Category Archives: OSGi

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.”)]


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

Yes you can read the OSGi specification

You know what I like the best about OSGi? That it doesn’t put the bar too high for architects. At first I was a bit intimidated by the size  (338 pages for the “core specification”, 862 pages for the “service compendium”) and the fact that I had to look up “compendium”. But then they put me right at ease:

“Architects should focus on the introduction of each subject. This introduction contains a general overview of the subject, the requirements that influenced its design, and a short description of its operation as well as the entities that are used. The introductory sections require knowledge of Java concepts like classes and interfaces, but should not require coding experience.”

I am like so totally overqualified for my job. Hell, I even know what packages are.

(from the recently released OSGi version 4.2.)


Filed under Application Mgmt, Everything, Off-topic, OSGi

SCA, OGSi and Spring from an IT management perspective

March starts next week and the middleware blogging bees are busy collecting OSGi-nectar, Spring-nectar, SCA-nectar, bringing it all back to the hive and seeing what kind of honey they can make from it.

Like James Governor, I had to train myself to stop associating OSGi with OGSI (which was the framework created by GGF, now OGF, to implement OGSA, and was – not very successfully – replaced with OASIS’s WSRF, want more acronyms?). Having established that OSGi does not relate to OGSI, how does it relate to SCA and Spring? What with the Sprint-OSGi integration and this call to integrate OSGi and SCA (something Paremus says they already do)? The third leg of the triangle (SCA-Spring integration) is included in the base SCA framework. Call this a disclosure or a plug as you prefer, I’ll note that many of my Oracle colleagues on the middleware side of the house are instrumental in these efforts (Hal, Greg, Khanderao, Dave…).

There is also a white paper (getting a little dated but still very much worth reading) that describes the potential integrations in this triangle in very clear and concrete terms (a rare achievement for this kind of exercise). It ends with “simplicity, flexibility, manageability, testability, reusability. A key combination for enterprise developers”. I am happy to grant the “flexibility” (thanks OSGi), “testability” (thanks Spring) and “reusability” (thanks SCA) claims. Not so for simplicity at this point unless you are one of the handful of people involved in all three efforts. As for the “manageability”, let’s call it “manageability potential” and remain friends.

That last part, manageability, is of course what interests me the most in this area. I mentioned this before in the context of SCA alone but the conjunction of SCA with Spring and/or OSGi only increases the potential. What happened with BPEL adoption provides a good illustration of this:

There are lots of JEE management tools and technologies out there, with different levels of impact on application performance (ideally low enough that they are suitable for production systems). The extent to which enterprise Java has been instrumented, probed and analyzed is unprecedented. These tools are often focused on the performance more than the configuration/dependency aspects of the application, partly because that’s easier to measure. And while they are very useful, they struggle with the task of relating what they measure to a business view of the application, especially in the case of composite applications with many shared components. Enter BPEL. Like SCA, BPEL wasn’t designed for manageability. It was meant for increased productivity, portability and flexibility. It was designed to support the SOA vision of service re-use and to allow more tasks to be moved from Java coding to infrastructure configuration. All this it helps with indeed. But at the same time, it also provides very useful metadata for application management. Both in terms of highlighting the application flow (through activities) and in terms of clarifying the dependencies and associated policies (through partner links). This allowed a new breed of application management tools to emerge that hungrily consumer BPEL process definitions and use them to better relate application management to the user-visible aspects of the application.

But the visibility provided by BPEL only goes so far, and soon the application management tools are back in bytecode instrumentation, heap analysis, transaction tracing, etc. Using a mix of standard mechanisms and “top secret”, “patent pending” tricks. In addition to all of their well-known benefits, SCA, OGSi and Spring also help fill that gap. They provide extra application metadata that can be used by application management tools to provide more application context to management tasks. A simple example is that SCA’s service/reference mechanism extends BPEL partner links to components not implemented with BPEL (and provides a more complete policy framework). Of course, all this metadata doesn’t just magically organize itself in an application management framework and there is a lot of work to harness its value (thus the “potential” qualifier I added to “manageability”). But SCA, OSGi and Spring can improve application management in ways similar to what BPEL does.

Here I am again, taking exciting middleware technologies and squeezing them to extract boring management value. But if you can, like me, get excited about these management aspects then you want to follow the efforts around the conjunction of these three technologies. I understand SCA, but I need to spend more time on OGSi and Spring. Maybe this post is my way of motivating myself to do it (I wish my mental processes were instrumented with better metadata so I could answer this question with more certainty – oh please shoot me now).

And while this is all exciting, part of me also wonders whether it’s not too early to risk connecting these specifications too tightly. I have seen too many “standards framework” kind of powerpoint slides that show how a bunch of under-development specifications would precisely work together to meet all the needs of the world. I may have even written one myself. If one thing is certain in that space, it’s that the failure rate is high and over-eager re-use and linkage between specifications kills. That was one of the errors of WSDM. For a contemporary version, look at this “Leveraging CMDBf” plan at Eclipse. I am very supportive of the effort to create an open-source implementation of the CMDBf specification, but mixing a bunch of other unproven and evolving specifications (in addition to CMDBf, I see WS-ResourceCatalog, SML and a “TBD” WS API which I can’t imagine will be anything other than WS-ResourceTransfer) is very risky. And of course IBM’s good old CBE. Was this HTML page auto-generated from an IBM “standards strategy” powerpoint document? But I digress…

Bonus question: what’s the best acronym to refer to OGSi+SCA+Spring. OSS? Taken (twice). SOS? Taken (and too desperate-sounding). SSO? Taken (twice). OS2? Taken. S2O? Available, as far as I can tell, but who wants a name so easily confused with the stinky and acid-rain causing sulfur dioxide (SO2)? Any suggestion? Did I hear J3EE in the back of the room?


Filed under Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, OSGi, SCA, Specs, Spring, Standards