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The Scaling Crisis Around SOA

Scalable SOA solutions are emerging

Making solutions scale is nothing new. However, the SOA technology and approaches employed recently are largely untested with higher application and information and service management traffic loads. SOA implementers are happy just to get their solutions up and running, but, in many cases, scalability has simply not been a consideration with SOA, nor is load testing, or other performance fundamentals for that matter. We're seeing the results of this neglect now that SOA problem domains are exceeding the capacity of their architectures and the technology in many instances.

My daily routine is to answer e-mail from somebody, somewhere, asking me why his SOA doesn't scale. Unfortunately, the answer is something these people don't want to hear. It's really the fact that they took the wrong approach, used the wrong technology, and the fix is going to be painful. However, you can avoid these issues just by doing some additional planning and testing upfront before you commit to a solution.

The core issue is that many SOA technology vendors haven't focused on scalability in their solutions. Instead, feature/function enhancements are the rule of the day. It's more important to add orchestration features and more adapters to your solution than to figure out how to pump more information, and manage more services. So these single-threaded solutions, on top of the issues around Web Services in general, make for solutions that are more about integration than true business transaction loads. Not to mention supporting the notion of both reuse and agility.

Its dependence on the traditional architectures is the core problem of scaling SOA solutions. The most popular SOA technologies require that all information and services under management do so in a single server domain (in most cases). This processing is a mixture of service abstraction, service management, schema and content transformation, rules processing, message splitting and combining, as well as message routing (ESBs). This is despite the fact that Web Services, at their essence, are more about the distributed service invocation model that's not as well followed when considering instances of technology. Indeed, most SOA solutions out there are bound to a single service approach, and don't provide a smooth path to scalability.

While the scaling crisis around SOA isn't well known at this point, considering the fact that the larger SOA projects have just started moving, there are a few vendors that I've been watching that provide the distributed architecture needed to bring better distributed reliability to SOA. Rogue Wave's HydraSCA, for instance, provides a service grid based on "Software Pipelines," an architecture and methodology that enables the development and deployment of scaleable SOA-based applications. Rogue Wave is promoting Software Pipe lines as a cross-vendor approach to service distribution, and other key players are in there as well using similar implementation patterns.

What's interesting is that Software Pipelines, the approach and the instance of Hydra technology, increases scalability by providing concurrent computing of business services in and across servers, while preserving business rules. For those of us who have been in the business for a while, this is common sense scalability, meaning that the processing is distributed across more than one processing entity, and so the throughput increases using this parallel processing model. As long as this distribution is managed well...it's very effective.

There are other SOA solutions moving in this direction as well, and as SOA becomes more accepted, the ability to make your SOA scale is clearly going to be on the critical path. What's key is that those who select SOA technology that needs to scale consider the following basic principles:

  • Consider performance and scalability as something that's systemic to the architecture; it can't be an afterthought.
  • Make sure to do a proof-of-concept to demonstrate that the technology works as advertised, and work with the vendor to understand the best way to implement the technology.
  • Consider operational issues during the design. Who's going to maintain it, and how?
  • Learn how to do basic performance and scalability modeling. While never perfect, they do indeed provide you with a jumping off point when considering high performance and scalable architectures.
  • Never be afraid to change approaches and technologies if they don't seem to be working out.

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at [email protected] Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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Most Recent Comments
Gautam Warrier 09/04/07 02:24:56 AM EDT

As usual, Dave's comments are spot on...however, I worry more about getting the fundamentals right...Classical SOA vs SOBA oriented adoption. The more I observe the underlying challenges of technically deploying a SOA paradigm, I feel that we are not really comprehending the core issue here: Service Design & Process Orchestration. This problem grows exponentially with the Scale of the enterprise. At the same time, it begs the Question: do we have the right skills/experience in place to handle the mammoth task of Architecting a cross-organization/cross functional system landscape for a Classical SOA implementation or even does it make sense to even attempt such expertise. I would venture to propose that the answer is an arguable NO to both, we do not have the necessary background amongst our Enterprise Architect community to handle this "undefined" monster - dynamic & evolving standards/capabilities. And unfortunately, like Dave mentions if you don't get it right at the outset, refinement through iterations is a dangerous journey to undertake - it only aggravates the core issues. Ergo, I am leaning towards an approach (SOBA) that has devoted more energy in the Service Designs upfront & focuses on Business process flexibility while compromising on specific technical components. This also makes the monster manageable by the three key members of the initiative: the SOA architect, the Business Architect & last but not the least by any means, the Enterprise Architect.

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