Friday, December 08, 2006

JavaUK Roadshow Linlithgow - Report

[I'd like to say I blogged this while I actually sat in the sessions; but that would be a lie. Good old pen and paper were the name of the day. I'd also like to point out that I used to work for Sun UK in the Java Software Team and as such am not the most impartial of witnesses]

I attended the first (and hopefully not the last) JavaUK Road Show in Sun's Facility at Linlithgow, Scotland. The event was far better attended than I would have expected with nearly 40 delegates from both further education and industry. Spanning the whole day, the three major sessions covered "JavaCAPS, SOA and Web Services", "Moving Forward with Open Source" and "Free, Open and Innovative Tools for the Next Generation Web". Tying all these together was the concept of "the age of participation" - Sun's take on Web 2.0. I'll only cover the first session.

JavaCAPS, SOA and Web Services
This first session was tackled by Steve Elliot and provided an introduction to Sun's new Composite Application Platform Suite (aka CAPS) - in a nutshell their platform for SOA. While he (as will I) got onto product eventually it was very interesting to see how he framed Sun's take on the new flowering of internet technology buzzwords and concepts (generally lumped into "SOA" and "Web 2.0") in all their myriad forms and interpretations and used this to lead up to the pitch.

Just like in the boom of 6 years ago, it seems that Sun is again making a simple play to be the platform for this new web/network revolution. (Hands up who remembers "we're the dot in .com"? or the later "we make the net work"?) As a consequence, Steve started with an SOA "reality check" and explained what Jim Waldo (Sun employee and creator of Jini) has called the "Highlander Principle" - i.e. "there can be only one". A more apt title would be the "Highlander Fallacy" as his point is that this is a misconception. SOA, he explained, could be implemented using a variety of technologies, from Web Services (the current flavour of the month) to CORBA, RMI, Jini, DCOM, Raw Sockets etc. etc. The point being that there is a clear difference between architecture (the "A" in SOA) and implementation. He made it clear that Sun will continue to play in them all, and it is important not to get too pedantic about how it is done.

However, to narrow the field, he staked the Sun colours to the mast and said that their end was the enterprise end (where, for example, things like transactions are important). There was little attempt to define in detail or discuss the nature of the "S" - Service.

He then moved onto the alphabet soup that is "Web 2.0" and introduced a take which was all his own but very much in the Sun tradition of iconoclasm - "Dictionary Abuse" aka "All your words are belong to us". He went on to discuss the positioning of this on the Gartner Hype Curve before distilling it down to the concept of "The Age of Participation" summarised by a nice diagram of the world in "1.0" with a cloud with a large arrow coming down to the stick men (content access) below and a tiny one going back the way (content generation), complemented by the "2.0" could which has a even larger down arrow, but now also far larger up arrow.

Aside: Why the jump from SOA to Web 2.0? To be honest it made sense at the time but is a little stilted in the retelling. I think the best way to explain it is that Steve was trying to make things (and therefore by association Sun) cool and relate to the audience. Anyway, I digress...

The general 2.0 landscape laid out, Steve went on to link things up and discuss Sun's take on a (web) service, or more accurately how they can provide a platform for your service. The service was represented as a red blob (he stated he was keeping it simple). He introduced the analogy of the Victorians being the first real users of the SOA - they wanted tea, they wrang a bell and waited for the result. They didn't care how the tea got made orhow it got to them. It was all about the interface contract and end result. The same went for the blob. It's supposed to be opaque.

After this uncontroversial and functional depiction of a service, he then moved on to the meta or non functional features of the same. "How do I combine it with other services?" he asked. "What About Security and Identity?" and "What About QoS and SLAs?" he went on. He pointed out that not all services, or interactions with them will need to worry about these problems to the same extent, but did highlight that Governance (versioning) of services was key. He returned to this later.

He then listed the key principles which Sun feel an SOA should embody:
  • Secure
  • Policy Driven
  • Orchestrated
  • Registered and Discoverable
  • Standards Based and Driven
  • Coarse Grained (services)
  • Self Described
  • (Mostly) Asynchronous
  • Conversational
  • Document Centric (as opposed to the old conception of them as XML-RPC focussed)
  • Reliable
Nothing too controversial there either and a nice lead into a teaser for the product meat - the middleware - which Sun are providing to support these key SOA principles: JavaCAPS. However before going into it Steve had one more topic to cover off (and another Sun favourite) the standards and specifications which wrap all these when doing SOA as an XML Web Service.

While we all know the list which I could reproduce here it is interesting to note the ones which were majored on. Namely the Liberty Alliance frameworks of ID-FF and ID-WSF, and most importantly the outcome of the Sun / Microsoft 10 year joint venture to provide greater .NET and Java interoperabilty. While you can find out more on the official sites, Steve was keen to stress that this was an engineering to engineering match up and something I tend to believe. (He showed some pics of Sun kit in the Redwood data centre.) It also seems to have been a meeting of equals (and a million miles from the recent announcements of the Novell / Microsoft love-fest) and was deifnately customer driven (they share a few blue chip customers in common who basically told them both to grow up). He then provided a quick overview of the output so far: Project Tango. This is provides greated interoperation between the Microsoft Windows Communications Foundation (WCF) messaging layer and Java EE Web Services. It was announced and demoed by Microsoft at JavaONE 2006 as WSIT ("Web Services Interoperability Technology"). So what does it provide specifically and how does it do it? Well, it adds richer protocol support, a richer security model and QoS support among other things but all without changing the JAX-WS (the latest incarnation of JAX-RPC) APIs. As a consequence you will be able to take advantage of these developments in your web services without having to change a single thing; it's all just extra configuration, not coding. Release is scheduled for 2007 on JavaSE 6 and JavaEE 5 with the Glassfish app server as the deployment platform. I didn't get a chance to ask if this would work on any other platforms.

Finally we moved onto a section entitled "The need for Business Process." Again the opening gambit was a classic Sun approach - via the standards. He explained that these days, to develop and expose a service is not enough. There is the need to compose and orchestrate a collection of these into something meaningful and useful. He mentioned WS-BPEL as being the current de-facto standard for describing long running and stateful business transactions which was "generally accepted by both the Java world and Microsoft." However, hand cranking BPEL is hard to do he said. It is an execution language only and not a modelling notation (i.e. that is visual). For this he said we needed BPMN whch layers on BPEL and will reach v.1.0 in 2007.

At this conclusion, finally a product appeared - Java CAPS Enterprise Designer. Its based on the Netbeans Platform (I think part of it has got into the free Enterprise Pack) and originated from the SeeBeyond acquisition. Its aimed at business analysts - all very drag and drop. To be honest, what we saw looked very nice and usable.

To tie this back to the main thread we concluded with a lightning tour of JBI. (aka JSR 208). Steve framed this by saying this was trying to do to SOA what Java EE did to the application server. This seemed sensible enough - all about how you provide a pluggable, core intergation system with seperate rules engines. He said that the orchestration engine will be BPEL, XSLT for the transformation engine and it'll first off interoperate with Web Services, MQ and FTP drops.

And that was it. To be honest I was pretty impressed. It was reassuring to see my alma mater pulling back from being everything to everyone and going back to what it knows best. There also seems to be a move to be "cool" again which is no bad thing. What with this, the open sourcing and the currently on tour Tech Days it seems they might just pull it off...

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