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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Ganesh Prasad on SOA and Dependencies, Identity Management

Ganesh Prasad on SOA and Dependencies, Identity Management


1. Ganesh welcome, could you spend a few minutes just to introduce yourself to the audience?

Eric’s full question: Eric Newcomer at QCon 2012 in New York with Ganesh Prasad, an architect who’s been working in the banking and telecom industries; he’s here at the conference to speak about identity management, but he’s done a lot of interesting work in the past around SOA as well; Ganesh welcome, could you spend a few minutes just to introduce yourself to the audience?

Sure; thanks Eric; I’ve been in the IT industry for about 25 years now; I started as a programmer, a COBOL programmer on mainframes; I went through three generations of technology, minicomputer era, Unix and then the client server era with Windows PowerBuilder and Oracle backends, and then of course web and Java; so I’ve seen four generations of technology but interestingly the same patterns of problems again and again and the same patterns of solutions as well; I’ve been a programmer, a solution designer, a project leader, and lately an architect for the last ten years and also in the last ten years, I’ve worked in the area of shared services at a bank, an insurance company and a telco.


2. So what attracted you to SOA in particular?

Yes, okay; actually I came to SOA in an indirect way because I’ve been looking at shared services as I said and shared services are enterprise utilities; so these are technical services that are not business domain specific; so you find the same sort of things in banks, insurance companies, telcos, airlines, mining companies and so on; so they are things like identity management, integration, SOA, content management, communication gateways, document composition, things that are not owned by any single business unit but which are used by all of them and these present some unique challenges especially around funding.


3. These sound like common utilities sort of like a utility library or a framework type of common service.

Sure; they are called enterprise utilities in some places and sometimes they are libraries, sometimes they are standalone systems, but they are shared by different business units.


4. Where I was working previously at Credit Suisse, we had a long debate about sharing and how to share code; […] how should we do it; what are your thoughts there?

Eric’s full question: Where I was working previously at Credit Suisse, we had a long debate about sharing and how to share code; we had done some analysis to find there was a lot of overlapping and duplicate functionality in the applications and we could rationalize those down to perhaps a single function that would be shared, but then we had a big question of how should we share it the best way; should we share it with libraries, should we put an abstract interface on it, how should we do it; what are your thoughts there?

For me, the biggest challenge has been around not in deciding what needs to be done but how it’s funded and quite often everybody agrees that we need to move in a certain direction but a huge debate breaks out over who’s going to pay for that piece of work.


5. Right; when it’s shared across budgets, it’s not always clear who’s going to pay and how and who’s going to host and who’s going to own it; how did you settle that?

And that actually brings me to SOA and loose coupling because necessity is the mother of invention so as an architect in charge of shared services and having to implement a roadmap for implementing those shared services, I've had to think about creative ways of breaking up the problem into smaller components and positioning each one, marketing it so to speak to each business unit in such a way that a business unit sees some value out of that little chunk and then they are willing to pay for that; because the problem with shared services is either you need a big enterprise budget or the first project that comes along has to pay for the whole lot and neither of them is really feasible.

Eric: That’s very interesting because where I was working at Credit Suisse we had this idea that if we broke the problem up of let’s say modernization of the legacy environment into small enough pieces, into modules and components, it would be easier to move things forward toward new technologies.


Eric: Similar thinking or it was just, really just the funding?


Eric: So that was a part of it as well?

Yes; so it is more about trying to break down a larger piece of work into smaller components that could be deployed at different rates; so you couldn’t always say which one would get deployed first because one business unit would come up with a budget far faster than another; so even though you felt that this piece deserved to be done first, you’ll find another piece being done first; so you really have to architect the system in such a way that no matter in what order these components were developed, they could still plug together and eventually form this larger enterprise utility.

Eric: And this was successfully done?

Yes in more than one place; I’ve had mixed success because it’s not so much a technical problem but an organizational one.

Eric: Cultural perhaps even, how things are budgeted, organized, how people think about projects?



6. Since we have touched on SOA, I guess I should take a step back and ask what your definition of SOA is since there’s so many out there and so for you what does it mean; I know you’ve done a very well-read white paper called Practical SOA, can you explain your definition of SOA and what it means to be practical?

Okay; I found that in the industry most people conflate SOA with technology. And to my mind, it shouldn’t have been called SOA because that sort of led people down the wrong path; it should probably have been called DOT which I call dependency oriented thinking. And, after all, it's just a way of – it’s an organizing principle rather than a piece of technology.

You can apply this logic at every level of the enterprise; So if you're looking at different systems and they needn’t be technology systems, you need to look at what are the dependencies between these systems, what are the legitimate dependencies between them; so if you find that there are a number of dependencies that aren’t legitimate then you should look at removing them and the ones that are legitimate you should look at formalizing them; so you know exactly what a change to one system will mean to the other system; that is dependency oriented thinking.


7. I really think about SOA pretty much similarly to what you said, […] so perhaps it’s important to separate the design from the implementation of this.

Eric’s full question: I really think about SOA pretty much similarly to what you said, which is that it’s a design pattern or it’s an approach to a design or a blueprint for how you would redesign your IT environment and maybe develop applications a little better, more agilely with breaking the problem up, reusing functionality more easily, modularizing not really – and you can implement it with a variety of technology; so perhaps it’s important to separate the design from the implementation of this.

Correct; and in fact, I would say this applies above technology as well at the business level; so a very useful model that I have to look at enterprises is what they call the BAIT model; they have four layers, business, applications, information and technology and technology really is the lowest part of that stack and quite often the technology solutions fall out of your design once you’ve gone logically down those four layers; so even at the business level, you can apply dependency oriented thinking; you can say if we have a dependency on a partner organization, what exactly is it and can we formalize that in the form of some contracts; so we can eliminate the unnecessary dependencies that exist between our organizations and the part that is legitimate we formalize into a contract so that we are protected; we know exactly what will happen when there is a change in the environment and we can protect against it.


8. So these dependencies lead to integration opportunities; so would you say your work is involved in application integration as well or really just a set of common utilities?

Integration is another interesting term; so let me be a bit provocative on this; so when you point your browser at a website and the page loads, what do you call it integration; I mean it seems so trivial that no one would ever call that integration; whereas when we have a six-month project that costs a few million bucks and we have a huge team working to get two systems to communicate and at the end of it you manage to get some interoperability between two systems that weren’t designed to work together then you call that an integration project.

To my mind, it’s a little outrageous really because I believe that that is a failure of prior design; systems must be built to be interoperable; so it’s got to be a Lego block kind of approach to building systems and integration should just fall out of the way systems are built, not something that you have to do over six months spending so many millions of dollars and say that’s integration and pointing a browser at a website and having a page load is not integration.

Eric: As long as they’re built in a consistent way according to standard practice or with standard technologies or standard design approach; because as you know if you’re going to an environment with a lot of legacy systems that weren’t developed that way, then you have a challenge of how do you make these things interoperate or integrate moving forward.

Correct, yes.

Eric: But if you are starting a new project then everything should be done with that in mind.

Well I’d say it applies to the way you approach legacy as well.

Eric: Also.

Because going back to dependencies right, so if you look at two functional areas, this was way back in 1974 I believe that there was a paper written by three people whose name I forget but this paper for the first time introduced this concept of cohesion and coupling; now if you look at it, service-oriented architecture is nothing but the application of this principle of cohesion and coupling; so what is cohesion; it’s just a principle that things that belong together should go together; so what forms an application is just a set of related functions and coupling is a principle that says systems should exchange the bare minimum information with each other; so you’ve got to reduce the amount of communication between two systems, two cohesive systems to the absolute minimum; if you apply this principle across the board, you will have SOA and you will have interoperability; it just falls out of that approach.


9. Why do you think there’s so much skepticism still about SOA; […] have you run into this skepticism?

Eric’s full question: Why do you think there’s so much skepticism still about SOA; I know at the previous company I was working, Credit Suisse, there had been a very large SOA project at one time, which seemed to have failed, at the least the perception was that it failed, and people as you had said earlier confused technology with the design pattern and said SOA is too slow which is obviously not correct for a design pattern, but they seemed very reluctant to try it again because of failure; so have you run into this skepticism?

Oh, absolutely; and there are two reasons for this; one is that when it succeeds, it’s not recognized as SOA because it doesn’t have any technology in it, it was just good design; and when it fails, it is clearly marked as SOA because it was technology; so I have seen examples of people using very expensive ESBs to connect two systems and they were under the impression they were doing SOA because they were intermediating two systems; and at the same time they were exposing internal data from one system to the other so they were actually tightly coupling these two systems at the data level and yet they would have been shocked at the suggestion that they were not loosely coupled because hey, we are using an ESB; so if that project failed because of that tight coupling, they’ll go SOA has failed but actually it failed because they failed to apply SOA.

Eric: In this case, I dug into it and it turned out the failure was due to deploying a service on a very lightweight Windows machine in an unsecured area and there was a dependency on it, a very mission critical service; when the Windows machine went down, the mission critical service failed and therefore they blamed SOA but this was really a case of inappropriate design or inappropriate execution of the design.

Yes, perhaps but one could also argue that one of the dependencies that existed wasn’t properly catered for. And so it was a SOA failure.


10. I had talked recently with a large manufacturing company and they told me they viewed everything as a service when they started on their SOA program; […] have you seen this or do you think this is part of the issue?

Eric’s full question: Well that’s fair enough; I had talked recently with a large manufacturing company and they told me they viewed everything as a service when they started on their SOA program and they took 3270 screens from their mainframe interactions and craft them as a service and they had a problem because things weren’t responsive, they weren’t working as correctly as they felt they should; there maybe it was just a lack of understanding of associating a function with a service instead of trying to just wrap every existing application and treat it as a service; have you seen this or do you think this is part of the issue?

Quite often. I think if we go down from the business layer towards technology, I think a lot of these problems will be solved; because at the business layer you need to ask yourself what are we doing, what are our primary business functions and then what are the processes that these business functions entail and then what are the steps in these business processes; and when you do that, you automatically come up with a set of cohesively defined functions that should be your services; now that is your target state of what a service oriented organization should be and we should be looking at how do we get our existing applications to move to that state. So I don’t know if that level of thinking had been done layer by layer.

Eric: I don’t think so; I think they just said let’s do SOA; everything we have is a service therefore we’ve done SOA as opposed to let’s do a design which is as you said what really needs to be done.



11. Now in the case where SOA has succeeded, how do you know; how did you measure the success, what were the benefits which were achieved?

You know, this is really sad because it’s really hard to point to an example of success in SOA not because they are rare but because they are just not recognized as SOA when they succeed; SOA is just a question of sensible design where someone says let’s not do this because that’s going to couple two systems too tightly together; let’s only exchange the bare minimum information; that is an example of SOA and that actually saves money, it saves time down the track but no one ever recognizes it.


12. I agree with you that SOA is a very good and helpful design approach because it’s functional and it’s easy to relate to the business […] how can we be sure we’ve succeeded, how can we be sure the investment has been …?

Eric’s full question: I agree with you that SOA is a very good and helpful design approach because it’s functional and it’s easy to relate to the business, the functions that a business performs for its customers and other businesses; but we in our SOA projects, we’re always asked how can you measure the value of the investment that’s a little bit more investment in doing SOA because you have to create a shared service which is a little bit more complicated than having the same function exist in a single application; how can we be sure we’ve succeeded, how can we be sure the investment has been …?

Of late, I’ve seen organizations that when they cost a project they also cost the estimated savings they’ve got because they’re using reusable services so that’s a good start, that’s a good approach; but I think we should also take into account the less glamorous aspects of design where you just reduce dependencies; I mean we don't have to have created a SOAP service to say we’re reusing a service, just reducing dependencies between systems by not exchanging a piece of unnecessary information or not exposing a piece of internal data, those are examples of SOA thinking too and these are going to save you money in the long run; but we never ever account for them when we estimate future projects and we go "You know what? We made a really good design decision back there that’s saving us thousands of dollars today", we never do that.

Eric: Right; so the benefits of good design should be obvious and should carry through over years.


Eric: But it may be difficult to recognize the way projects are done and the way people think about IT?



13. What about governance; how would you position SOA in the governance area?

I have a real provocative take on this as well. Because I have a beef with the industry definition of SOA governance. So there’s this view of SOA governance as a subset of IT governance which in turn is a subset of corporate governance. And corporate governance is supposed to apply to the governance of corporate assets, IT governance to the governance of IT assets and therefore SOA governance to the governance of SOA assets because SOA is seen as a subset of technology.

Eric: Where there are some additional artifacts SOA introduces into the IT environment, the interfaces, messages.

Well yes but my take on this is SOA is an adjective that says you are aware of dependencies; so when you talk about SOA governance, you’re basically saying I do governance with a consciousness about dependencies; to me that brings us to what’s the difference between governance and management.

Eric: Right; so this is a scope issue perhaps?

Well yes, yes and no; a lot of people use the word governance when they mean management; so this is one of the first things we need to tease apart, what do you mean by governance and what do you mean by management; so to my mind governance is about doing the right thing and management is about doing things right; so one is the what the other is the how; so one talks about objectives and scope as you said, the other one is how do we get there from here; so they’re two really different things and it’s like the board of an organization versus the executive management or like the project steering committee versus the working group; so one of them deals with objectives, what should be done and the other one deals with how do we do it.

So if we say SOA governance and SOA management, we’re really talking about dependencies; SOA governance is what are the right dependencies that should exist and SOA management says how do we get to a state where these are the only dependencies; so how do we eliminate unnecessary dependencies, how do we formalize the legitimate dependencies, how do we prevent fresh dependencies from creeping in so that’s SOA management; so SOA governance is all about saying what are the legitimate dependencies at each level, business, application, information, technology.


14. Should this be done globally by project; what’s the scope?

There are four levels; you need to even have committees at the business level to say what are our dependencies at the business level and unfortunately we just don’t have that kind of thinking at a business level.


15. We had the same challenge, very hard to get business and IT working together to solve problems and yet that seems to be exactly what companies need to do to address their concerns about IT.

It’s really a pity that SOA is something that potentially saves so much money; it improves your agility because when you reduce dependencies between systems, you can change systems without having to worry about impacts to others so you can move faster; your operational costs are lower because your related changes are less and you have to do less regression testing and your operational risks are lower because there’s less likelihood of you breaking other things when you change something; so what’s not to like; the business should actually want to adopt SOA across the board but unfortunately SOA has been seen as this kind of technology-only thing and a subset of technology at that and that’s why it’s failed to reach its potential.


16. All of the vendors have tried to coopt it; I remember very clearly when BEA came out and said SOA equals JAVA 2EE. Another vendor said have done similar; what about REST; we’ve heard a lot at this conference about REST web-based approaches; do you think that fits within the context of SOA or something else?

Absolutely, absolutely; and again unfortunately I blame the REST guys a little bit for this because they have often conflated the word SOA with SOAP-based web services; so they say REST is really good we can do all of this whereas with SOA you can’t; what they actually mean is with SOAP-based web services you can’t do this.

Eric: Okay, confusing technology with the design patterns.

Absolutely. And could – to the extent that REST also decouples say resources from representations and so on, it’s a form of SOA and again you can do non-SOA REST; I have seen examples of RESTful URIs that go something /customers/1234 where 1234 is the primary key of the customer in the database; so you are exposing something that’s internal to your domain out through your interface and you are tightly coupled now; what’s the point of saying, oh, I’m doing REST and so it’s loosely coupled; it’s not.


17. I agree with you; we should be able to consider REST as part of the toolkit for implementing SOA […].

Eric’s full question: I agree with you; we should be able to consider REST as part of the toolkit for implementing SOA; I think we would have viewed it that way too and Anne Thomas Manes as you may know has a good talk on that about RESTful SOA where she makes a very similar case; in her view the main benefit is abstraction however it’s implemented whether with web services or REST; you abstract things and as you said if you’re putting in your primary key of your data that you’re looking up in your URI then you’re not abstracting either.

Yes; so I would say rather than have RESTful SOA, we need SOAful REST; we need to apply these dependency oriented thinking to any technology that we use.


18. What about the cloud and SOA, is there a relationship there? We heard a lot at the conference about cloud computing.


Eric: I think everyone is doing something with the cloud and there are many definitions of that as well, but I tend to think of it as a virtualized environment the Amazon, Rackspace that kind of thing and do you see a correlation?

Oh, absolutely; let’s put on our dependency oriented hats again and look at the cloud, right; what is it that it’s really doing in terms of dependencies; I think that it’s not going to make, cloud is not going to make so much of a difference to developers, solution designers or architects; it’s actually going to make a difference to project managers and the business for the simple reason that it’s completely eliminated or driven down the cost and the time to provision infrastructure; if you look at any significant organization and any significant project, you’d find that the project managers are devoting a lot of time to provisioning infrastructure.

It starts at the beginning of the project and it goes on for about six months, how do we procure hardware, how do we deploy hardware, what do we do about the production environment, the DR environment, the test environment; so they’re actually looking at procuring servers, you know, installing them and getting them set up; that takes months and costs so much money; whereas with the cloud it’s a matter of minutes you can spin up new servers; so that is a major dependency that has gone away because of the cloud; so it’s an infrastructure provisioning dependency that the cloud has taken away and that’s the SOA view of the cloud in my opinion.


19. One of the things that I’ve heard in the financial services industry here in New York is everyone would like to move to commodity data center type of architecture with the cloud virtualization on top of it, […] is there something SOA can help with in that transition? Do you think that’s an issue?

Eric’s full question: One of the things that I’ve heard in the financial services industry here in New York is everyone would like to move to commodity data center type of architecture with the cloud virtualization on top of it, for those reasons easier to provision and spin up and spin down when you don’t need; but I heard of many people say that the big challenge is how do we get our applications well better suited for that environment; how do we get our applications moved over; is there something people need to do; is there something SOA can help with in that transition? Do you think that’s an issue?

Well, modern applications typically what is a server, it’s an IP address and most of them run on Java web servers or most of the modern software that we’re talking about runs as easily in a cloud environment as it is on on-premise environments; so I really don’t see any difference there in terms of what the cloud brings to us; I really see that removing a major dependency in the infrastructure provisioning side, which is where I think it’s going to have major benefit.


21. How about the area of identity management; can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on there recently?

This is actually a very good case study for how one can apply loose coupling to a shared infrastructure, to shared services right; so identity management is an enterprise utility; more than one business unit can take advantage of it but nobody wants to pay for the whole thing; so how do you break up identity management into loosely coupled pieces that can be chunked and funded independently by different business units and still be put together so that it forms a full-fledged identity management system; so that in fact was the subject of my white paper called Identity Management on a Shoestring that’s published by InfoQ and it’s available for free download and I also spoke about it at this conference.

So it’s basically around data design; so again I made the point that identity management is not about technology; the technology is the easy part; if you don’t have the right technology you can roll your own, but if your data model is wrong no matter how much technology you throw at the problem, you won’t solve it; so it’s more about some principles around loose coupling that you apply to data, how you keep, how you model the right entities, don’t use surrogates, use meaning-free identifiers, don’t expose internal identifiers to the outside world, use master data management principles to keep replicas in sync and so on; so it’s the really data oriented, common sense principles of cohesion and coupling really or SOA and that’s what gives you the loose coupling and the ability to independently fund chunks of this identity management system that you can all put together after four or five years and go you’ve got an enterprise utility.

Eric: I’m picking up a common theme here which is the importance of design to almost any kind of work that’s being done in the IT environment today.



22. Certainly, we heard about this from the speaker from Apple about the importance of design for Apple products which is very famous, but perhaps for these kinds of enterprise applications the importance of having a good design isn’t as well understood as it should be.

That right; I think we put too much faith in technology and we don’t think enough about the application design; I think that should come first; architecture should precede product procurement.

Oct 12, 2012