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A Planet Ruled by Software Architectures

The Architecture Journal

by Gianpaolo Carraro

The world of software architecture took a “giant” leap forward when it moved from three letters acronyms (SOA and ESB) to four letter acronyms (AJAX and SaaS). As you’ve witnessed in this issue, we now have a new acronym that includes a non-alphanumeric character: S+S (Software plus Services). Two questions are now in all our minds:

1.      Will analysts feel threatened by this new breed of acronym and up the ante by introducing acronyms requiring Unicode encoding?

2.      How can I effectively communicate S+S within my organization?

As for the first question, time will only tell! In an attempt to answer the second however, I wanted to explore an analogy of a planet with imaginary epochs, where each epoch is dominated by a specific civilization, metaphorically representing an architecture style. Make sense? I hope so. Let’s begin…

Contents

The Dark Ages
The Renaissance
The Eruption of Mount Web
Deviceland
The New World
What does all this really mean?
Acknowledgement
About the Author

The Dark Ages

Architectopia has not always been the happy place it is today. Not so long ago, most of its land was dominated by the harsh Big-Iron Empire. Although not malevolent, the Big-Iron Empire imposed very strict rules on the local populations; in those days, freedom of expression was very limited. During the Dark Ages, there was no other option than to respectfully comply with the central authority of Emperor Mainframe the First.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance was a time of rapid innovation which saw the emergence of new political systems, the beginning of modern science, and geographical exploration. During this time, Architectopians were taken by the strong desire for emancipation which led to some decline of the Big-Iron Empire and the creation of several powerful states, most notably: the Republic of Desktopistan and the Great Duchy of Enterprisia.

The Republic of Desktopistan

The Republic of Desktopistan was founded on the principles of individuality and independence. Gone were the rules limiting expression. Everybody could now have access to literature, mathematics, and art; to make sure of that, a book, an abacus, and canvas could be found on every desk in every home.

No single house in the republic is the same, with custom layout, homemade wallpaper, and distinctive extensions, such as extra storage, voice-activated lighting, and large screen TVs, being the norm. In Desktopistan, it is expected that craftsmen will produce art that fits in these customized surroundings and extensions. Many loathe cookie cutter, common denominator approaches.

The strong individuality of the culture comes at a price however; it is a very lonely society. Social gathering and sharing of experience are not part of their traditions. Table 1 compares the pros and cons of living in Desktopistan.

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Table 1: Pros and Cons of life in Desktopistan (Click on the picture for a larger image)

Great Duchy of Enterprisia

A strong ally of the Big-Iron Empire during the Dark Ages, the Great Duchy of Enterprisia re-invented itself during the Renaissance. The dependence on the Empire faded away given the increased influence from Desktopistan. The motivations were not philosophical but instead grounded in the economical benefit of such change. This is not surprising as the Great Duchy has always been run as an “econimicracy,” meaning that all political decisions must result in an increased value to the total Great Duchy assets. Under these rules, some discontent in the population is acceptable, especially if happiness is deemed too expensive.

Even though in principle, the Great Duchy is open to embracing new models for improved overall benefits, it takes a very conservative stance in the adoption of such models, tools, and equipment. This slow adoption, used as a protection mechanism, is overseen by the potent 27-member-strong “pragmatic committee of new adoptions.” According to the Duchy’s rulers, slow adoption is a small price to pay for the rigor and control enabled by disciplined dissemination of new technology. With this said, it can be observed that many village chiefs don’t comply with the slow adoption process and adopt new models locally without the authority of the Great Duke. It is usually too late for the Great Duke to change anything by the time he hears about it.

On the positive side, high standards of quality are prevalent in all disciplines. The Duchy’s infrastructure such as roads and electrical power, although old-fashioned, is very dependable and suffers rare outage. The legal system is also well-developed and contractual service agreements are generally well-respected.

Lately, as part of its five year growth plan, the Duke himself chartered the Society of Order and Abundance (SOA) to reform many of the Duchy’s modus operandi. It is not clear yet whether large benefits will be obtained without reforming more fundamentally the Great Duchy, but the hope is high. Table 2 shows the pros and cons of living in the Great Duchy of Enterprisia.

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Table 2: Pros and Cons of life in the Great Duchy of Enterprisia (Click on the picture for a larger image)

The Eruption of Mount Web

The People’s Republic of the Online World is a young nation founded upon a new continent created by the violent eruptions of Mount Web. In many aspects, the People’s Republic embraces the opposite values of the Great Duchy of Enterprisia. As much Enterprisia is system-centric and process-driven, the People’s Republic is fast-moving and people-centric. Instead of relying on established, well-proven practices, citizens of the People’s Republic favor trial and error. Another point of divergence is around craftsmanship. It is clear that the People’s Republic preferred mode of craftsmanship is lightweight and functional rather than elegant or built to last. Even time seems to differ, whereas the rest of Architectopia follows long orbital years, in the People’s Republic, time is counted in much shorter southern moon days.

A common saying in the People’s Republic (which is considered heretical in the Enterprisia) is “let’s try, we’ll see what happens.” Explosions are frequent in the People’s Republic laboratories. This is not surprising to many, as most of the scientists are teenage aspiring alchemists who refuse to attend the Great Duchy of Enterprisia’s best universities. Instead they dedicate their inexhaustible energy, looking for the philosopher’s stone, which in the local dialect is called “IPO.” From a sociological perspective, it is interesting to note that many of these experimentations are sponsored by a secret society known only by two letters: V.C. Not all experiments end in explosions, however; the few that succeed usually change the face of Architectopia and become models for all the other countries, albeit adapted to the local cultures.

A fundamental value of their culture is their focus on people-centric ways of work, enabled by a highly advanced communication infrastructure. In the People’s Republic, little seems to be enjoyable if it is not done together. Work is done in group, massive social gathering are common, and reaching out to everybody is a core pillar of their philosophy.

A final aspect of cultural interest in the People’s Republic is the notion that every purchase should be free, according to its citizens.

The only request is to spend time at the end of the shopping experience in front of a large screen where propaganda (ironically, from the Great Duchy of Enterprisia) is shown. The time you are requested to watch is directly proportional to the estimated value of your shopping experience. Table 3 shows the pros and cons of living in the People’s Republic of the Online World.

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Table 3: Pros and Cons of life in the People's Republic of the Online World (Click on the picture for a larger image)

Deviceland

Kermit-TTY, the first ruler of Deviceland, arrived late to the Dividing Treaty of Architectopia, which allocated the various continents to the different early civilizations (allegedly because he “didn’t get the memo”). Since then, Deviceland inhabitants are obsessed with having access to information anytime, anywhere.

Composed of nomadic tribes of road warriors, Deviceland residents have fully adapted their habits to accommodate their high speed, always-on-the-run lifestyle. The ingenuity of the tribes is not to be underestimated; it is common practice for them to look at what is happening in the other countries and adapt the advances they find to their nomadic life—usually however, at the expense of the richness of the experience.

In Deviceland, tribes live happily in isolated territories, but in constant contact with each other and the capital city. The most likely place to encounter tribe members is at specific locations known as Hot Spots. Hot Spots are very popular in Deviceland as they provide, “the juice,” a necessary energy source for all, as well as “strong signal” which is a quasimystical electromagnetic field providing a deep sense of peace to the people. The Hot Spots are the central theme of the Deviceland anthem: “Can You Hear Me Now?” Table 4 lists pros and cons of living of in Deviceland.

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Table 4: Pros and Cons of life in Deviceland (Click on the picture for a larger image)

The New World

The recent colonization of Servicetopia, the previously hostile territories of Architectopia, triggered something new. Instead of living in isolated city-states as was prevalent in their homelands, settlers from the old world; namely the Republic of Desktopistan, Great Duchy of Enterprisia, People’s Republic of the Online world, and Deviceland inter-married and embraced each other values.

Diversity and respect for choice became the core ethos of Servicetopia. It is therefore not surprising that when Servicetopia became the United Federation of Software + Services (UF S+S), diversity and choice became central elements in the constitution. In fact, as represented by their flag, one can think of the United Federation of S+S as a powerful blend of what each old-world culture had to offer (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: The flag of the United Federation of S+S (Click on the picture for a larger image)

In its essence, UF S+S is a society that has banished the tyranny of having to choose one way of life over another, and has instead embraced the power of fusion. Both the high standards of Enterprisia and the freedom of experimentation of the People’s Republic are sought; both the rich experiences native of Desktopistan and the mobility commonly found in Deviceland are looked for. Dogmatic opinions and sacred cows are replaced by pragmatic decision making, smoothing the process of making the right choice at the right time. Table 5 shows the central attributes of the United Federation of S+S, and the originating influence.

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Table 5: The central attributes of the United Federation of S+S, and the originating influence. (Click on the picture for a larger image)

What does all this really mean?

The goal of the preceding “tongue-in-cheek” story was to convey the fundamental premise of Software + Services: hybrid architectures are good.

Akin to fusion music where pop, folk, and reggae are mixed, or fusion cuisine where foie gras sits on top of a sushi, Software + Services blends architecture patterns found in the enterprise, on the Web, in desktop applications, and in devices. Instead of choosing one over another, Software + Services embraces them all and acknowledges that patterns in each domain bring unique opportunities to an overall solution.

The proposition is therefore to part from a “one size fits all” model, and instead to blend multiple architectures within the same solution aiming for a “best of all worlds” approach.

It is no longer compromising richness for reach but offering both; it is not compromising strong control and data ownership of on-premise solution for a more economical multitenant cost structure, but achieving both.

Many examples of Software + Services exist today. The Xbox / Xbox Live combination provides a perfect example, by providing rich 3-D experiences maximizing the graphical rendering power of the local console (“Desktopistan” influence), while allowing participative experiences through the Xbox Live service (“People’s Republic of the Online World” influence). This pattern is of course not only used by Microsoft, but is becoming an industry trend. Apple’s iPod / iTunes, Salesforce.com / Salesforce.com Offline Edition combinations are also examples of this model.

Software + Services is not limited to rich local clients accessing SaaS applications, however. Another example could be the extended Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) model where enterprises run part of their service portfolio locally, and part of it in the cloud, as illustrated Figure 2.

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Figure 2: A possible S+S pattern in the enterprise (Click on the picture for a larger image)

A large number of scenarios are possible under the Software + Services umbrella, and I would argue that the three most frequent realizations (at least initially) will be:

1.      Local software complementing a cloud service (for example, an Outlook-based interface to CRM Live). This model combines the rich, responsive, familiar, local user experience with economy of scale, one-to-many SaaS delivery.

2.      Local software being augmented by a cloud service (for example, a cloud-based anti-spam, anti-phishing service augmenting a locally run mail server). This model allows a multitude of value-added services to be added in the cloud, freeing existing systems that control data deemed preferable to keep within the corporate boundaries.

3.      Location-independent, many-to-one service consumption in corporate IT (for example, “extended SOA” scenario). This scenario is a typical IT optimization scenario.

Finally, to conclude this tall tale, I leave you with the recommendation that would have been, I am sure, the opening statement of the hypothetical United Federation of Software + Services constitution: “Embrace Diversity, Demand Choice.”

Acknowledgment

Big thanks to my brothers in arms, Eugenio Pace and Frederick Chong, for the conversations leading to the different fictitious countries.

About the Author

Gianpaolo Carraro is director of Service Delivery – Microsoft Architecture Strategy. You can learn more about him through his blog: http://blogs.msdn.com/gianpaolo

 

This article was published in the Architecture Journal, a print and online publication produced by Microsoft. For more articles from this publication, please visit the Architecture Journal Web site.

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