Tracking Service-Oriented and Web-Oriented Architecture

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SOA Came to Boston at EDGE (East) 2004

Perspectives on the February 24-26 Conference & Expo

(Boston) - The technical programs of technology conferences make very useful weather vanes for the state of the union in the technology space, and the i-technology devised by the advisory board for the seventh successive "Edge" conference was no exception.

After six shows under the "Web Services Edge" moniker, the decision was made early on that Web services has become so much of a given now - within the firewall and, increasingly, beyond it - that it made sense to de-emphasize this time round the newness of loosely coupled, distributed computing and concentrate instead on the chance that this show offered all comers the opportunity to do a side-by-side "compare and contrast" of leading Internet development technologies - Java, XML, .NET, Web services, and the new MX technologies from Macromedia.

Within a few weeks of announcing the Call for Papers one clear trend emerged - that service-oriented architecture (SOA) was going to be the next shoe to drop. Never has a single notion recurred so evenly throughout every session and all three keynotes.

The opening keynote, from Orbitz's CTO Chris Hjelms, featured SOA, as did the two other keynotes, one by Macromedia's General Manager David Mendels and the other by IBM's Robert S. Sutor, director of marketing for IBM's WebSphere Foundation Software as well as its Web services and SOA efforts.

What follows are a selection of perspectives and reports on the show, first-hand reports that give the flavor of what was another very rich technical program, complemented by the usual full two-day Expo that the "Edge" series is justifiably well-known for.

Keynote's Underlying Message: "Hire Bright Programmers"
"The CTO of Orbitz...gave a very interesting key note. Ostensibly, it touted the benefits of a service-oriented architecture (one of the biggest buzzwords of the day), but, as far as this listener could tell, a lot of what it added up to was: hire the brightest programmer you can find; set up a process which keeps out of their way; allow them to use open source tools if they like them. But, especially, hire bright programmers. Sadly, this never seems to be management's answer to anything. Chris Hjelm...was very clear that their technology gives them a competitive advantage. If I had to sum it up, I would say that their key differentiators... are: (a) a very sophisticated search algorithm, developed by ITA Software ( for Orbitz; and (b) a very short time-to-market for new features, made possible by small teams working with as little technical and administrative overhead as possible."

Dan Milstein, writing at (

I am here at the conference, getting ready to go into the session "Building a Rich EIS Dashboard with Macromedia Flex" given by Dave Meeker with WHITTMANHART. After this session, David Mendels (Macromedia SVP, Macromedia Tools and Platforms) will be giving the keynote titled "SOA + RIA = ROI".

My first impressions of the conference are extremely positive. The attendees seem to be geared more towards the business side of the house and project leads. Much different than what I usually see at many of the Flash conferences I have attended, which seem to cater more towards those who are in the "trenches." The staff has been extremely helpful, and the overall show seems very organized and well thought out.

Daniel Dura, writing at

I attended 14 sessions, plus the Expo and Macromedia's Flex reception and walked away with these overall impressions:
1.  I'm less concerned now with which technology is the best for developing Web applications or services (there's room for all of them, so long as they stick to standards), and more interested in the best way to intelligently connect them and orchestrate what they're doing throughout an enterprise. The session on "Service-Oriented Integration: Making the Right Choices to Support the Next Generation of Integration," by Dave Chappell of Sonic Software introduced me to the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and what appears to be a great way to evolve an "accidental architecture" into a more "service-oriented architecture."
2.  Macromedia's Flex technology looked pretty exciting. I think they've opened up Flash in a way that the developer community will find appealing. This stands to enrich the whole user experience and make the Internet a vastly more appealing place to visit. I have a sense there are a lot of Web applications out there that will be getting a facelift. :-)
3.  Orbitz appears to be one example of an organization that spent time thinking about architecture up front and has reaped rewards for that effort. Without going into detail on reasons why, just let me say that this was refreshing and reassuring to see.
4.  "An Experienced Programmer's Guide to C# and the .NET Platform". Wow. Michael Stiefel knows C# and made it look very interesting. He raffled off two copies of his book at the end of his session and I was so bummed to not win one that I went back to the Expo to buy it from the publisher. But the Expo had closed, so I looked for it at Barnes & Noble in the plaza. They didn't have it...yet. So currently it's on my list of books to buy (or convince my employer to buy for me).

Steve N. Bowers, Sr. Systems Analyst
ITS Academic Technologies
The University Of Iowa

Keynote Chris Hjelm, CTO, Orbitz

Without SOA, says Orbitz's chief technology officer, his company - founded in 2000 and successfully IPO'd since then - wouldn't be able to leverage its main competititive advantage: speed to market.

Hjelm unpacked this broad-stroke observation for a packed keynote hall on Day One of EDGE 2004. Making this as much a case study as anything, Hjelm first established the parameters of the Orbitz operations: 800+ production servers (usually commodity PCs), 3.9 million lines of code on its Web site, and 110,000 lines of code being added or deleted on a weekly basis.

"Getting your architecture right enables you to do more things faster," Hjelm observed: in Orbitz's case, that above all means of course faster searches. Orbitz's consumer-friendly site, he explained, masks a complex infrastructure. Capable of searching over 2 billion flight/fare combinations, including feature searches unique to Orbitz such as Flex Search and DealDetector, the Orbitz system validates the effectiveness of SOA - "Traditional search on old mainframes would be too expensive," Hjelm noted. Yet within just four years the Orbitz system has proven so effective, so growthful, and so user-friendly that Orbitz has in that short time captured some 17% of the entire online travel market (versus Expedia's 40% and Travelocity's 20%).

In the car space, Hjelm noted, Orbitz has captured a much larger market share. And on the messaging side, Orbitz sent out over 775,000 wireless messages in December 2003 alone.

Leveraging SOA, the company is able to deploy new SL implementations dynamically with zero impact to existing systems. "When we add a new carrier," Hjelm says, "that's done with zero impact on existing systems plus all the systems could care less what airlines we're adding in. The folks doing the 'plumbing' can work separately from those doing the actual customer-facing work."

Orbitz has had to build a fairly sophisticated customer services tool, he added.

"What are the enablers that allowed Orbitz to do what it does?" he asked rhetorically. "For a start, we built it ourselves. Re-architecting existing systems is very hard to do. When you make hardware upgrades, it's a lot easier just to add a commodity PC."

Using JINI
JINI handles all of the interfaces between Orbitz and third-party services, he explained, "managing down the complexity that would otherwise make it very difficult."

Orbitz has internally hosted J2EE inventory systems and, with the exception of one or two database servers, the entire complex runs on Linux "and it works extremely well," as Hjelm says. The advantage of deploying on Linux, he added, is that it is easily scriptable, which is why it is the building block of many commercial server appliances.

Recounting briefly the history of Orbitz's service-oriented architecture, Hjelm said that Java was the first big decision, and JINI the second. "So when SOA became popular, Orbitz had already found it.

"The JINI distributed computing framework focuses on interfaces and capabilities not implementation and location," Hjelm said.

Using EJBs gave transactional capabilities to the system and provided a robust services layer - and they are colocated on a single VM to reduce latency.

"Redundancy, stateless capabilities, it's all just 'here' with this architecture," Hjelm says.

"This all allows the client code to focus on the capabilities, not the implementation. Our developers don't worry about that side of things.

"If you were to take the average person and explain GDS to them, their head would hurt," he added, "whereas we can get developers up to speed on Orbitz fast. We add a new machine, bring it up into the network, and JINI recognizes it and starts to draw on it. It works.

"So the growth in our code base isn't in the services layer, it's in the application layer," he pointed out. That is the key to Orbitz's success, and that in turn is a function of its architectural choices.

What Next?
"From an industry standpoint nothing works better than SOA," Hjelm said. "At Orbitz we aspire to autonomic computing - we're still 3-4 months away from that."

Enhancements going forward will include a guaranteed model for delivery, and building the redundancy and scalability of the database interactions.

New features on the business side are being implemented constantly, Hjelm said. "Web services allows entry into new markets and facilitates new business models, leverages existing SOA, allows access for non-Java clients and systems, and furthers the goal of flexibility and robustness.

"Web services on top of an SOA is pretty much worthless unless you get SOA right," he observed. "You have to get the SOA right first. Then, like Amazon, we'll open up our transaction engine to anyone who wants to innovate against it."

With 90 or so software developers, the company does all of its hiring through referrals. "It's an open source culture; it's rare we have a project team bigger than 4 or 5 people (usually 2 or 3)."

In his final comments, Hjelm said. "SOA is a key enabler but...the key competitive advantage for Orbitz is speed."

As leading members of the computing industry were speaking at EDGE 2004 East Conference and Expo in Boston, SYS-CON Radio was naturally there, as usual, to talk with the movers and shakers currently shaping the next phase of i-technology growth and development.

The resulting interviews, with people like CA's Sam Greenblatt, SVP and chief architect for the Linux Technology Group at Computer Associates; IONA's CTO Eric Newcomer; Intel's Senior Architect Alan Boucher; Ascential's Michael Curry; Nexaweb's CTO Coach Wei; and many others, are all still archived and freely available at the conference site:

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SOA World Magazine News Desk trawls the world of distributed computing and SOA-related developments for the latest word on technologies, standards, products, and services and brings key information to you in a timely and convenient summary form.

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