Morning Coffee 118 – ITARC SoCal Edition

I’m not back on blog sabbatical, but between finishing my presentation and attending ITARC SoCal earlier this week – not to mention being sick – I didn’t have time to write anything. Normal Morning Coffee resumes tomorrow, here’s a summary of my notes from on my two days at ITARC.

Scott Ambler did the opening keynote on agile enterprise architecture strategy.

  • He claims that success is more prevalent in the industry that people think, because the industry has a narrow definition of success. If you change (aka widen) the definition, the success rate goes way up! That’s not exactly useful, but he referred to an as-yet-unpublished survey on project success rate that should be up on DDJ “soon”. I’d like to see that raw data.
  • While I agree with most of his points, Scott’s presentation style is very abrasive. For example, he makes the point that there is no one-size-fits-all process, which I couldn’t agree with more. But does he say it like that? No, he says “Repeatable processes? What an incredibly stupid idea!” even though the room is full of folks who probably think repeatable process is actually a good idea.
  • Scott suggested that unit tests are the best way to specify requirements. I’ve heard this before from agile practitioners, but something nags at me about it. Certainly, having executable requirements is a huge plus. But how can you be sure they’re the right requirements if the stakeholders can’t read them?
  • This keynote setup what turned out to be a major theme for the conference – traditional vs. non-traditional enterprise architecture. Or as I would characterize it: Industrial vs. Post Industrial architecture.

Simon Guest presented on user experience in architecture, which is his specialty these days. He lays out a UX model that was very compelling. I’m not sure if there’s a whitepaper version of this model (there should be) but you can see the model as he lays it out in powerpoint. I’ve seen Simon’s UX decks, but never actually seen him present it, so that was a treat.

I skipped Ted Neward’s session in order to take in something new. So I went to see Daniel Brookshier of No Magic talk about DoDAF – the Dept. of Defense Architecture Framework. I had met Daniel the night before at dinner and while No Magic primarily sells UML modeling tools, we seemed to agree that UML is most useful (in my opinion “at all useful”) when you imbue the vanilla models with custom semantics – aka you turn them into a DSL. So while I liked hanging out with Daniel, his DoDAF session did nothing except ensure I never work for the DoD. There’s no amount of money that’s worth dealing with the two dozen or so bureaucratic models that are all wholly isolated from anything that actually executes. Daniel kept saying how easy these models are to build. I’m sure they are, but that’s not the problem. Since they’re not an intrinsic part of a construction process, they won’t stay up to date. This was a very industrial approach – Daniel even stated at one point that he was “anti-Ambler”.

David Chappell did the second keynote on grid-enabled SOA.

  • When did David join Oracle? I guess I haven’t been paying much attention to competitors since I moved to MSIT.
  • There’s an article version of this presentation available, but I haven’t read it yet.
  • For me, the best part of this presentation was him acknowledging that there’s a need for non-stateless services, something he has blogged about recently. I’m not sure I agree with his framework for stateful interaction, but at least he’s admitting that it’s needed. Now if I could only convince the Connected Systems Division…
  • The rest of his talk was basically a sales pitch for the Coherence product Oracle recently bought. Basically, it’s a huge, multi-node, redundant, in-memory database. While I’m sure there are a few high-end problems out there – my immediate thought was travel and David mentioned SABRE is one of their customers – this is not a good general purpose solution, though David was positioning it as such.

My talk on “Moving Beyond Industrial Software” was after the second keynote. It was good, if sparsely attended. I’m doing it again @ the p&p Summit so I’ll post the slides and hopefully a recording after that.

I skipped the last session of the day to decompress, so the next session I went to was the day two opening keynote by Fred Waskiewicz, OMG’s Director of Standards. His talk, unsurprisingly, was on the value of standards – in particular, OMG’s standards. This was about as anti-Ambler, anti-agile, pro-industrial a presentation as you could make. I’d heard this spiel before, so I mostly tuned out. I did challenge Fred on his point that the UML models are at a higher level of abstraction than code. They’re not – they’re a visualization and they’re very useful, but they’re at the exact same level of abstraction as code. That’s why you can automatically generate the visualization in tools like Visual Studio’s class designer. Fred didn’t have much of a response to my question, though he did point out that some models like Business Process Models are, in fact, higher levels of abstraction.

Next was what I thought was the best presentation of the entire show, IASA Founder Paul Preiss on what architects need to know. Note, I’m not brown-nosing Paul here – I’m the guy that first decided to commit Microsoft as an IASA sponsor, so he has to like me even if I thought his session was crap. Paul talked about architect as a career, comparing it to doctors. He worries that he’s over-using that analogy, but software architect has much more in common career wise than it does with building architects IMO. I wonder where one might do their architecture residency? He also thinks of architects as “living governance”, saying that project managers answer to the stakeholders while architects are beholden to the stockholders. I like that approach to governance.

Finally, I attended Vince Casarez’s session on Web 2.0 in the enterprise. Vince is an Oracle VP and this turned into a sales pitch like David Chappell’s keynote did. I’m not sure what product it was, but it reminded me of QEDWiki from IBM that I saw at ETech last year, which isn’t a complement. If you’re going to build an enterprise mashup designer, is it just me or is “lots of code spew” a poor model. Why not go for something like Popfly or Pipes?

I left early the second day in order to get home before my kids went to sleep (which I failed at due to lack of naptime). Overall, the conference was pretty good, though a bit sparsely attended in part I think because they held it in San Diego. The Orange Country IASA user group is very popular, so I don’t understand why they didn’t just hold it around there somewhere. Live and learn, I guess. They did have to postpone the DC event until next year sometime. Here’s hoping I get invited to that as well as well as ITARC SoCal ’08 (note, that is brown-nosing a bit)

The Integration Business Case, continued

Nick responds to my visceral thoughts on the integration business case. There’s no point in excerpting it – go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

It looks like for case #2, he added the ability to “change readily and inexpensively”, which is to say he made it overlap even further with #4 than it used to. He also changed #3 to make it clear that he was collecting metrics to give us “awareness of process efficiency”. That makes #3 overlap with #4 on efficiency instead of #1 on BI, but either way it’s still redundant.

So we’re still left with the business cases of Business Intelligence, Efficiency and Agility. Nick conflates Efficiency and Agility both in his original post and his follow-up, but I think it makes sense to separate them. I still stand by my original point that the business is only interested in directly funding Business Intelligence.

Nick is willing to bet a nice lunch that MSFT has invested more in improving operational efficiency that we have on BI in the past four years. He’s probably right, but he missed the point I was making. The business will readily invest in improving a specific process they can measure the ROI on improving. MSFT has lots of processes, I’m sure most of them have significant room for improvement.

But Nick’s list isn’t about specific improvements. He’s explicitly wrote that he’s describing a scenario where “our systems are all optimally integrated”. Selling the business on generally improving efficiency is very different that selling the business on improving the efficiency of a specific process. I’d bet the same nice lunch that the vast majority – if not all – of integration infrastructure running at MSFT was originally deployed as part of a specific business scenario that needed to be solved.

My point here is most businesses are better at funding projects to meet specific business needs than it is at funding pure infrastructure projects.

As for agility. Martin Fowler pointed out once that adding flexibility means adding complexity. But chances are, you’ll be wrong about the flexibility you think you’ll need. So you actually end up with the additional complexity but none of the flexibility benefit. Martin recommends “since most of the time we get it wrong, just don’t put the flexibility in there”. Instead, you should strive for simplicity, since simpler systems are easier to understand and thus easier to change.

Does the same philosophy apply to process? I think so, though there is one thing I’d be willing to risk being wrong on. We all expect the steps in a process to change over time, so moving to a declarative model for process definition sounds like a good idea. Luckily, there’s existing platform infrastructure that helps you out here. But beyond that, I can’t think of a flexibility requirement that I’m so sure of that I’m willing to take on the additional complexity.

Again, I’m not saying efficiency or agility (or integration for that matter) are bad things. I’m saying they’re a tough sell to the business in the absence of specific scenarios. Selling the business on automating the ordering processing is feasible. Selling the business on building out integration infrastructure because some future project will leverage it is much tougher. If you can sell them on it, either because the company is particularly forward thinking or because you can sell ice to Eskimos, then more power to you. But for the rest of us, better to focus on specific scenarios that the business will value and keep the integration details under wraps.

Morning Coffee 95

  • New version of dasBlog is out, the final version on ASP.NET 1.1 (unless this release “kills a kitten” as per Scott Hanselman). I don’t have the time (make the time?) to run daily builds, but I do try and upgrade to new major releases in a timely fashion. I’m also moving hosters, so expect a little downtime around here at some point in the near future.
  • Matt Winkler is doing a series on alternate WF execution patterns. His first is the N of M pattern. While I can nitpick some things in WF – especially the limitations of transaction flow – WF’s support for variability and extensibility of execution patterns is fraking brilliant. (via Sam Gentile)
  • Joe McKendrick is all excited about a SOA built without web services! We’ve been “doing SOA” since the EDI days without web services, so I’m not sure this level of excitement – with an exclamation point and everything – is warranted. But it is good to see people realize web services != SOA. Instead of web services, CERN is using JMS to move messages around. I don’t know much about JMS, but I do know it supports async and durable messaging, two things I think are critical for enterprise services.
  • I saw on LtU that there’s a new paper on Singularity out. For those who don’t know, Singularity is a MS Research platform designed for reliability instead of performance. But there’s more than just a new paper. According to the project home page, “Singularity Version 1.0 is complete. We’ve shipped the Singularity Research Development Kit (RDK) to a small number of universities for their research efforts.” I wonder if I can get my hands on that RDK?
  • Jeff Atwood is starting to show ads on Coding Horror, but he’s donating “a significant percentage” of the ad revenue back into the programming community. He’s starting with $5,000 and Microsoft is matching for a total of $10,000 to be donated to open source .NET projects. Go tell Jeff which projects you think he should donate to. Castle seems to be an early favorite.
  • On Monday, Nick Malik posted what he called the Simple Lifecycle Agility Maturity Model (aka SLAMM) as a way of measuring your “agile factor”. Surprisingly, the community response has been zilch. After Nick’s comments on Agile last week, I figured someone would have something to say about it, even if only to slam it. (Slam SLAMM, ha ha.) Maybe nobody opened the spreadsheet and saw Mort has an agile factor rating of 71%? Personally, SLAMM seems like a rather coarse tool for measuring how agile you are, but coarse tools are better than no tools at all.

Morning Coffee 92

  • Brad Wilson blogs about SvnBridge, a tool that lets you use Subversion clients like TortoiseSVN to talk to Team Foundation Server. While I think that’s cool, I wonder is anyone interested in subversion clients other than TortoiseSVN? For example, will people choose AnkhSVN instead of the Team Explorer Client?
  • Speaking of TortoiseSVN, I wonder if those guys are interested in building a TortoiseTFS project? I did find two other TFS shell extensions projects: Dubbelbock TFS and Turtle, though neither appears as full featured as Tortoise.
  • Scott Guthrie details VS08′s multi-targeting support. Of course, the three versions of the .NET Framework VS08 can target all use the same underlying runtime, which probably made it easier to build.
  • Michael Platt refactors Don Box’s original tenets of service orientation so he can include some information about how these services get built.
  • Scott Hanselman tackles the tricky question of assembly granularity.
  • PowerShell Analyzer is now available for purchase. Among other things your $59 gets you, besides a 50% savings, is “Feature request priority“. That’s pretty cool. I wonder how many other micro-ISV’s take the approach of “pay me now and you get to help me pick some of the new features.”
  • Brandon LeBlanc
    My Monitor Setup
    writes about dual monitor support in Vista. I’m loving the dual monitor support, though I have a somewhat strange setup. I keep my primary monitor rotated in portrait mode, which is great for reading and writing. I typically use my second monitor for blogs and mail. I even wrote a custom multi-mon wallpaper utility so I could easily generate new wallpapers for my non-standard monitor layout, including bitmap rotate support. If there’s interest, I can post it. (via Sam Gentile)
  • Nick Malik continues to write about Mort, with the usual response from the usual folks. I liked his point that “You cannot fight economics with education”, but otherwise I’m staying out of this discussion.
  • In the same vein, Martin Fowler writes about Technical Debt. I completely agree with his hypothesis that short changing design may save time in the short term but will cost much more in the long term. However, the problem is that the people who are making the tradeoff – i.e. the people paying for the project NOT the people building the project – either don’t understand the tradeoff or are more than happy to sacrifice the long term cost for the short term gain. How are most projects measured? Being on time and on budget with the planned set of features. Very few projects – and none that I’ve ever seen – are goaled on long term maintainability. Until you can change that, this issue will continue to linger.

Morning Coffee 91

  • My wife loves me. I’m a very lucky man.
  • I’m starting to really dig Safari Books Online. Having a tablet really helps here, I can sit in bed and read and it’s ALMOST like reading a real book. Is there an offline experience? Something like the NYTimes WPF Reader app would be killer.
  • I’m not a Twitter guy, but I like the idea of using it to publish CI results. Not quite as cool as using the Ambient Orb, but close. (via DotNetKicks)
  • Soma details the dogfood usage of TFS in Developer Division. Sorta interesting if you’re into knowing that stuff. Brian Harry apparently has much more.
  • I realize that linking to Pat Helland every time he writes something is fairly redundant. If you want his feed, you know where to find it. But he writes great stuff! The latest is Accountants Don’t Use Erasers, which talks about append-only computing. His point that the database is a cache of the transaction log is mind blowing, yet makes total sense.
  • Bruce Payette blogs a PS DSL for creating XML documents.
  • Jesus Rodriguez details WCF’s new Durable Service support in .NET 3.5. I get the need for the [DurableServiceBehavior] attribute, but do I really have to adorn each of the service methods with [DurableOperationBehavior] too? That seems redundant. Also, I wonder how this looks at the channel layer?
  • Speaking of WCF’s channel layer, I recently picked up a copy of Inside Windows Communication Foundation by Justin Smith. This is the first book I’ve found that has more coverage of the channel layer than the service layer, so I like it.
  • Dare writes about Web3S, Windows Live’s general purpose REST protocol. Apparently, WL started with Atom Publishing Protocol, but found that it didn’t meet their needs around hierarchy and granular updates. David Ing says it’s “not that similar” to my concept of REST, but I going to read the spec before I comment.
  • Scott Hanselman writes about how he learned to program and some thoughts about teaching his son. Patrick has recently started expressing interest in programming (he want’s to do what Daddy does). At four, I’m thinking I’ll start him on Scratch (though ToonTalk looks interesting). As he gets older, I was thinking about Squeak, though I’m a smalltalk noob. I really like Scott’s idea of creating a connection to the physical world via something like Mindstorms. Patrick loves Lego almost as much as his dad, so that would be cool.