|By Mark Little||
|September 23, 2002 12:00 AM EDT||
Atomic transactions are a well-known technique for guaranteeing consistency in the presence of failures. The ACID properties of atomic transactions ensure that, even in complex business applications, consistency of state is preserved.
Transactions are best viewed as "short-lived" entities operating in a closely-coupled environment, performing stable state changes to the system; they are less well suited for structuring "long-lived" application functions (e.g., running for hours, days, etc.) and running in a loosely coupled environment like the Web. Long-lived atomic transactions (as typically occur in business-to-business interactions) may reduce the concurrency in the system to an unacceptable level by holding on to resources (e.g., locks) for a long time; further, if such an atomic transaction rolls back, much valuable work already performed could be undone. As a result, there have been various extended transactions models where strict ACID properties can be relaxed in a controlled manner. Until recently, translating these models into the world of Web services had not been attempted. However, the OASIS Business Transactions Protocol, specified by a collaboration of several companies, has tried to address this issue.
With the advent of Web services, the Web is being populated by service providers who wish to take advantage of this large B2B space. However, there are still important security and fault-tolerance considerations that must be addressed. One of these is the fact that the Web frequently suffers from failures that can affect both the performance and consistency of applications that run over it.
Atomic transactions are a well-known technique for guaranteeing consistency in the presence of failures. (Note: I will not use the term transaction in place of atomic transaction since in the B2B space this has different connotations.) The ACID properties of atomic transactions (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) ensure that even in complex business applications consistency of state is preserved, despite concurrent accesses and failures. This is an extremely useful fault-tolerance technique, especially when multiple, possibly remote, resources are involved.
The structuring mechanisms available within traditional atomic transaction systems are sequential and concurrent composition of transactions. These mechanisms are sufficient if an application function can be represented as a single atomic transaction. As Web services evolved as a means to integrate processes and applications at an inter-enterprise level, traditional transaction semantics and protocols have proven inappropriate. Web services-based transactions differ from traditional transactions in that they execute over long periods, they require commitments to the transaction to be "negotiated" at runtime, and isolation levels have to be relaxed.
As a result, there have been various extended transactions models, in which strict ACID properties can be relaxed in a controlled manner. Until recently, translating these models into the world of Web services had not been attempted. However, the OASIS Business Transactions Protocol (BTP), specified by a collaboration of several companies, has tried to address this issue. In this article we'll first consider why traditional atomic transactions are insufficient for long-running B2B activities, and then describe how the BTP protocol has attempted to solve these problems.
Why ACID Transactions Are Too Strong
ACID transactions by themselves are inadequate for structuring long-lived applications. To ensure ACID-ity between multiple participants, a multiphase (typically two) consensus mechanism is required (see Figure 1). During the first (preparation) phase, an individual participant must make durable any state changes that occurred during the scope of the atomic transaction, such that these changes can either be rolled back (undone) or committed later once consensus to the transaction outcome has been determined among all participants, i.e., any original state must not be lost at this point, as the atomic transaction could still roll back. Assuming no failures occurred during the first phase (in which case all participants will be forced to undo their changes), in the second (commitment) phase, participants may "overwrite" the original state with the state made durable during the first phase.
In order to guarantee consensus, a two-phase commit is necessarily a blocking protocol. After returning the phase 1 response, each participant that returned a commit response must remain blocked until it has received the coordinator's phase 2 message telling it what to do. Until they receive this message, any resources used by the participant are unavailable for use by other atomic transactions, since to do so may result in non-ACID behavior. If the coordinator fails before delivery of the second phase message these resources remain blocked until it recovers. In addition, if a participant fails after phase 1, but before the coordinator can deliver its final commit decision, the atomic transaction cannot be completed until the participant recovers: all participants must see both phases of the commit protocol in order to guarantee ACID semantics. There is no implied time limit between a coordinator sending the first phase message of the commit protocol and it sending the second, commit phase message; there could be seconds or hours between them.
Therefore, structuring certain activities from long-running atomic transactions can reduce the amount of concurrency within an application or (in the event of failures) require work to be performed again. For example, there are certain classes of application where it is known that resources acquired within an atomic transaction can be released "early," rather than having to wait until the atomic transaction terminates; in the event of the atomic transaction rolling back, however, certain compensation activities may be necessary to restore the system to a consistent state. Such compensation activities (which may perform forward or backward recovery) will typically be application specific, may not be necessary at all, or may be more efficiently dealt with by the application. For example, long-running activities can be structured as many independent, short-duration atomic transactions, to form a "logical" long-running transaction. This structure allows an activity to acquire and use resources for only the required duration of this long-running activity. In Figure 2 an application activity (shown by the dotted ellipse) has been split into many different, coordinated, short-duration atomic transactions. Assume that the application activity is concerned with booking a taxi (t1), reserving a table at a restaurant (t2), reserving a seat at the theater (t3), booking a room at a hotel (t4), and so on. If all of these operations were performed as a single atomic transaction, then resources acquired during t1 would not be released until the atomic transaction has terminated. If subsequent activities t2, t3, etc., do not require those resources, then they will be needlessly unavailable to other clients.
However, if failures and concurrent access occur during the lifetime of these individual transactional activities, then the behavior of the entire "logical long-running transaction" may not possess ACID properties. Therefore, some form of (application-specific) compensation may be required to attempt to return the state of the system to consistency. For example, let's assume that t4 aborts. Further assume that the application can continue to make forward progress, but in order to do so must now undo some state changes made prior to the start of t4 (by t1, t2, or t3). New activities are started; tc1 is a compensation activity that will attempt to undo state changes performed by, say, t2 and t3, which will continue the application once tc1 has completed. tc5' and tc6' are new activities that continue after compensation, e.g. since it was not possible to reserve the theater, restaurant, and hotel, it is decided to book tickets at the cinema. Obviously, other forms of composition are possible.
Properties of a Web Service-Based Transaction
The fundamental question addressed here is what properties must a transaction model possess in order to support business-to-business interactions? To begin to answer that, we need to understand what we mean by a business transaction.
A business relationship is any distributed state maintained by two or more parties and is subject to some contractual constraints previously agreed to by those parties. A business transaction can therefore be considered as a consistent change in the state of a business relationship between parties. Each party in a business transaction holds its own application state corresponding to the business relationship with other parties in that transaction. During the course of a business transaction, this state may change.
In the Web services domain, information about business transactions is communicated in XML documents. However, how those documents are exchanged by the different parties involved (e.g., e-mail or HTTP) may be a function of the environment, type of business relationship, or other business or logistical factors. Therefore, mandating a specific XML carrier protocol may be too restrictive.
Since business relationships imply a level of value to the parties associated by those relationships, achieving some level of consensus among these parties is important. Not all participants within a particular business transaction have to see the same outcome; a specific transaction may possess multiple consensus groups.
In addition to understanding the outcomes, a participant within a business transaction may need to support provisional or tentative state changes during the course of the transaction. Such parties must also support the completion of a business transaction, either through confirmation (final effect) or cancellation (counter-effect). In general, what it means to confirm or cancel work done within a business transaction will be for the participant to determine.
For example, an application may choose to perform changes as provisional effects and make them visible to other business transactions. It may store necessary information to undo these changes at the same time. On confirmation, it may simply discard these "undo", changes, or on cancellation it may apply these "undo" changes. An application can employ such a compensation-based approach or take a conventional "rollback" approach. It is with these properties in mind that we can discuss the Business Transaction Protocol.
The Business Transaction Protocol
B2B interactions may be complex, involving many parties, spanning many different organisations, and potentially lasting for hours or days, e.g., the process of ordering and delivering parts for a computer may involve different suppliers, and may only be considered to have completed once the parts are delivered to their final destination. Most business-to-business collaborative applications require transactional support in order to guarantee consistent outcome and correct execution. These applications often involve long-running computations, loosely coupled systems, and components that do not share data, location, or administration; it is then difficult to incorporate ACID transactions within such architectures. Furthermore, most collaborative business process management systems support complex, long-running processes in which undoing tasks that have already completed may be necessary in order to effect recovery or to choose another acceptable execution path.
For example, an online bookshop may well reserve books for an individual for a specific period of time, but if the individual does not purchase the books within that time period they will be "put back onto the shelf" for others to purchase; to do otherwise could result in the shop never selling a single book. Furthermore, because it is not possible for anyone to have an infinite supply of stock, some examples of online shops may appear to users to reserve items for them, but in fact if other users want to purchase them first they may be allowed to (i.e., the same book may be "reserved" for multiple users concurrently); a user may subsequently find that the item is no longer available, or may have to be ordered especially for them. If these examples were modelled using atomic transactions, then the reservation process would require the book to be locked for the duration of the atomic transaction - it would have to be available, and could not be acquired by (sold to) another user. When the atomic transaction commits, the book will be removed from stock and mailed to the user. However, if a failure occurs during the commitment protocol, the book may remain locked for an indeterminate amount of time (or until manual intervention occurs).
As a result, the use of traditional atomic transactions with strict ACID properties (e.g., systems that implement the JTS specification [SUN99]) is considered too restrictive for many types of applications.
The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) Business Transaction Protocol (BTP) is a transaction protocol that meets the requirement for Web-based, long-running collaborative business applications. BTP is designed to support applications that are disparate in time, location, and administration and thus require transactional support beyond classical ACID transactions. In short, BTP is a protocol for ensuring consistent outcomes from participating parties in a business transaction.
Note: It is important to realize that the term "transaction" in this sense does not mean atomic transaction, although ACID semantics can be obtained if required.
Consensus of Opinion
In general, a business transaction requires the capability for certain participants to be structured into a consensus group such that all of the members in a grouping have the same result. Different participants within the same business transaction may belong to different consensus groups. The business logic then controls how each group completes. In this way, a business transaction may cause a subset of the groups it naturally creates to perform the work it asks, while asking the other groups to undo the work.
Consider the situation shown in Figure 4, in which a user is booking a holiday, has provisionally reserved a flight ticket and taxi to the airport, and is now looking for travel insurance. The first consensus group holds Flights and Taxi, since neither of these can occur independently. The user may then decide to visit multiple insurance sites (called A and B in this example), and as he goes may reserve the quotes he likes. So, A may quote $50, which is just within budget, but the user may want to try B just in case he can find a cheaper price, without losing the initial quote. If the quote from B is less than that from A, the user may cancel A while confirming both the flights and the insurance from B. Each insurance site may therefore occur within its own consensus group. This is not possible when using ACID transactions.
BTP uses a two-phase completion protocol to guarantee atomicity of decisions but does not imply specific implementations. To enforce this distinction, rather than call the second phases of the termination protocol "commit" and "rollback" as is the case in an ACID transaction environment, they are called "confirm" and "cancel" respectively, with the intention of decoupling the phases from any preconceptions of specific backward-compensation implementations.
It's important to stress that although BTP uses a two-phase protocol, it does not imply ACID transactions. How implementations of prepare, confirm, and cancel are provided is a back-end implementation decision. Issues to do with consistency and isolation of data are also back-end choices and not imposed or assumed by BTP. A BTP implementation is primarily concerned with two-phase coordination of abstract entities (participants).
In a traditional transaction system, the application or user has very few verbs with which to control the transaction. Typically, these are "begin," "commit," and "roll back," corresponding to starting a transaction, committing a transaction, and rolling back a transaction respectively. When an application asks for a transaction to commit, the coordinator will execute the entire two-phase commit protocol, as described earlier, before returning an outcome to the application (what BTP terms a closed-top commit protocol). The elapse time between the execution of the first phase and the second phase is typically milliseconds to seconds, but is entirely under the control of the coordinator.
However, the actual two-phase protocol does not impose any restrictions on the time between executing the first and second phases. Obviously, the longer this period takes, the more chance there is for a failure to occur and the longer (critical) resources remain locked or isolated from other users. This is the reason why most ACID transaction systems attempt to keep this time frame to a minimum and why they do not work well in environments like the Web.
BTP, on the other hand, took the approach of allowing the time between these phases to be set by the application by expanding the verbs available to include explicit control over both phases of the term, i.e., "prepare," "confirm," and "cancel" - what BTP terms an open-top commit protocol. The application has complete control over when it can tell a transaction to prepare and, using whatever business logic is required, it can later determine which transaction(s) to confirm or cancel. This ability is a powerful tool for applications.
Atoms and Cohesions
To address the specific requirements of business transactions, BTP introduced two types of extended transactions, both using the open-top completion protocol:
In my next article, I'll take a closer look at the architecture of BTP and how XML is involved in it. I'll also look at the Web services stack and how BTP is used.
SYS-CON Events has announced today that Roger Strukhoff has been named conference chair of Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo 2016 Silicon Valley. The 19th Cloud Expo and 6th @ThingsExpo will take place on November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. "The Internet of Things brings trillions of dollars of opportunity to developers and enterprise IT, no matter how you measure it," stated Roger Strukhoff. "More importantly, it leverages the power of devices and the Interne...
Jul. 26, 2016 05:15 AM EDT Reads: 2,081
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Am...
Jul. 26, 2016 01:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,200
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
Jul. 26, 2016 01:15 AM EDT Reads: 2,540
This digest provides an overview of good resources that are well worth reading. We’ll be updating this page as new content becomes available, so I suggest you bookmark it. Also, expect more digests to come on different topics that make all of our IT-hearts go boom!
Jul. 26, 2016 12:15 AM EDT Reads: 3,609
Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor – all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
Jul. 26, 2016 12:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,157
SYS-CON Events announced today that Isomorphic Software will exhibit at DevOps Summit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Isomorphic Software provides the SmartClient HTML5/AJAX platform, the most advanced technology for building rich, cutting-edge enterprise web applications for desktop and mobile. SmartClient combines the productivity and performance of traditional desktop software with the simp...
Jul. 25, 2016 11:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,050
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
Jul. 25, 2016 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,524
In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Yoseph Reuveni, Director of Software Engineering at Jet.com, will discuss Jet.com's journey into containerizing Microsoft-based technologies like C# and F# into Docker. He will talk about lessons learned and challenges faced, the Mono framework tryout and how they deployed everything into Azure cloud. Yoseph Reuveni is a technology leader with unique experience developing and running high throughput (over 1M tps) distributed systems with extre...
Jul. 25, 2016 07:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,115
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
Jul. 25, 2016 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,159
Adding public cloud resources to an existing application can be a daunting process. The tools that you currently use to manage the software and hardware outside the cloud aren’t always the best tools to efficiently grow into the cloud. All of the major configuration management tools have cloud orchestration plugins that can be leveraged, but there are also cloud-native tools that can dramatically improve the efficiency of managing your application lifecycle. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, ...
Jul. 25, 2016 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 956
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
Jul. 25, 2016 08:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,303
Ovum, a leading technology analyst firm, has published an in-depth report, Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a DevOps Release Management Solution, 2016–17. The report focuses on the automation aspects of DevOps, Release Management and compares solutions from the leading vendors.
Jul. 25, 2016 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,682
This is a no-hype, pragmatic post about why I think you should consider architecting your next project the way SOA and/or microservices suggest. No matter if it’s a greenfield approach or if you’re in dire need of refactoring. Please note: considering still keeps open the option of not taking that approach. After reading this, you will have a better idea about whether building multiple small components instead of a single, large component makes sense for your project. This post assumes that you...
Jul. 25, 2016 03:30 AM EDT Reads: 4,081
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
Jul. 24, 2016 09:45 PM EDT Reads: 2,151
Jul. 24, 2016 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 3,810
Right off the bat, Newman advises that we should "think of microservices as a specific approach for SOA in the same way that XP or Scrum are specific approaches for Agile Software development". These analogies are very interesting because my expectation was that microservices is a pattern. So I might infer that microservices is a set of process techniques as opposed to an architectural approach. Yet in the book, Newman clearly includes some elements of concept model and architecture as well as p...
Jul. 24, 2016 01:45 PM EDT Reads: 9,518
"We provide DevOps solutions. We also partner with some key players in the DevOps space and we use the technology that we partner with to engineer custom solutions for different organizations," stated Himanshu Chhetri, CTO of Addteq, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Jul. 24, 2016 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,625
Let's just nip the conflation of these terms in the bud, shall we?
"MIcro" is big these days. Both microservices and microsegmentation are having and will continue to have an impact on data center architecture, but not necessarily for the same reasons. There's a growing trend in which folks - particularly those with a network background - conflate the two and use them to mean the same thing.
They are not.
One is about the application. The other, the network. T...
Jul. 24, 2016 04:15 AM EDT Reads: 3,364
If you are within a stones throw of the DevOps marketplace you have undoubtably noticed the growing trend in Microservices. Whether you have been staying up to date with the latest articles and blogs or you just read the definition for the first time, these 5 Microservices Resources You Need In Your Life will guide you through the ins and outs of Microservices in today’s world.
Jul. 24, 2016 12:45 AM EDT Reads: 3,869
Before becoming a developer, I was in the high school band. I played several brass instruments - including French horn and cornet - as well as keyboards in the jazz stage band. A musician and a nerd, what can I say? I even dabbled in writing music for the band. Okay, mostly I wrote arrangements of pop music, so the band could keep the crowd entertained during Friday night football games. What struck me then was that, to write parts for all the instruments - brass, woodwind, percussion, even k...
Jul. 24, 2016 12:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,160