Saturday, April 01, 2006

You're so Enterprise...

The discussion of 'enterprise grade' and 'web grade' has been on the mind of the blogging community. David Heinemeier Hansson, with the recent Ruby on Rails success on his resume, recently branded an EA, "Boy, is James McGovern enterprise or what!" - let's be clear, this was meant as an insult.

He goes on to say, "Thus, allow me to make this perfectly clear: I would be as happy as a clam never to write a single line of software that guys like James McGovern found worthy of The Enterprise."

Recently, I asked some EA's to comment on this line of thinking. Putting the immature insults aside, were there valid points to be taken away?

Here is what I heard:
1. First, we can't just lump RSS, REST, RoR into the same bucket - each technology must be evaluated independently.

2. RSS can be viewed as an overlay network and has already proven to scale to the needs of the largest enterprises in the world. However, groups like MS have identified shortcomings and made feature extensions. This pattern will likely continue.

3. REST, as the principle foundation of the Web, has proven that it too can scale - but the areas where it has proven to scale the best are related to the movement of unstructured HTML documents using a constrained set of verbs. Others will note the success of RESTian API's in leading Web companies like Amazon. Most EA's were quick to acknowledge that the WS-stack is fat and that the lack of ubiquitous deployment was creating a larger than usual demand for simple RESTian style development. The delay of Microsoft Vista didn't help. EA's remain concerned that the lack of published resolutions to the non-functional concerns (security, reliability, transactional integrity) for RESTian projects will lead to either one-off implementations across the global enterprise leading to a deferred mediation problem, or alternatively might lead to a set of RESTian specifications that closely resembled the WS-specs, as they both attempted to satisfy the same use cases. The conclusions was that RESTian principles will make significant waves in the enterprise because of the solid foundation and ability to add more 'enterprise crap' on it if they need to.

4. Ruby on Rails - Generally speaking most of the EA's I've spoken with understood the power to quickly create web apps with RoR. One was quick to note, "if time to market was my primary concern, we'd use Cold Fusion, rarely is that the case." It was clear that many EA's were uneasy talking about RoR; they lacked data and were turned off by the comments that David Heinemeier Hansson had made, suggesting that Ruby was definitely interesting but were unsure if the RoR team was aware of the political nature of the enterprise - and the need to satisfy unique requirements. Most EA's were interested in finding a place to do 'departmental RoR' and kicking the tires. They were also interested in the long term potential of Ruby, RoR aside.

---- Part II
In regard to the comment that Dare had made, "If you are building distributed applications for your business, you really need to ask yourself what is so complex about the problems that you have to solve that makes it require more complex solutions than those that are working on a global scale on the World Wide Web today." I tried to have a conversation with several architects on this subject and we immediately ran into a problem. We were trying to compare and contrast a typical enterprise application with one like Microsoft Live. Not knowing the MS Live architecture we attempted to 'best guess' what it might look like:

  • An advanced presentation layer, probably with an advance portal mechanism
  • Some kind of mechanism to facilitate internationalization
  • A highly scalable 'logic layer'
  • A responsive data store (cached, but probably not transactional)
  • A traditional row of web servers / maybe Akamai thing thrown in
  • Some sort of user authentication / access control mechanism
  • A load balancing mechanism
  • Some kind of federated token mechanism to other MS properties
  • An outward facing API
  • Some information was syndicated via RSS
  • The bulk of the code was done is some OO language like Java or C#
  • Modularity and encapsulation was encouraged; loose coupling when appropriate
  • Some kind of systems management and monitoring
  • Assuming that we are capturing any sensitive information, an on the wire encryption mechanism
  • We guessed that many of the technologies that the team used were dictated to them: Let's just say they didn't use Java and BEA AquaLogic.
  • We also guessed that some of the typical stuff didn't make their requirements list (regulatory & compliance issues, interfacing with CICS, TPF, etc., interfacing with batch systems, interfacing with CORBA or DCE, hot swapping business rules, guaranteed SLA's, ability to monitor state of a business process, etc.)

At the end of the day - we were scratching our heads. We DON'T know the MS Live architecture - but we've got a pretty good guess on what it looks like - and ya know what? According to our mocked up version, it looked like all of our 'Enterprise Crap'.

So, in response to Dare's question of what is so much more complex about 'enterprise' over 'web', our response was "not much, the usual compliance and legacy stuff". However, we now pose a new question to Dare:
What is so much more simple about your architecture than ours?

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