cloud API: what’s cooking between IBM and VMWare?

In the previous entry, I declared that I had a “guess as to why [the DMTF Cloud] incubator was created without a submission”, that I may later reveal. Well here it is: VMWare and IBM are negotiating a joint Cloud API submission to DMTF and need more time before they can submit it.

This is 100% speculation on my part. It’s not even based on rumors or leaks. I made it up. Here are the data points that influenced me. You decide what they’re worth.

  • VMWare has at numerous time announced (comments here and here) that they would submit a vCloud API to DMTF in the first half of 2009.
  • In the transcript of this VMWare webcast we learn that an important part of the vCloud API is its adoption of REST as part of a move towards more abstraction and simplicity (“this is not simply proxy-ing of VIM APIs”).
  • IBM, meanwhile, has been trying to get a SOAP-based IT management framework for a while. Unsuccessfully so far. WSDM was a first failed attempt. The WS-Management/WSDM reconciliation was another one (I was in the same boat on both of these). The WS-RA working group at W3C (where the ashes of WS-RT are smoldering) could be where the third attempt springs from. But IBM is currently very quiet about their plans (compared to all the conference talks, PowerPoint slides and white papers that that heralded the previous two attempts). They obviously haven’t given up, but they are planning the next move. And the emergence of Cloud computing in the meantime is redefining the IT automation landscape in a way that they will make sure to incorporate in their updated standards plans.
  • Then comes the DMTF Cloud incubator of which the co-chairs are from VMWare and IBM (“interim” co-chairs in theory, but we know how these things go). Which seems to imply an agreement around a proposal (this is what the incubator process is explicitly designed for: “allow vendors aligned with a certain proposal to move forward and produce an interoperability specification”). But there is no associated specification submission, which suggest that the agreed-upon proposal is still being negotiated.

VMWare has a lot of momentum in a virtualization-focused view of IT automation (the predominant view right now, though I am not sure it will always be) and IBM sees them as the right partner for their third attempt (HP was the main partner in the first, Microsoft in the second). VMWare knows that they are going against Microsoft and they need IBM’s strength to control the standard. This could justify an alliance.

It seems pretty clear that VMWare has an API specification already (they supposedly even gave it to partners). It is also pretty clear that IBM would not agree to it in a wholesale way. For technical and pride reasons. They did it for OVF because it is a narrow specification, but a more comprehensive Cloud API would touch on a lot of aspects where IBM has set ideas and existing products. Here are some of the aspects that may be in contention.

REST versus WS-* – Yes, that old rathole. Having just moved to REST, the VMWare folks probably don’t feel like turning around. IBM has invested a lot in a WS-* approach over the years. It doesn’t mean that they won’t go with the REST approach, but it would take them some time to get over it. Lots of fellows and distinguished engineers would need to be convinced. There are some very REST-friendly parts in IBM (in Rational, in WebSphere) but Tivoli has seemed a lot less so to me. The worst outcome is if they offer both options. If you see this (or if you see XPath/XQuery expressions embedded inside URLs or HTTP headers), run for the escape hatches.

While REST versus WS-* is an easy one to grab on, I don’t think it’s the most important issue. Both parties are smart enough to realize it’s not that critical (it’s the model, not the protocol, that matters).

CBE/WEF – IBM has been trying to get a standard stamp on its Common Base Event format (CBE) forever. When they did (as WEF, the WSDM Event Format) it was in a simplified form (by yours truly, among others) and part of a standard that wasn’t widely adopted. But it’s still there in Tivoli and you can expect it to resurface in some form in their next proposal.

Software packaging – I am not sure what’s up with SDD, but whether it’s this specification or something else I would expect that IBM would have a lot to say about software packaging and patching. A lot more than VMWare probably cares about. Expect IBM’s fingerprints all over that part.

Security – I have criticized IBM many times for the “security considerations” boilerplate that they stick on every specification. But this in an area in which it actually make sense to have a very focused security analysis, something that IBM could do a lot better than VMWare I suspect.

ITSM / ITIL – In addition to the technical aspect of IT management operations, there are plenty of process and human aspects. Many areas of ITSM are applicable (e.g. I have written about the role of service catalogs, or you can think about the link to CMDBf). IBM has a lot more exposure there than VMWare.

Grid – IBM’s insistence to align Grid computing and IT management is one of the things that weighted WSDM down. Will they repeat this? In a way, Cloud computing *is* that junction of IT management and Grid that they were after with WSRF. But how much of the existing GGF Grid infrastructure are they going to try to accommodate? I don’t think they’ll be too rigid on this, but it’s worth watching.

Seeing how the topics above are handled in the VMWare/IBM proposal (if such a proposal ever materializes) will tell the alert readers a lot about the balance of power between VMWare and IBM.

As a side note, there are very smart people in the EMC CTO office (starting with the CTO himself and my friend Tom Maguire) who came from IBM and are veterans of the WSDM/WSRF/OGSI efforts. These people could play an interesting role in the IBM/VMWare relationship if the corporate arrangement between EMC and VMWare allows it (my guess is it doesn’t). Another interesting side note is to ask what Microsoft would do if indeed VMWare and IBM were dancing together on this. Microsoft is listed in the members of the DMTF Cloud incubator, but I notice a certain detachment in this post from Steve Martin. For now at least.

Did I mention that this is all pure speculation on my part? We’ll see what happens. Hopefully it’s at least entertaining. And even if I am wrong, the questions raised (around the links between previous IT management efforts and the new wave of Cloud standards) are relevant anyway. I am still in “lessons learned” mode on this.

[UPDATED 2009/5/5: Here is a first-hand source for the data point that VMWare plans to submit the vCloud API (rather than second-hand reports from reporters): Winsont Bumpus (VMWare's Director of Standards Architecture) says that "VMware announced its intention to submit its key elements of the vCloud API to an existing standards organization for the basis of developing an industry standard".]

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Filed under Automation, Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, OVF, SOAP, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware

A pulp view of Cloud computing politics

As promised, here are some more thoughts on the creation by DMTF of an incubator for Cloud standards. The first part of this entry asks whether DMTF will play nicely with the other kids in the playground. The second part examines the choice of the “incubator” process in DMTF for this work.

Sharing the sandbox with the other kids

In other words, will the DMTF seek collaboration with other standards bodies, as well as less-structured organizations (the different Cloud forums and interest groups out there) and other communities (e.g. open source projects). The short answer is “no”, for reasons explained below.

The main reason is that companies don’t have the same level of influence in all organizations. Unless you’re IBM, who goes in force pretty much everywhere, you place your bets. If you are very influential in organization A but not in B, then the choice of whether a given piece of work happens in A or B decides the amount of influence you’ll have on it. That’s very concrete. When companies see it that way, the public-facing discussions about the “core competencies” of the different organizations is just hand-waving that has little actual weight in the decision. Just like plaintiffs pick friendly jurisdictions to press charge (e.g. East Texas for patent holders), companies try to choose the standard organization they want the game to be played in. As a result, companies influential in the DMTF want the DMTF to do the work and companies influential in other organizations would rather have the other organization. Since by definition those influential companies make the will of the organizations, you see organizations always trying to grow to cover more ground. For example, VMWare has invested quite a lot in DMTF. I don’t know if they are even members of OGF (at least they are not organizational members) so it makes a huge difference to them. Sure they could just as well ramp up in OGF. But at a cost.

That’s a general rule that apply to DMTF like others. But collaboration is especially hard for DMTF because it is on the “opaque” side of the openess scale (e.g. compare it to OASIS, W3C and OGF which have large amounts of publicly-accessible working documents and mailing list archives). It’s hard to collaborate if the others can’t even see what you’re doing.

But, you may ask, doesn’t the Cloud incubator charter list “Work register(s) with appropriate alliance partners” as a deliverable, and aren’t “work registers” what DMTF calls its collaboration agreements with other organizations? Surely they are taking this collaboration to heart, aren’t they? Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a work register in place between DMTF and the OASIS WSDM technical committee which said things like “OASIS web service standardization for resource sharing and provisioning will be cross-leveraged in DMTF’s CIM and WBEM standards” and “recommendations related to management of and management using web services will be submitted to OASIS”. Then Microsoft submitted WS-Management, a replacement for WSDM, to DMTF and DMTF used the work register as a doormat.

Don’t get me wrong though. I do believe that Cloud standards are closely related to IT management automation and that the DMTF has a central role to play there. I am not arguing against DMTF’s attempt to tackle this. I am just doing a reality check on the prospect of open and meaningful collaboration with other organizations.

OGF is not standing still and has also staked its claim to the Cloud (also focusing on the IaaS form of Cloud computing): it’s called OCCI for Open Cloud Computing Interface and will share its documents here. OGF and DMTF have long had a work register too (it includes an eerily familiar sounding sentence, “Grid technology will be cross-leveraged in the DMTF’s CIM and WBEM standards”). Looks like it is going to endure its first stress test.

As for the less structured Cloud gatherings (like CCIF), they’ll be welcome as long as they play the cheerleader role (“If this group forms a Cloud trade association, I can see us establishing an alliance with the DMTF to coordinate the messaging and driving adoption of the DMTF standards”) or are happy providing feedback into a black hole (“DMTF already has a process for providing feedback: http://www.dmtf.org/standards/feedback/ so no additional legal agreements need be made for community members to provide their input”). These are from Mark Carlson, the DMTF VP of Alliances, in a thread about the incubator announcement on the CCIF mailing list. BTW, Mark is a very fair-minded person and an ardent promoter of collaboration (disclosure: he once gave me a ride in a cool Volvo convertible to the Martha’s Vineyard airport so I could catch my puddle-jumper back to Boston, so I owe him). It’s not him personally, it’s the DMTF that is so tightfisted.

The use of the “incubator” process

This second part is for standards junkies and other process wonks who run their family dinners by Robert’s rules of order. Normal people should feel free to move on.

I am not at all surprised to see the incubator process being used here, but I am surprised to see it used in the absence of a submitted specification. I expected VMWare to submit a vCloud API document to this group. What’s a rubber stamp for if you don’t have a piece of paper to stamp with it?

I have my guess as to why this incubator was created without a submission, but that’s a topic for a future post (a good soap opera writer knows to pace the drama).

In any case, this leaves us in an interesting situation. The incubator process document (DSP 4008) itself says that “the purpose of this is to allow vendors aligned with a certain proposal to move forward and produce an interoperability specification without being blocked by those who would prefer a different proposal”. What’s the “proposal” that members of this incubator align with? That Cloud computing is important? Not something that too many people would dispute at this time.

This has interesting repercussions from a process standpoint. The incubator process pushes you towards an informational specification that is then sent to a new working group for quick ratification. The quick ratification is, in effect, the reward for doing the work in the incubator rather than in private. But this Cloud incubator is currently chartered to produce proposed changes to OVF and other DMTF standard (rather than a new specification). Say it does that, what happens to the proposed changes then? Presumably they are sent to the working groups that own the original specifications, but what directives do these groups get from the board? Are they expected to roll over and alter their specifications as demanded by the Cloud incubator? Or do these changes come as comments like any other, for the groups to handle however they sees fit?

Take a concrete example. Oracle, BMC, CA and Fujitsu are very involved in the DMTF CMDBf working group but not (that I can see) in the incubator. If the Cloud incubator comes up with changes needed in CMDBf for Cloud usage, are these companies supposed to accept the changes even if they are disruptive to the original goals of the CMDBf specification? Same goes for WS-Management and even OVF. It’s one thing for an incubator to produce its own specification, it is another entirely to go and try to change someone else’s work. Presumably this wouldn’t stand (or would it?).

The lack of a submission to this incubator may end up creating a lot of argument about the interpretation of DSP 4008. For one thing, the DSP is not precise about when a submission to an incubator can take place. Since an incubator is meant to assemble people who agree with a given proposal, you’d expect that the proposal would be there at the start (so people can self-select and only join if they buy into it). But this is not explicit in the process.

The more Cloud API standardization unfolds, the more it looks like the previous attempt.

[UPDATED 2009/5/5: I just saw that Winston Bumpus has been blogging recently on the VMWare exec blog. Hopefully he will soon have his own feed for those of us interested in Cloud standards, an area in which he is a major actor. In this entry he describes his view of the DMTF incubator process. It doesn't really align with my reading of the incubator process document though. Winston sees it as "a place for ideas to be developed or incubate before specifications are created", while I see the process as geared towards work that starts from an existing submission. In any case, what really matters is less what the process says than how it is used, and so far it seems that it is being used as Winston describes.]

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Filed under Cloud Computing, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Standards, Utility computing, VMware

OVF 1.0 and beyond

OVF 1.0 just got released as a DMTF standard. Here is the specification and its companion white paper. After a quick scan I didn’t see any major change from the submitted version, which is consistent with the content of the “preliminary standard” from last year.

The interesting question is what comes next, especially with regards to VMWare’s vCloud. The VMWare press release stated that “as one of the original authors of the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) standard now released from the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), VMware will build upon that work by submitting a draft of its VMware vCloud API to enable consistent mobility, provisioning, management, and service assurance of applications running in internal and external clouds” and Drue Reeves at the Burton group commented on this (Drue, we’re still waiting for part II). I see no reason to believe that VMWare is going to stop playing by the Microsoft playbook in DMTF as it appears to be quite successful so far (I’ll pat myself in the back for predicting over a year ago that “OVF might only be the beginning” for VMWare at DMTF).

This results in what looks like a landgrab from DMTF in Cloud standards. Meanwhile, in Washington DC yesterday, the Strategies and Technologies for Cloud Computing Interoperability (SATCCI) workshop took place. At this point all I know about it is the report from Reuven Cohen that I just read (hopefully Stu, Krishna and other bloggers who participated will provide additional perspectives). From Reuven’s report, Winston Bumpus (Director of Standards Architecture at VMware and President of the DMTF) described OVF as “an ideal cloud migration and deployment package”. Which may be true but is a pretty recent repurposing (the spec and the white paper don’t even mention this application). And while the DMTF is going full speed ahead on this, Reuven reports that “Craig Lee, President of the Open Grid Forum suggested that we need to take more time to examine the overlap between various standards groups, mapping the opportunities for collaboration”. Sure thing. The old timers might remember that when the DMTF decides to run with Microsoft’s WS-Management it wasn’t just OASIS (where WSDM was created) that eventually got hosed but also OGF (then called GGF) which relied on the WSRF/WSDM stack. At the time too there were discussions to identify and reconcile the overlap, for all the good they did (disclosure: I have some history there).

We’ve seen this in the WS-* game before. At the end it’s not so much a matter of what the standards bodies do (and even less of what they say), it’s a matter of what the big players do and where they choose to take their marbles. To the extent that you can separate the two, which becomes tricky in the case of vendor-run bodies like WS-I and DMTF. As I have written before, “at the end, it comes down to what [you think] a standard should be”.

[UPDATED 2009/3/26: Stu has now written a report on the SATCCI meeting.]

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Filed under Cloud Computing, Conference, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, OVF, Portability, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware, WS-Management

The datacenter as a programmable entity

This is an exciting time for those who want to shrink the computer. They are having a field day playing with devices powered by Android, the iPhone’s Cocoa, Palm’s new WebOS, Windows Mobile, JavaFX (maybe one day) and, to a lesser extent, the Blackberry.

But times are good too for those who want to go the other way and program larger things rather than smaller ones. If you are interested in thinking about datacenters as a programmable entity, you are in luck: for these long plane trips when you run out of battery, bring a printout of the proceedings of the research meeting organized last year in Cambridge by Microsoft and HP Labs, titled “The Rise and Rise of the Declarative Datacentre”. When you’re back on-line go check the presentations on the site.

And if you liked Paul Anderson’s “Programming the Data Centre” presentation at the Cambridge meeting, you can also read his “Programming the Virtual Infrastructure” slides from LISA 08. More LISA 08 presentations here.

I got the link to Paul Anderson’s second presentation (and maybe also the first one, some time ago) from Steve Loughran, who also adds a few comments, starting with the debate between the declarative and procedural approaches. This question has plenty of down-the-road implications. There is a lot to like about the declarative approach in terms of composition, manageability and more generally as a framework to manage complexity via encapsulation.

A simple analogy for this debate is to think about driving directions. The declarative approach is for me to give you a map with a circle on it showing where my house is and let you find your way. It’s more work for you but it’s also more resilient. The procedural approach is for me to give you a set of turn-by-turn directions, based on where you are coming from. If you miss one turn or if one road happens to be blocked at the time, then you’re in trouble.

That being said, there are enough powerful and useful PowerShell or Puppet scripts out there to give you a pause before discarding procedural approaches. While the declarative (aka “desired state”, “policy-driven” and sometimes “model-based”) approach looks a lot more elegant, at this point in time the real work usually gets done via scripts, deployment procedures or the likes.

In additin to academia, the competition between these approaches is playing out right now between all the companies and products that want to help you automate and manage your cloud deployments (public and/or private): for example, Rightscale scripts (custom scripts and Righscripts, see here and here) versus the more declarative ECML/EDML documents from Elastra. Or the very declarative approach taken by SmartFrog.

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Filed under Automation, Cloud Computing, Conference, Desired State, Everything, Grid, Implementation, Research, Tech, Utility computing

Cloud ontology: to boldly go where ITIL, Grid and SOA have gone before

I wasn’t at the recent Cloud interop meeting in Mountain View, but based on blog reports from those who were (Stu, James and Bob) a key takeaway is that we need a “Cloud taxonomy”.

As John points out, there are plenty of existing proposals. The SPI taxonomy (SaaS/PaaS/IaaS), the SADIST-PIMP taxonomy (Storage, App, DB, Info, Security, Test, Platform, Integration, Management, Process – which I took the liberty to re-order) and the UCSB/IBM “Toward a Unified Ontology of Cloud Computing” paper.

Is it a matter of picking one of these? And if we do, how are we better of?

Let’s look at some related domains that are a bit more mature to see how they handled this and what benefits they got out of it. The three most relevant comparison I can come up with are ITSM, Grid Computing and SOA.

ITSM has ITIL, a key part of which is its glossary which provides value in and of itself, even if you don’t explicitly use the rest of the framework. Is this what the Cloud taxonomy should aim for? I contend that the Cloud field is not nearly mature enough to aim for this.

Grid Computing has OGSA, which started as a white paper containing a service model (section 6.1). It was later expanded (within GGF, a standards organization specific to Grid Computing) into this document and was used as a basis for many standard technical specification. Is the goal of the Cloud Ontology to follow a similar path? OGSA was more than a glossary though, it included a vision, goals and architectural recommendations. Sure you can start with the glossary, but I am willing to bet that a stand-alone glossary would change significantly if/when a Cloud Computing architecture is defined based on it. And there isn’t today, for Cloud Computing, the singularity of vision that the Globus gang brought to Grid Computing and that is necessary for an architecture.

SOA was never as structured. There was an early attempt, called the Web Services Architecture at W3C. Like OGSA, this is a high level architecture, not just a taxonomy. In any case, the WSA work didn’t really end up having much of an influence in SOA (or even Web services) practice. Then came the SOA Reference Model, an OASIS standard. Of the three (ITIL, OGSA, SOA-RM) this is what I think is closest to what a Cloud taxonomy should aim for at this point. An ITIL-like glossary would be too brittle (if it has any depth) and it’s too early for an OGSA-like architecture.

Again, I was not at the meeting and only know what was blogged about. This is not a criticism of the proposal, just some thoughts about how it might compare to similar efforts.

Side note #1: I prevented myself from going off about the difference between a controlled vocabulary, a glossary, a taxonomy and an ontology. These differences are not germane to the present discussion. And I am not wearing my pedantic hat today (for once). If some want to call a wedding cake an ontology, who am I to stop them?

Side note #2: Speaking of trying to be less pedantic in 2009, this entry represents my capitulation: I finally created a “Cloud Computing” category in this blog, rather than my prefered designation, “Utility Computing”, which I have been using so far. A small step for me, a microscopic step for humanity.

[UPDATED 2009/1/28: We're getting there (fast!). Via John, this updated taxonomy graph from Chris Hoff is going in the right direction, I think. Next step: more text describing the relationships between the boxes to have more of a model.]

[UPDATED 2009/1/30: If you think that any single-vendor taxonomy will be suspicious, that a multi-vendor taxonomy won't happen and that customers are too busy to do it, then you may be asking "aren't analysts supposed to do this?". Help may be on the way.]

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Filed under Cloud Computing, Everything, Grid, ITIL, Modeling, Standards, Utility computing

State modeling: party over, go home now.

Is the Northwest weather softening Savas? Is it the food? I just read the “how do I model state? let me count the ways” article that he, Ian Foster, Paul Watson and Mark McKeown published in the September 2008 Communications of the ACM. In the article, the authors attempt to recap (and advance?) the 5 years-old debate between the WSRF, HTTP-only and “no convention” (e.g. Zen-SOAP as used in CMIS) approaches to interacting with stateful resources over the Web. If you were anywhere near OGF (then called GGF) around 2003, you know what I am talking about. And you remember how heated the arguments were. There was something about this subject (or maybe it was the people involved) that consistently generated great showmanship (and some bruised egos) in the debates.

With that in mind, reading this article felt like watching a Chinese opera adaptation of Apocalypse Now. Or listening to Heavy Metal with the base dialed down to zero.

This would have been a very useful article to have in 2003. At the time, it would have clearly framed the question, shown the overwhelming similarities and small differences between the approaches and allowed people to see that there wasn’t actually that much to debate at a fundamental level, but mainly practical considerations to juggle. It may have prevented the quasi-religious war that erupted.

It took a while, but that period of religious war is well over now and we are firmly in the “I’ve heard you, you’ve heard me, do what you want I’ll do what I want” stage. WSRF people are still doing WSRF (or equivalent like WSRT). REST people are HTTPing right and left. They don’t meet much but when they do they don’t bump shoulders anymore. And in a way this article is a good illustration of this much more dispassionate environment.

So why am I complaining? Because these fights were fun! At least from a spectator’s point of view, but I suspect that Savas and the gang had plenty of fun too (not sure about the other side who, at least at first, expected “why are you throwing away OGSI” kind of pushback rather than this more radical-sounding response).

I printed this ACM article a little bit on the off chance that it would provide some new way to look at the problem, one that hadn’t emerged in the past five years. But in retrospect I think my true motivation was that I expected it to capture, like in the days, some of the entertainment value of a radio talk show. Instead, the excitement level in this article is in the league of NPR’s StarDate astronomy report.

I feel cheated. I haven’t learned anything new and I haven’t been entertained either. This article feels like the end of the party, when the bottles are being put away, the lights are flickering and bad music is playing to nudge the last guests out of the house.

Now that I am grumpy, I guess I have to point out a few highly questionable statements in the article in retribution:

“Fortunately, there seems to be industry support for an integration of the WS-Transfer and WS-RF approaches, based on a WS-Transfer substrate – the WS-ResourceTransfer specification.” See the last two paragraphs of this entry.

“Support for WS-Addressing has since become quasi-universal, and now few find its use objectionable.” Time to pull out the Victor Hugo quote I have been saving for a special occasion: “Et s’il n’en reste qu’un, je serai celui-là“. But frankly I very much doubt that I am the only one still shaking his head sadly in contemplation of WS-Addressing.

In fact, Stu agrees with me on this (see item #6a in his list of disagreements with the article). Looks like he too was made a bit grumpy by the article, for different reasons.

There is one more debatable choice in this article, and it’s more serious than the two above. It introduces an arbitrary difference between the WS-Transfer and HTTP approaches. Compare the third lines of tables 4 and 5 (retrieving the status of a specific job). According to the article, WS-Transfer gives you the choice between two options:

  • retrieve the entire state of the job and fish for the status field inside of it (the approach in table 4), or
  • “a new operation (for example GetEPRtoPart) is defined that requests that a new state representation be exposed, through a different EPR, representing parts of the original state representation”

The way it works for HTTP, on the other hand is through an “application-specific convention” (in this example, appending “/status” at the end of the URL).

Except there is no reason why this third approach cannot be used in the WS-Transfer scenario. The article says that  “in WS-Transfer, the same effect [accessing a subset of the resource state] can be achieved, but only by defining an auxiliary operation that returns an EPR to a desired subset”. What, pray tell, prevents a WS-Transfer implementation from having an “application-specific convention” just like the HTTP kids next door? It can be at the URL level (e.g. adding “/status”). Or at the EPR reference parameter level. The latter is actually exactly what WS-Management does, using the wsman:SelectorSet header. It does not, as the article claims, define a special operation to get these fine-grained EPR. It uses an application convention to do so (which, in the case of WS-Management, happens to be “whatever Windows implements”, but that’s a different debate).

By the way, this question of “convention over specification” is where I don’t quite follow Stu (see his point #4 in his aforementioned list of disagreements) and his invocation of the “hypermedia constraint”. I don’t see how any of the four specifications he calls to the rescue (HTML form submission, XForms submission options, Atompub service documents and URI templates) would prevent me from having to have an application-specific agreement about how to retrieve the state (as opposed to another subset of the representation, like the creation date). URI templates, for example, might support how this agreement is expressed but it doesn’t replace it.

The article does a pretty good job at showing how close the alternatives are (even though, as illustrated above, it still portrays them as more different than they need to be). I am not saying it’s a bad article for the Communications of the ACM. I am saying that the Communications of the ACM is a bad medium for one of the few nerdy debates that have genuine entertainment value.

[UPDATED 2008/10/2: Jim Webber, Savas Parastatidis and Ian Robinson provide a full REST example for InfoQ: how to GET a cup of coffee. Includes state considerations discussed in the ACM article.]

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Filed under Articles, Everything, Grid, People, REST, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, Tech, WS-Management, WS-ResourceTransfer, WS-Transfer

Grid cloudification #2

On a recent drive to work, I heard another echo of the Grid world in the context of Cloud computing: I was listening to the Cloud Cafe podcast with Enomaly’s Reuven Cohen when he mentioned (near the 27 minute mark) that they use Ganglia for monitoring their environment.

I am familiar with Ganglia from some HP Labs projects around PlanetLab that I was involved in. Ganglia is used quite a lot for monitoring in the PlanetLab environment.

So Ganglia is one. Is any other project/tool/product coming from the Grid/HPC efforts of the last 10 years now used by the cool Cloud kids? Globus? SmartFrog? Platform? Condor? Others?

A few seconds later in the podcast, Reuven provides this juicy quote: “is the cloud an excuse for bad code”. But that’s a topic for another post.

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Filed under Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Utility computing

Grid cloudification

Grid computing is moulting and, to no surprise, the new skin has “cloud” written all over it.

That’s one way to interpret the announcement today that HP, Intel and Yahoo are going to launch a compute cloud. Seeing Intel and HP work together on this is no surprise. Back at HP I had some involvement with the collaboration between HP Labs and Intel on PlanetLab.

I have only read the Gigaom article and Steve’s, so this post is not an analysis of the announcement. Just a few questions that come to mind. They can be most concisely expressed by trying to understand the difference with Amazon’s EC2. The quotes below all come from the Gigaom article.

“six physical locations” -> Amazon has availability zones, including the choice of three geographies.

“between 1,000 and 4,000 mostly Intel cores” -> According to this well-publicized story, Amazon can deliver 5,000 servers (each linked to at least one physical core) to one customer without breaking a sweat.

“We want, unlike other partnerships including Google and IBM’s where the lower-level stacks are not provided in a open manner to the world, open access to all levels of the hardware” -> The quote seems to conveniently avoid comparison with EC2 which provides a much lower abstraction level: virtual machines with mountable raw block storage devices. How much lower can you go without handing out access cards to physically walk into the datacenter? Access to the BMC on the motherboard? Access to some internal bus? Remote-controlled little robots that will slide cards in and out of a chassis?

“researchers will be able to access the cloud through a proposal process later this year” -> Ec2 offers pay-as-you go, which tends to be a good driver for people to use the infrastructure efficiently. And of course someone can always give researchers a grant in the form of EC2 rent money.

Just to be clear, I am not belittling the announcement because for one thing I haven’t read much about it and for another I probably know many of the HP Labs people involved and they are part of the “mucho sapiens” branch of “homo sapiens”. I know they wouldn’t bother putting this out if it was nothing more than giving researchers some free EC2 time.

But these are the questions I’ll be trying to answer for myself as I read more about this project.

[UPDATED 2008/9/19: Russ Daniels (who was HP Software CTO when I was at HP and is now CTO of Cloud Services Strategy) comments on the announcement.]

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Filed under Amazon, Everything, Grid, HP, Manageability, Tech, Utility computing, Virtualization, Yahoo

WS Resource Access at W3C: the good, the bad and the ugly

As far as I know, the W3C is still reviewing the proposal that was made to them to create a new working group to standardize WS-Transfer, WS-ResourceTransfer, WS-Enumeration and WS-MetadataExchange. The suggested name, “Web Services Resource Access Working Group” or WS-RAWG is likely, if it sticks, to end up being shortened to WS-RAW. Which is a bit more cruel than needed. I’d say it’s simply half-baked.

There are many aspects to the specifications and features covered by the proposal. Some goodness, some badness and some ugliness. This post analyzes the good, points at the bad and hints at the ugly. Like your average family-oriented summer movie.

The good

The specifications proposed for W3C standardization describe a way to provide some generally useful features for SOAP messages. Some SOAP messages can get very long. In some cases, I know ahead of time what portion of the long messages promised by the contract (e.g. WSDL) I want. Wouldn’t it be nice, as an optimization, to let the message sender know about this so they can, if they are able to, filter down the message to just the part I want? Alternatively, maybe I do want the full response but I can’t consume it as one big message so I would like to get it in chunks.

You’ll notice that the paragraph above says nothing about “resources”. We are just talking about messaging features for SOAP messages. There are precedents for this. WS-Security can be used to encrypt a message. Any message. WS-ReliableMessaging can be used to ensure delivery of a message. Any message. These “quality of service” specifications are mostly orthogonal to the message content.

WS-RT and WS-Enumeration provide a solution to the “message filtering” and “message chunking”, respectively. But they only address them in the context of a GET-like operation. They can’t be layered on top of any SOAP message. How useful would WS-Security and WS-ReliableMessaging be if they had such a restriction?

If W3C takes on part of the work listed in the proposal, I hope they’ll do so in a way that expends the utility of these features to all SOAP messages.

And just like WS-Security and WS-ReliableMessaging, these features should be provided in a way that leverages the SOAP processing model. Such that I can judiciously use the soap:mustUnderstand header to not break existing services. If I’d like the message to be paired down but I can handle the complete message if need be, I’ll set this attribute to false. If I can’t handle the full message, I’ll set the attribute to true and I’ll get an error if the other party doesn’t understand this extension. At which point I can pick an alternative way to get the task accomplished. Sounds pretty basic but it’s amazing how often this important feature of SOAP (which heralds from and extends XML’s must-ignore semantics) is neglected and obstructed by designers of SOAP messages.

And then there is WS-MetadataExchange. While I am not a huge fan of this specification, I agree with the need for a simple, reliable way to retrieve different types of metadata for an endpoint.

So that’s the (potential) good. A flexible and generally useful way to pair-down long SOAP messages, to chunk them and to retrieve metadata for SOAP endpoints.

The bad

The bad is the whole “resource access” spin. It is not actually intrinsically bad. There are scenarios where such a pattern actually fits. But the way that pattern is being addressed by WS-RT and friends is overly generalized and overly XML-centric. By the latter I mean that it takes XML from an agreed-upon on-the-wire interchange format to an implicit metamodel (e.g. it assumes not just that you agree to exchange XML-formated data but that your model and your business logic are organized and implemented around an XML representation of the domain, which is a much more constraining requirement). I could go on and on about this, especially the use of XPath in the PUT operation. In fact I did go on and on with it, but I spun that off as a separate entry.

In the context of the W3C proposal at hand, this is bad because it burdens the generally useful features (see the “good” section above) with an unneeded and limiting formalism. Not to mention the fact that W3C kind of already has its resource access mechanism, but I’ll leave that aspect of the question to Mark and various bloggers (see a short list of relevant posts at the end of this entry).

The resource access part might be worth doing (one more time), but probably not in the same group as things like metadata discovery, message filtering and message chunking, which are not specific to “resource access” situations. And if someone is going to do this again, rather than repeating the not too useful approaches of the past, it may be good to consider alternatives.

The ugly

That’s the politics around this whole deal. There is, as you would expect, a lot more to it than meets the eye. The underlying drivers for all this have little to do with REST/WS or other architecture considerations. They have a lot to do with control. But that’s a topic for another post (maybe) when more of it can be publicly discussed.

A lot of what I describe in this post was already explained in the WS-ManagementHammer post from a couple of months ago. But that was before the W3C proposal and before WS-MetadataExchange was dragged into the deal. So I thought it might be useful to put the analysis in the context of that proposal. And BTW, this is a personal opinion, not an Oracle position (which is true in general for everything on this blog but is worth repeating specifically for this post).

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Filed under Everything, Grid, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Modeling, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, Tech, W3C, WS-Management, WS-ResourceTransfer, WS-Transfer, XMLFrag, XPath

Moving towards utility/cloud computing standards?

This Forbes article (via John) channels 3Tera’s Bert Armijo’s call for standardization of utility computing. He calls it “Open Cloud” and it would “allow a company’s IT systems to be shared between different cloud computing services and moved freely between them“. Bert talks a bit more about it on his blog and, while he doesn’t reference the Forbes interview (too modest?), he points to Cloudscape as the vision.

A few early thoughts on all this:

  • No offense to Forbes but I wouldn’t read too much into the article. Being Forbes, they get quotes from a list of well-known people/companies (Google and Amazon spokespeople, Forrester analyst, Nick Carr). But these quotes all address the generic idea of utility computing standards, not the specifics of Bert’s project.
  • Saying that “several small cloud-computing firms including Elastra and Rightscale are already on board with 3Tera’s standards group” is ambiguous. Are they on-board with specific goals and a candidate specification? Or are they on board with the general idea that it might be time to talk about some kind of standard in the general area of utility computing?
  • IEEE and W3C are listed as possible hosts for the effort, but they don’t seem like a very good match for this area. I would have thought of DMTF, OASIS or even OGF first. On the face of it, DMTF might be the best place but I fear that companies like 3Tera, Rightscale and Elastra would be eaten alive by the board member companies there. It would be almost impossible for them to drive their vision to completion, unlike what they can do in an OASIS working group.
  • A new consortium might be an option, but a risky and expensive one. I have sometimes wondered (after seeing sad episodes of well-meaning and capable start-ups being ripped apart by entrenched large vendors in standards groups) why VCs don’t play a more active role in standards. Standards sound like the kind of thing VCs should be helping their companies with. VC firms are pretty used to working together, jointly investing in companies. Creating a new standard consortium might be too hard for 3Tera, but if the VCs behind 3Tera, Elastra and Rightscale got together and looked at the utility computing companies in their portfolios, it might make sense to join forces on some well-scoped standardization effort that may not otherwise be given a chance in existing groups.
  • I hope Bert will look into the history of DCML, a similar effort (it was about data center automation, which utility computing is not that far from once you peel away the glossy pictures) spearheaded by a few best-of-bread companies but ignored by the big boys. It didn’t really take off. If it had, utility computing standards might now be built as an update/extension of that specification. Of course DCML started as a new consortium and ended as an OASIS “member section” (a glorified working group), so this puts a grain of salt on my “create a new consortium and/or OASIS group” suggestion above.
  • The effort can’t afford to be disconnected from other standards in the virtualization and IT management domains. How does the effort relate to OVF? To WS-Management? To existing modeling frameworks? That’s the main draw towards DMTF as a host.
  • What’s the open source side of this effort? As John mentions during the latest Redmonk/Willis IT management podcast (starting around minute 24), there needs to a open source side to this. Actually, John thinks all you need is the open source side. Coté brings up Eucalyptus. BTW, if you want an existing combination of standards and open source, have a look at CDDLM (standard) and SmartFrog (implementation, now with EC2/S3 deployment)
  • There seems to be some solid technical raw material to start from. 3Tera’s ADL, combined with Elastra’s ECML/EDML, presumably captures a fair amount of field expertise already. But when you think of them as a starting point to standardization, the mindset needs to switch from “what does my product need to work” to “what will the market adopt that also helps my product to work”.
  • One big question (at least from my perspective) is that of the line between infrastructure and applications. Call me biased, but I think this effort should focus on the infrastructure layer. And provide hooks to allow application-level automation to drive it.
  • The other question is with regards to the management aspect of the resulting system and the role management plays in whatever standard specification comes out of Bert’s effort.

Bottom line: I applaud Bert’s efforts but I couldn’t sleep well tonight if I didn’t also warn him that “there be dragons”.

And for those who haven’t seen it yet, here is a very good document on the topic (but it is focused on big vendors, not on how smaller companies can play the standards game).

[UPDATED 2008/6/30: A couple hours after posting this, I see that Coté has just published a blog post that elaborates on his view of cloud standards. As an addition to the podcast I mentioned earlier.]

[UPDATED 2008/7/2: If you read this in your feed viewer (rather than directly on vambenepe.com) and you don't see the comments, you should go have a look. There are many clarifications and some additional insight from the best authorities on the topic. Thanks a lot to all the commenters.]

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Filed under Amazon, Automation, Business, DMTF, Everything, Google, Google App Engine, Grid, HP, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Modeling, OVF, Portability, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization

Where will you be when the Semantic Web gets Grid’ed?

I see the tide rising for semantic technologies. On the other hand, I wonder if they don’t need to fail in order to succeed.

Let’s use the Grid effort as an example. By “Grid effort” I mean the work that took place in and around OGF (or GGF as it was known before its merger w/ EGA). That community, mostly made of researchers and academics, was defining “utility computing” and creating related technology (e.g. OGSA, OGSI, GridFTP, JSDL, SAGA as specs, Globus and Platform as implementations) when Amazon was still a bookstore. There was an expectation that, as large-scale, flexible, distributed computing became a more pressing need for the industry at large, the Grid vision and technology would find their way into the broader market. That’s probably why IBM (and to a lesser extent HP) invested in the effort. Instead, what we are seeing is a new approach to utility computing (marketed as “cloud computing”), delivered by Amazon and others. It addresses utility computing with a different technology than Grid. With X86 virtualization as a catalyst, “cloud computing” delivers flexible, large-scale computing capabilities in a way that, to the users, looks a lot like their current environment. They still have servers with operating systems and applications on them. It’s not as elegant and optimized as service factories, service references (GSR), service handle (GSH), etc but it maps a lot better to administrators’ skills and tools (and to running the current code unchanged). Incremental changes with quick ROI beat paradigm shifts 9 times out of 10.

Is this indicative of what is going to happen with semantic technologies? Let’s break it down chronologically:

  1. Trailblazers (often faced with larger/harder problems than the rest of us) come up with a vision and a different way to think about what computers can do (e.g. the “computers -> compute grid” transition).
  2. They develop innovative technology, with a strong theoretical underpinning (OGSA-BES and those listed above).
  3. There are some successful deployments, but the adoption is mostly limited to a few niches. It is seen as too complex and too different from current practices for broad adoption.
  4. Outsiders use incremental technology to deliver 80% of the vision with 20% of the complexity. Hype and adoption ensue.

If we are lucky, the end result will look more like the nicely abstracted utility computing vision than the “did you patch your EC2 Xen images today” cloud computing landscape. But that’s a necessary step that Grid computing failed to leapfrog.

Semantic web technologies can easily be mapped to the first three bullets. Replace “computers -> computer grid” with “documents/data -> information” in the first one. Fill in RDF, RDFS, OWL (with all its flavors), SPARQL etc as counterparts to OGSA-BES and friends in the second. For the third, consider life sciences and defense as niche markets in which semantic technologies are seeing practical adoption. What form will bullet #4 take for semantic technology (e.g. who is going to be the EC2 of semantic technology)? Or is this where it diverges from Grid and instead gets adopted in its “original” form?

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Filed under Everything, Grid, HP, IBM, RDF, Research, Semantic tech, Specs, Standards, Tech, Utility computing, Virtualization

Grid-enabled SOA article

Dave Chappell and David Berry have recently published an article in SOA Magazine titled “The Next-Generation, Grid-Enabled Service-Oriented Architecture”. I had unexpectedly gotten a quick overview of this work a few weeks ago, when I ran into Dave Chappell at the Oracle gym (since I was coming out of an early morning swim it took Dave a couple of seconds to recognize me, as I walked through the weight room leaving a trail of water behind me). Even if you are more interested in systems management than middleware, this article is worth your reading time because it describes a class of problems (or rather, opportunities) that cut across middleware and IT management. Namely, providing the best environment for scalable, reliable and flexible SOA applications. In other words, making the theoretical promises of SOA practically achievable in real scenarios. The article mentions “self-healing management and SLA enforcement” and it implies lots of capabilities to automatically provision, configure and manage the underlying elements of the Grid as well the SOA applications that make use of it. Those are the capabilities that I am now working on as part of the Oracle Enterprise Manager team. And the beauty of doing this at Oracle, is that we can work on this hand in hand with people like Dave to make sure that we don’t create artificial barriers between middleware and systems management.

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