Avoiding ungovernance

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-12-12 Print this article Print

The expansion of the project charter to a broader services perspective began in mid-2004. The registry became operational in the second quarter of this year.

Avoiding a path of ungovernance

Blueprint Technologies Inc., of Vienna, Va., worked as a subcontractor to Global Sciences & Technology Inc., also in Greenbelt, in developing NASAs ESDIS SOA solution.

Michael Burnett, principal architect for Blueprint, said the projects proponents knew that they had to prove the value and the capability of the basic ECHO platform before it would attract the commitment of data-providing partners.

"The first several operational releases of the system were focused on collecting data because without that we didnt think the services side would take off," Burnett said.

"After we were confident in the ability and the richness of the data registry, and wed built in security and management features, we moved into the services registry."

Pfister, meanwhile, promoted the system to the users whose participation and support were crucial to its success.

"Our science community was already somewhat frustrated by being confined to the single-user interface and needing to find data from one location and services from another and having to pull that all down to their workstations," Pfister explained. "They were excited but not immediately believers in ECHO. I identified opportunities where potential service and data partners would be meeting, and we made sure that wed be there and presenting posters and giving papers. When we found individuals who were interested, we made sure we kept in touch. ECHO is nothing without the partners."

Blueprints technology road map for the project avoided unnecessary risks: ECHOs normalized data model currently resides in an Oracle Corp. Oracle Database 9i database on Sun Microsystems Inc. servers running Solaris 9. Migration to Oracle Database 10g and Solaris 10 is planned for early next year, said Pfister, in what she referred to as the "Version 8" release of ECHO to its users.

Global and Blueprint this year adopted Systinet Registry from Systinet Corp. for publication and governance of ECHOs services. "We chose Systinets registry technology for its strong standards-based support, including support of the UDDI V3 standard," said Burnett. "We also found Systinet Registry provided the flexibility we needed for our diverse user community."

Version 3 of UDDI, formalized in February, is at the core of the ESDIS modernization of NASAs earth resources data capability—dramatically improving the flexibility and responsiveness of this resource in meeting national needs.

As is often the case with a rapidly developing technology, UDDI may be on many enterprise IT architects mental lists of things theyve examined and found to fall short of their needs.

Version 3 of the protocol, however, made key advances in several areas that make it more than a mere look-up list of services—paving the way for the dynamic composition of new applications that the ESDIS team hoped to offer.

UDDI 3 makes UDDI keys more convenient to use, in much the way that DNS (Domain Name System) names are more convenient than simple IP addresses. UDDI 3 incorporates digital signature mechanisms for greater confidence in using UDDI with external parties.

It also offers policy management and a subscription interface, making it an effective platform for services that can reach out to each other in value-adding ways.

Looking ahead

"Echo provides several fundamental shifts for the Earth Observation community," said Blueprints Burnett. "First, as a metadata registry, ECHO allows for many different providers from different organizations to publish their data in ... a normalized data model."

Users can then discover data of interest by searching for key metadata characteristics without prior knowledge of the existence or source of particular data sets, he added.

SAP maps out SOA plans. Click here to read more. The use of UDDI goes further, though, by establishing what Burnett and other UDDI proponents have called a marketplace environment—one in which data and applications, packaged in service interfaces, can be offered, discovered and used.

Crucially, services also can be chained together. "The ECHO infrastructure enables interoperability between these resources," Burnett emphasized, so that "data from multiple providers may be combined as input to an algorithm—a service—from a different service provider.

ECHO allows a user to discover an interesting piece of data and ask this fundamental question: What can I do with this data?"

ECHO can then offer pointers to services that might be relevant. "Weve allowed service brokering—one data publisher, a service from another, and well support and broker that—its the first step toward service chaining, and thats all included in [ECHO] Release 8," said Burnett.

What makes this a breakthrough in earth sciences data is also what makes ECHO a model for enterprise IT—that is, the ability to integrate raw data and abstract analytic services into front-line decision support applications.

In the case of ESDIS, this might mean more accurate and timely warnings of hurricane landfall locations; in the enterprise, a similar approach could knit raw information on warehouse stocks and shipping flows into valuable guidance for store-by-store promotions or other opportunities.

ECHOs benefits, NASAs Pfister said, have been both technical and organizational. A pleasant surprise to users, she said, has been "the ability to plug in specialized search modules that meet domain-specific needs—for example, one that improves accuracy of result sets beyond that provided in standard database search engines."

ECHO users are devising custom data interfaces—18 at the most recent count, according to Pfister. What were once separate data sets are now accessible through a common data model with 60 million registered items, Pfister added, and a 100 percent rate of returning all relevant results to user queries.

In the long run, though, the nontechnical benefits may be even more interesting: "It may be too early to tell," Pfister cautioned, but "early activities show increased collaboration in the community where members are sharing solutions and services that may ultimately lead to more efficient solutions to science problems, applications and decision support."

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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