Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Common Pitfalls of Solution Architecture Governance

Framework-ism: Form and structure over content and good practice (not best practice). Best practice is all too often a cover for theoretically ideal, but practically non-functional solutions.
Boil-the-ocean-ism: All too generic frameworks intended for large-scale program transformation lack local focus and technical guidance.
Architecture astronaut-ism: Abstraction upon abstraction upon abstraction until everything is so conceptual that end-users have dissolved into TOGAF deliverables.

My mantra for solution architecture governance is:

“In IT governance land, it is OK (read: critical!) to be IT- and solution-centric. After all, it is called solution architecture, not conceptual framework theory.”

Sunday, 11 December 2011

IBM's Open Source Enterprise Generation Language

I recently discovered that IBM have released their Enterprise Generation Language (EGL) toolkit as open source in a donation to the Eclipse project. That is definitely a nice move by IBM who are already one of the core contributors to both the Eclipse development platform and the Linux kernel.

So what is EGL? Wikipedia describes EGL as follows:

"EGL is a high level, modern business oriented programming language, designed by IBM to be platform independent. EGL is similar in syntax to other common languages so it can be learned by application developers with similar previous programming background. EGL application development abstractions shield programmers from the technical interfaces of systems and middleware allowing them to focus on building business functionality. EGL applications and services are written, tested and debugged at the EGL source level, and once they are satisfactorily functionally tested they can be compiled into COBOL, Java, or JavaScript code."

Prior to IBM's release I had never heard of EGL. It seems to have been hidden in their myriad of Rational legacy tools including the VisualAge enterprise tools for code generation and model-driven architecture (MDA). Apparently, it is quite an abstract language, which compiles into a set of different target platforms including Java, COBOL, and Javascript, depending on the solution architecture. Technical middleware and deployment are "hidden" from the developer so that he/she can concentrate on getting the business logic right as opposed to defining the technical configuration. 

Now, what does this remind me of? Sun's (and now Oracle's!) Java EE and the Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) platform. Java EE (previously J2EE) was the call for an open platform specification, which sought to solve deployment and configuration for developers and free up time for modelling requirements and implementing business logic. Transactions, persistence, and scalability were "built in" to the platform. Unfortunately the first versions of the EJB specifications were so horribly complex (remember EJB 2.x?) that developers spent an increasing amount of time on understanding persistence mechanisms, transaction handling, and writing XML files for relatively trivial tasks. Only with version 3.0 did EJB become "human" and demonstrated its full power as a relatively simple, fully mature application platform. That is not to say that EJB was not mature before -- it was just horribly complex. The higher the degree of embedded complexity, the higher is the chance of unintended errors. I know this because I have developed EJB v2 and v3 applications myself. I honestly hope that EGL does not suffer from the same legacy problems as EJB and that it can be integrated with more "lightweight" approaches to application configuration such as convention over configuration, Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY), and fluid interfaces.

EGL is a refreshing toolkit for the open source enterprise community. Even though I now spend my working life as an architect (and no longer as a software engineer), I still follow the enterprise software landscape closely. I have just downloaded the EGL Eclipse package from the web site and will follow up with some comments here in my blog.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Clever Spam

A couple of days ago some random spammer sent me the following e-mail:

It actually looks exactly like the e-mail notifications I receive daily from Twitter -- that is, except for the link content. Apparently they were not clever enough to mask the content of the underlying link with a random URL shortener. :) This e-mail was actually caught by Gmail's spam filter. I must say that I am impressed by the speed and intelligence of their spam detection system. It is very rare that it actually catches ham.

The Modesty of Writing

Blogging, e-books, and social networks have all increased the speed at which we communicate—or, from a Luhmannian perspective, how we share our utterances with the communication. For DIY publishers, the Internet is an infinitely rich channel for publishing their own content and making it available to readers and consumers at exactly the same premises as previously professional channels. And that is awesome: the Internet has democratised the way we make available and publish our thought and ideas. Recently, I have become involved in a book on cybernetics and enterprise architecture. The book was initially thought to be available through a DIY publisher and furthermore freely available as an e-book. However, due to increasing interest from traditional publisher, the book will now be published through a traditional publication channel. To me, both opportunities are equally exciting.
However, the rapid speed of immediate “publication” comes at the cost of lack of modesty, patience, and maturity. Some people use blogs to quickly fabricate and churn out trivial variations on the same topic over and over and flood the public sphere with their own opinions in a synthetic, insubstantial manner. Proof-reading is completely unheard of; proper referencing to prior art and information sources is considered almost arcane. Blogging is supposed to be a quick, responsive medium. However, when people post entire book chapters or even book manuscripts through the same source and under the same preconditions, the form and shape of blogging have certainly moved in the wrong direction. The fundamental problem is that people with blogs tend to lack the modesty of traditional writers, academics, and publishers. For blogging “pracademics”, this is furthermore caused by the lack of patience for peer-reviewed publications. Preparing a good paper can take months before it is accepted and published. For the average blogger with lots of intentions, it is, of course, a lot easier to churn out one blog post after another with incoherent fragments of argumentation and structure. If post-modernism had a place in the history of literary shapes and forms, blogging would certainly be its most significant incarnation.
Writers, researchers, and bloggers alike must return to the tradition of when pages were sparse and publication a controlled, rigorous process requiring discipline and modesty. Only through modesty have the most purposeful, unique utterances, be they peer-reviewed publications or news items, been created.