Saturday, April 30, 2005

WWW 2006

I'm the chair of the XML and Web Services track of WWW2006, which next year is being held in sunny Edinburgh. Santosh is my deputy (kind of makes a change after all these years) and we're in the process of drawing up the list of PC members. I'm not sure when the CFP will go out, but I suspect it'll be around August time, with reviews happening over December as they did for this year's conference. So, get those thinking hats on!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Grid and Web Services work

Looks like a paper based on the work that Jim and Thomas did while working for us is now available; they did the work with Savas et al. Check it out. It sent a lot of ripples through the Grid world that are still being felt today.

The session concept for Web Services

Greg has posted about a paper we wrote at the end of last year. I won't repeat the whole story here, but I really hope the delays in publication are sorted out. Anyway, take a look at the paper. Greg is hopefully going to put up a pdf version shortly.

The utility of standards

Savas has definitely hit the nail on the head with regard to standards and what it means to talk about "compliance", "conformance" and interoperability. I've been working in the area of standards for more years than I care to remember and some of the standards I've come across have often been let down by their conformance statements, with a knock-on effect on interoperability. It is always difficult to get large companies with vested interests in their own products to agree to a standard that either obsoletes their product(s) or means they have to modify them; it does make sense to protect your investments. However, the benefits of standards only come when you pay more than lip-service to them and the "conforms to" label shouldn't be used as a badge of honour unless it really means something. Unfortunately there are many vendors, products and organisations that rely on the fact that their customers/users don't have the time or skills to see beyond the label and understand what it really means to them. I've often heard the complaint that customers get locked into a standard, when in fact what they really mean is that they've been locked into one vendor's interpretation of that standard.

WS-CAF in New Orleans

The WS-CAF committee has been meeting in New Orleans this week. Unfortunately due to previous commitments I couldn't make it in person, which meant I had to take part via teleconference. Not exactly the easiest to do: phone's were definitely not meant for day-long meeting; roll on the invention of some form of holographic avatar.

Anyway, despite the fact that several of us had to endure the telephone line frequency response of 300 Hz to 3400 Hz for two days, we made excellent progress. We've pretty much closed up all of the issues related to WS-Context (thanks to Kevin Conner for working on the schema and WSDL). With a little luck we'll be able to move that to another committee draft within the month. (Apparently the change in OASIS rules recently has had a knock-on effect on names such as "committee draft" and "committee standard" which I've yet to fully understand, but I know what I mean even if OASIS staff might argue.) I've said before that with hindsight, WS-Context is probably the most important and potentially influential specification of the entire WS-CAF stack. It was never intended to be, but as is often the case, the simplest things that get overlooked initially turn out to be the most important.

I'm not saying that coordination or transactions aren't important, but the applicability of context to Web Services (and any distributed architecture) is so much wider. As more Web Services specifications come along, it's easy to see how they are using a form of context without necessarily being explicit about it. Hopefully this is just an education thing and once WS-Context becomes a standard and we are able to evangelise about it more and more, there'll come a time when WS-Context is used as naturally as SOAP and WSDL. One of my next posts will be about a paper I helped write with Greg on this subject.

I'm also contributing to the OASIS SOA-RM technical committee on this and other aspects of WS-CAF, so that's another way of expanding the influence of context as a principle and WS-Context as a concrete example.

As far as the New Orleans work went though, we also made excellent progress with WS-CF (the coordination framework). I'm confident we're close to being able to finalise this and put it up for public review. The model is a little more focused now that it was when we first submitted the specifications. It's down to pure registration and groupings, with coordination as something that can be layered on top. As with WS-Context, I think this helps to increase its applicability and I suspect that Greg and I may be writing a paper on this eventually.

So that left transactions. I gave a presentation overview (again) of the models and we agreed that the first thing to do was separate our 3 models into individual specifications. This has a lot of merit, not least of which is the fact that it's easier to manage and easier for people to decide what aspects of transaction management they want to implement and still be able to say in a straightforward manner what they conform to. We've also decided that the first model we need to concentrate on is WS-ACID. This is primarily intended to interoperability of existing transaction processing systems, and I'm really looking forward to a future interoperability workshop where we can demonstrate transaction interoperability Arjuna-to-Oracle-to-IONA (for example).

Friday, April 22, 2005

Monday, April 18, 2005

JavaOne 2005

I was about to write something about this year's JavaOne, but Greg got there first. So, rather than duplicate, go and check his blog entry.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

New Orleans and diving

I was hoping to go to the next face-to-face meeting of WS-CAF in New Orleans. As last year, we've made it coincident with the annual OASIS Symposium in New Orleans. Last year was my first time in the city and I loved it: great food, great music and a great atmosphere. Myself, Eric, Greg and other friends and colleagues managed to find time from the slog of standards work (none of that sniggering at the back please!) to check out some of the Jazz festival last year, so I was looking forward to going back. That and hopefully producing another Committee Draft of WS-Context, maybe the first Committee Draft of WS-CF and trying to start on WS-TXM (a lot for a 2 day meeting, I know).

Unfortunately I won't be able to go :-( For Christmas my wife enrolled me on a PADI open water diving course. I've been talking about learing to SCUBA dive for many years, going back at least to when we spent a week in the Carribbean as guests of Bluestone for being a Bluestone President's Club Aware Winner. Several friends have also qualified over the intervening years, including Jim who kept pushing me to go do it. However, as with most things that aren't work related, I always managed to find a reason to put it off. Until this year that is. I have to say that since starting the course I've had a lot of fun and wish I'd done it earlier. Unfortunately, there are exams connected with the course, both written and practical (in the ocean - we've been doing everything in the local swimming pool so far), and some of them are coincident with the New Orleans face-to-face. I tried to postpone them, but it ain't going to happen, so I'm not going to be at the meeting in person. Which leaves me looking forward to 2 days of attending the meeting via the phone!

Web Services seminar

It's been a busy few weeks for us and our friends at CodeWorks. We're putting on a Web Services seminar for local businesses to help educate them on the benefits of Web Services. Fortunately we've been able to attract some good speakers for the event, including my old friend Werner Vogels from Amazon. Now that he's the CTO of Amazon he's finding it hard to spend time with us lesser mortals ;-) but I'm definitely going to make sure he has the opportunity to sample a few good pubs while he's here!

The trouble with transactions ...

The folks over at Microsoft working on Indigo have been doing some interesting stuff with their transaction engine. I've been keeping abreast on this as much as possible for some time, so it's nice to see it coming to fruition. What's even more interesting from a personal perspective, is that the architecture they've come up with and the requirements it fulfills, is very similar to what we've been using now for many years: basically a lightweight transaction engine that can be used in situations where not all of the ACID properties are required, but which can dynamically "step up to the plate" (as one Microsoft friend described it) if the need arises.

In some previous posts I've touched on the fact that we have in house something that fits that bill: ArjunaCore. This is a transaction coordinator (plus some associated tools and development frameworks) that has a very small footprint (hey, it runs on an old HP Jornada 720 in significantly less than 32 Meg of memory!) It took us several years of design and development to come to the current architecture, that allows it to be used within every transaction-related product we currently have. Without going into too many details (read the paper), it allows us to relax some or all of the various ACID properties in a controlled manner within products and is extremely fast and agile.

Note, this is not a "one-size fits all" protocol I'm talking about here: it's purely implementation. There's an important difference and the evolution of ArjunaCore has simply reinforced that distinction in my mind. I'm in the process of writing a paper on this, so will hold off saying too much more here.

Transaction processing is a difficult technology to implement well and also to convince people that they need. Terms such as "two-phase commit" and "persistence" are ingrained into people's minds as bad things, synonymous with "poor performance" and "high overhead". When talking to people about how they can use transactions, I've often heard reasons for them not using them begin with "Well, the trouble with transactions in our view is ..." But that needn't be the case and in many situations, the lack of transactions can lead to a much higher overhead if failures occur. Again, I'm writing a paper on this subject at the moment, but may blog on some aspects of it later.

I've had the opportunity to work for the Microsoft/Indigo crowd on several occasions but the timing has never been right. So it's nice to see two independent groups coming to the same ultimate conclusion about how to bring transactions to the masses.

There are many applications out there that don't use transactions and should; likewise, there are applications using transactions that really don't need to. I've believed for a long time that there are several things that we as an industry can (and should) do to help people understand where transactions fit into their architecture: education (why are transactions important? what happens if you don't have them? etc.), ease of use, flexibility (this crosses many different aspects, but includes what can be controlled, e.g., transactions existed before XA, so you don't have to limit yourself to XA-aware participants), performance etc.

We've managed to get a lot of the implementation-side of the equation into ArjunaCore and are constantly working on the education aspect. I know other companies and organisations are starting to look at a similar approach, and in the meantime it's always nice to get some implicit validation from a company like Microsoft.

A book that changed my life

While dusting the copious books shelves we have in our house, I came across a book that really did help me through a pretty difficult time in my life. My mother has had multiple sclerosis for many years and while it's a difficult enough ailment for the sufferer to cope with, because of it's nature (few outward physical signs to start with, the ability to put symptoms down to stress, or strain etc.) it's often hard for the family and friends of the sufferer to understand what's going on. This book helped at a time when neither my mother nor the doctors could really put the why's, how's and what if's into words. I'd recommend it for anyone else in a similar situation.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Research papers made easy

In my spare time (!) I'm a visiting research fellow at Newcastle University. I've written a few papers in my time and it's rarely an easy process. However, now some nice people at MIT have come up with a paper generator. It's fun to try out. Here's one I just tried, inputing a few friends names.

The scarey thing is, I'm sure one of the random ones it produced for me looked like a paper I did write ;-)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

History of Web Services development

Eric's got some good things to say on Web Services over here. Definitely worth a look.

Monday, April 04, 2005

TSS update

Just been talking to Floyd Marinescu of TSS. He'd seen our press release about the OEM deal with webMethods and has written a piece. Nice work Floyd and thanks.

Arjuna, webMethods and Casablanca

It's taken a little longer than expected, but the news is finally out: we've done a licence deal for our ATS 4.0 product with one of the most important Web Service players, webMethods. It's been fun and informative working with those guys and I'm looking forward to the next steps.

The Casablanca reference? Well "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."