Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Jason Bloomberg

Related Topics: Microservices Expo

Microservices Expo: Article

Enterprise Semantics: Aligning Service-Oriented Architecture with the Business

Bringing agility, transparency, and integration to your Web services infrastructure

Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) are a significant step forward in aligning information technology with business goals. But SOAs are insufficient when the Web services of which they are typically composed use inconsistent terminologies and present different understandings of the real-world environment that they are meant to support. Enterprises need transparency, a clear view of what is happening in the organization. They also need agility, which is the ability to respond quickly to changes in the internal and external environments. Finally, organizations require integration: the smooth interoperation of applications across organizational boundaries. Encoding business concepts in a formal semantic model helps to achieve these goals and also results in additional corollary benefits. This semantic model serves as a focal point and enables automated discovery and transformation services in an organization.

Technology and the Enterprise

Enterprise Information Technology (IT) units exist to support organizational business goals. They must always be aware of the need for alignment, the challenging task of ensuring that every IT decision, in every department, helps the business side of the organization to get its job done, and requires constant monitoring of IT assets to be sure that they correctly describe the organization as the organization understands itself. To this end, it is not enough to follow the common industry practice of creating new data sources or layering new applications on top of existing data sources. Information sources and the applications tying into these sources must function in a smooth and unified manner, thereby allowing units and individuals to work together. When aligned, all stakeholders can coordinate efforts both within an organization (internally) and across organizational boundaries (externally).

Services-oriented architectures are playing an essential role in the drive to integrate information and applications across the enterprise. With SOAs in place, technical teams respond quickly to provide a collection of applications that function as a clearly understandable whole. In this way, they provide a powerful tool to the rest of the organization; in fact, such an integrated process can create as much value as all the existing unintegrated processes.

However, alignment is impossible when business departments misunderstand one another and when IT misunderstands the business. All the XML and HTTP in the world cannot integrate applications attempting to communicate in different terminologies. To ensure accurate communication, every application must be developed in strict accordance with the same standard (an impossibility in the real world), or else information managers must analyze the business concepts underlying the data and the applications, relate these concepts to existing industry and enterprise standards, and then encode that analysis in discovery and transformation logic, hence bridging the barriers. Today, this analysis must be repeated on every project. Even then, it remains painfully error-prone. With this in mind, Gartner recommends that enterprises "ensure that all developers use the same semantics and agree on the message contents at a business level." (See "SOA and Web Services Offer Little Vendor Independence," in Resources.)

Service-Oriented Architectures

"Service-oriented architecture" is among the latest three-letter acronyms to hit the technology world. But buzzword cynics should know: "SOA" does have a real meaning. The SOA approach is to expose enterprise data and business logic in loosely coupled, discoverable, structured, standards-based, coarse-grained, stateless units of functionality (see "W3C Web Services Architecture Working Group" in Resources). These are defined as follows:
  • Loosely Coupled. Applications talk to one other and to other databases - without regard for implementation language.
  • Discoverable. A Web service's network location is not predetermined and can be looked up at run-time.
  • Structured. Messages have an interface (schema) that defines their structure and which can also be discovered. This allows applications to read messages from other applications and data sources without the service provider needing to define the exact message-deserialization code.
  • Standards-Based. The message format and schemas are known to all parties.
  • Coarse Grained. Each interaction should provide information or functionality achieving real business value; multiple exchanges of information should not be needed for each step in a business process.
  • Stateless. Though not an absolute requirement, it is better that each message does not change the state of the application - though data can be stored. This allows lost messages to be resent without complicated transaction-processing logic.
In practice, SOAs are achieved with the Web services standards stack of XML, XSD, WSDL, SOAP, and UDDI; XML for the message format, XSD for the message structure, WSDL to tie together information on the service, and UDDI for service discovery. In addition, vertical-specific standards constrain the schemas of the messages sent.

The goal of smooth integration is not achieved by SOA alone. Web services must be described and understood in a semantically consistent way in order to resolve terminological ambiguities and misunderstandings, and to avoid the constant revision and redefinition of terms, concepts, and elements of the business. Such inconsistencies make for applications that cannot talk to each other, and subsequently result in slower response times when changes are needed. Business managers cannot get a clear view of their organization through these multiple unintegrated "languages."

To take a simple example, a manufacturing report service may indicate that one million units of a product were manufactured, while a shipping report service states that only 100,000 were shipped. Extensive analysis might be needed to determine that the shipping report is designed to report the number of packages shipped, each of which includes ten of the original manufactured units. If the former report is for a week measured Monday to Monday, and includes all shippable and defective products, while the latter is for Sunday to Sunday, and excludes defective items and returns, more confusion ensues.

Semantic Service-Oriented Architecture: See Figure 1

In a semantically based SOA, an information model expresses a common linguistic understanding of the real-world business environment across individual organizations or even across entire industries. This allows executives, analysts, data specialists, and application developers to share a common understanding of concepts relevant to the business, a partnership, or an entire vertical industry. According to Gartner, "Data semantics becomes a critical barrier for SOA as more participants involve more applications." (See "SOA Will Demand Re-engineering of Business Applications" in Resources.)

In the shipping example above, the semantic model includes concepts such as "Manufactured Unit," "Package," "Date," Week," "Shippable/Defective," and the relationship between such concepts; it also relates to the manufacturing and shipping report services themselves. Business rules show the relationship between the different ways of expressing the same concepts. In this way, the meaning of the Web services is formally expressed through relation to an agreed upon set of business concepts.

In terms of metadata, SOA maintenance means that development teams require an inventory of services, back-end systems, inter-service interactions, and different service versions. From an architectural standpoint, the Web service is only as good as its interface as described in Web Service Description Language (WSDL). To create useful Web services, enterprises require a methodology for modeling their common business language and for inferring consistent WSDLs. To maintain accurate interrelationships, Web services must be mapped to the back-end applications they expose, and to each other as the business and its trading partners evolve incompatible WSDL schemas. In the semantic SOA, organizations manage their disparate WSDLs, which are front ends for different data assets, IT systems, business processes, networks, and applications, by reference to a common business architecture expressed and not in implementation-oriented terms, but rather according to the needs of the business.

More Stories By Joshua Fox

Joshua Fox is a senior software architect at Unicorn Solutions (www.unicorn.com), developing semantic information management systems for the enterprise. He has experience developing large-scale clustered Java systems for Internet collaboration and multimedia delivery, and has published and lectured widely. He can be reached at [email protected]

More Stories By Joram Borenstein

Joram Borenstein is a senior marketing manager at Unicorn Solutions (www.unicorn.com), working on data semantics technologies for enterprises worldwide. His previous experience includes managing the rollout of content management software platforms. He has published and lectured extensively. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Microservices Articles
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
"NetApp's vision is how we help organizations manage data - delivering the right data in the right place, in the right time, to the people who need it, and doing it agnostic to what the platform is," explained Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate for NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, compared the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, examin...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Mike Johnston, an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io, discussed how to use Kubernetes to set up a SaaS infrastructure for your business. Mike Johnston is an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io with over 12 years of experience designing, deploying, and maintaining server and workstation infrastructure at all scales. He has experience with brick and mortar data centers as well as cloud providers like Digital Ocean, Amazon Web Services, and Rackspace. H...
Skeuomorphism usually means retaining existing design cues in something new that doesn’t actually need them. However, the concept of skeuomorphism can be thought of as relating more broadly to applying existing patterns to new technologies that, in fact, cry out for new approaches. In his session at DevOps Summit, Gordon Haff, Senior Cloud Strategy Marketing and Evangelism Manager at Red Hat, will discuss why containers should be paired with new architectural practices such as microservices ra...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Scott Davis, CTO of Embotics, discussed how automation can provide the dynamic management required to cost-effectively deliver microservices and container solutions at scale. He also discussed how flexible automation is the key to effectively bridging and seamlessly coordinating both IT and developer needs for component orchestration across disparate clouds – an increasingly important requirement at today’s multi-cloud enterprise.
The Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), which enables organizations to seamlessly run in a hybrid cloud model (public + private cloud), is here to stay. IDC estimates that the software-defined networking market will be valued at $3.7 billion by 2016. Security is a key component and benefit of the SDDC, and offers an opportunity to build security 'from the ground up' and weave it into the environment from day one. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Reuven Harrison, CTO and Co-Founder of Tufin, ...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm. In their Day 3 Keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Brown, a Solutions Marketing Manager at Nutanix, and Mark Lav...
Many organizations are now looking to DevOps maturity models to gauge their DevOps adoption and compare their maturity to their peers. However, as enterprise organizations rush to adopt DevOps, moving past experimentation to embrace it at scale, they are in danger of falling into the trap that they have fallen into time and time again. Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before, and we know how it ends: badly.
TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is a common and reliable transmission protocol on the Internet. TCP was introduced in the 70s by Stanford University for US Defense to establish connectivity between distributed systems to maintain a backup of defense information. At the time, TCP was introduced to communicate amongst a selected set of devices for a smaller dataset over shorter distances. As the Internet evolved, however, the number of applications and users, and the types of data accessed and...