Monday, March 02, 2009

SOA desperately needs DDD

Talking with some colleagues, involved in SOA projects, I often have the feeling of a big hole in the perception of what SOA is really meant for, and what is needed for SOA projects to be successful.

I do believe that SOA is a great idea, it just sounds like large scale common sense. But I also do believe that “large scale common sense” is an oxymoron. Many dysfunctions in SOA projects are closely related to what normally happens in large scale projects, and in many cases those dysfunctions are transforming the whole stuff a whole big loss of money.

A common mistake, is to focus primarily on the architectural aspects of a SOA implementation. Which sounds like a rather obvious thing to do, considering what the A of SOA stands for. Unfortunately, this approach often turns out being narrowed to large scale OOP, only with a different terminology. Services (and their underlying model) are not reusable the same way objects are (and you remember a bit of the times where “reuse” was the buzzword and OO was hype, you probably know that also object reuse turned out being a lot different from the premises).

Behind its interface, a service is implemented according to a specific model. SOA makes no assumptions about the model, and allows for different implementation strategies: so far so good. Still one of the primary drivers for SOA is the need to rationalize the enterprise landscape, by removing unnecessary duplications and enforcing reuse of enterprise level services (we’re still in the “large scale common sense” here). Too often, the attempt to rationalize the landscape goes too far, trying to involve also the model in the process. This is often linked to the way SOA is conceived and implemented within your organization, a policy like “every significant entity will have to be wrapped by a service” will possibly lead to an enterprise scale CRUD moloch.

Enter Strategic Domain Driven Design
The point is that a service might be a significant reusable entity throughout the enterprise, while a model might not. A model should be the optimal solution to one specific problem, valid within a specific context. The context must have boundaries to allow for an optimal solution. An enterprise-level model will rapidly become blurred and some key abstraction will start to serve too many different purposes.

What is a Customer within an enterprise? Can you really find a one-size-fits-all model to represent a customer within the many context that must be supported by your enterprise scale SOA? My take on that is ...nope. Well, you’ll always be able to find some trivial entity that can be the same throughout the whole enterprise, but the odds will be against you if you start looking to some non-trivial entities existing in multiple domains.

In strategic Domain Driven Design there are some key principles to address this situation.
  • a model serves a specific use”: a model is a tool, and to be perfectly shaped for a specific use, the use must be well defined. Like a tool, a model can’t be really effective if the same object is used for many different purposes. Also, an effective model must be kept small enough to be coherent and manageable by a single skilled development team.
  • a model lives within a well defined context”: context and their boundaries are really important to define a coherent model. There are entities that can be used in different context, but sharing the same entity is not necessarily the best way to address the problem. Often the drawbacks are heavies than the advantages.
  • there will always be multiple models”: despite this sounding rather obvious on a large scale SOA, many times a lot of effort is dedicated to try to fight this situation, with minimal chances to win.

A typical problem with SOA is that implicit communication costs are rarely accounted. Sharing the vision of a model within a development team already has a cost which can be kept small enough if the team size is reasonable. Having the same vision within a 5 persons team is feasible. Sharing the vision among 40 people (or more) from different consulting or body rental companies (which is a common scenario in large-scale SOA development) is pure utopia.

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