More than two decades of knowing better should translate to tools and statistics for Web services.
We speak routinely of software crashing, but we dont give those
events nearly the level of scrutiny that we give to real-world crashes.
An airplane crash triggers a painstaking investigation. When software fails, the user is told to
hope that it works the next time. Is this any way to run an airline?
This jarring difference in "crash" response has mostly been ignored.
I do remember a comment, late in the 1980s, by one advocate of advanced
software development environments: He compared C and C++ developers trying to diagnose a software failure to arson investigators roaming through the charred and smoking debris in search of a recognizable fragment of the match. Even at that time,
there were superior counterexamples such as the Lisp
machinebut relentless price pressures in the workstation market,
not to mention the growing capability of PCs, drove developers down a
path of false economy toward lower-cost tools that did much
One gallows humorist at Microsoft actually named
a tool CRASH
for Comparative Reliability Analysis of Software and Hardwareand
promised developers, among other things, the ability to calculate "a
final score other than pass or fail." Frankly, I dont understand that
proposition at all: It seems to me that software either meets its
specification, including a level of reliability sufficient to the
intended task, or it does not.
Whats between "pass" and "fail"? Would you ship a product rated
Perhaps its reasonable, though, to take a different view of
mass-market software, with consumers already having some intuitive
understanding of the "get what you pay for" difference between, for example, a
Toyota and a Lexus. Even so, from what I can see, it appears that the
real difference is not that a Lexus is more reliable, but rather that with
the Lexus, youve paid in advance for a higher level of hand-holding
when something does go wrong. Thanks, but Ill keep driving my
apparently crash-proof Sienna, and Ill keep choosing software thats
reliable over software that offers extra bells and whistles.
In the realm of software, the move to a service-based architecture
offers developers a more granular opportunity to vote for their own
preferred trade-off between doing more and failing less. Improved tools
are emerging for developers. Late last week, for example, I saw the
most recent version of Mindreefs
SOAPscope, and found the newly released Version 4 update making
important improvements to support developers throughout a Web services
In the long run, a UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) repository may offer a Web service aggregator several choices of
services that meet an applications needs. One has to wonder if
repository metadata will soon include statistically based ratings of
service availability, accuracy and other metrics of performance
history for that particular Web service offering. If Consumer Reports
can gather and publish reliability histories for automobiles, will
someone build testbed applications that invoke various common Web
services from different providers and systematically record their
Its getting cheaper to gather data, in this as in every other
realm. The IEEE, for example, announced last week its first standard
for automobile "black box" recorders to give post-crash data to
accident investigators, such as that available following aircraft
Web services should enjoy no less.
Tell me what you want to know after the crash at email@example.com.To read more Peter Coffee, subscribe to eWEEK magazine.
Check out eWEEK.coms Web Services Center for the latest news, reviews and analysis in Web services.
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 developers' technical requirements on the company's 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 company's 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.