“Curses! Foiled Again!”

Posted in SOA by AST on Thursday, August 17th, 2006

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Only kidding–well, kinda only kidding.

I just received this article from FTPOnline about a critter called NetKernel from 1060 Research. This thing looks important, so everyone who’s been napping (me included) had better sit up and start paying attention.

The title of the post relates to the similarities of the NetKernel architecture (at least on the surface, I haven’t done a deep dive yet) to what I was trying to explain in the SOA CoP forum a while back that eventually prompted the post on Information-Oriented Architecture back in April. It is also quite close to the internal research that I’ve been doing about what would be the optimal way to deliver an XML messaging system–if that’s what you were trying to do.

What I had been doing is trying to get back to the fundamentals of what makes the Internet actually work: highly-distributed networks and the applications that provide large-scale, asynchronous messaging on top of them: SMTP. What I didn’t quite do was take the whole-hog REST approach, but I was getting there around April, because I think you can do some interesting things with XML tuple spaces and a system like NetKernel.

As is pointed out in the article, the key is caching and a separation of the logical destination address from the physical location in the network. I’m sure there are some differences between what I’ve been working on for the last couple of years and what 1060 Research has been doing, but the good thing is that now I know that the concepts are out there, under an open-source license since Peter Rodgers (1060’s CEO) was able to liberate his research project from HP once HP changed strategic direction. In and of itself, that is worth my respect. Most organizations wouldn’t be as pragmatic with their investments. Lucky for all of us that they were.

If what the article says about NetKernel is true, it proves some of what I think is wrong with all of the current crop of SOA product implementations based on code generation and direct interaction with SOAP messages. I also think the NetKernel approach (if I understand it correctly from the article and brief overview of the article) blows the pants off things like JBI, SCA and anything that is going to lead you down a particular technology choice for implementing your SOA.

People are so worried about tools and products that they’re losing sight of how elegantly simple the network model, and REST in particular, can be in making some of their implementation headaches go away. What do you think is really going to make some really big iniatives like the DoD and U.S. Government’s Information Sharing (PDF) (HTML via Google) really happen? It won’t be via passing SOAP messages around in an ESB, I can assure you.

I could go on a lot more, but I won’t. I do intend to devote some of my extremely short supply of free time over the next few weeks to looking at NetKernel more closely based on what I’ve been doing. For what’s similar to what I’ve been doing enough to claim prior art (the copyright date on the website starts in 2003–long before I ever knew what the PSB was), I’ll be motivated to share and draw some concrete conclusions as to why I believe this is important.

Ok, I lied…there’s more…

Sometimes, as software people, we get so caught up in the abstractions we’ve built that we forget that sometimes there’s a simpler way to solve the problem. No, it won’t solve all problems, and there’s some use cases for all that other junk. What we need is some people who can objectively assess, from a technology and business perspective, what the consequences of implementing SOA using various technologies are. Maybe we’re just so far lost that having someone give you a fresh towel to wipe the sweat from your brow is good enough that we don’t realize that the other guys are in Hawaii with a Waborita in their hands, and we’re still shovelling coal.

I think there really are better ways to solve some of the real IT problems today, but I’m not convinced of the “wisdom of the crowds” in this case. I think we need a few more people like 1060 Research to go out there, as it seems Chris Gunderson from the Naval Postgraduate School is doing by mis-quoting Doc Emmett Brown from Back to the Future:

I’ve lost my taste for technology roadmaps. “Where we’re going we don’t need maps!”

The quote was in response to a request for the creation of a roadmap of current SOA offerings to an ideal state, stated in evolutionary stages, posted to the SOA CoP mailing list. I might state it a little differently, at the risk of being labeled as a zealot: where we’re going, we don’t nead SOAP!

Revolutionary, not evolutionary, steps are what we need, and that is why I think the potential I see in the NetKernel architecture is so important.

And now, back to your regular scheduled silence…