Refactoring your architecture understanding SOA

It is no news that I work for a company supported by a mothership that helps most of his affiliates with know-how and basic tools.

But to aim expansion, one needs to go beyond those shared layers and start customizing his products and services, and in terms of software development nothing can help you more than service-oriented architectures, or SOA.

So, what’s the goal of this post? Basically providing our view on how we are going to shift from our current architecture, which is already a composite, to a more powerful layer of services.

Identifying the service

One of the first steps in order to dig into the implementation is to actually identity a first bunch of functionalities that should be incorporated as standalone services.

Usually, opportunities for new services pop up when it’s time to introduce a new functionality or the cost of fixing / implementation of a change request are too high: for example, if you want to add the ability to send SMSes from your website, a good service would be one which just deals with the receiving an input event, assembling a message and contacting the real SMS provider via webservice in order to dispatch the message; another good example is identity: if you are struggling with different userbases that need to be in sync, a good solution would be to centralize identities and provide a service which does, at least, authentication.

Data

Another tipical question is how to manage and organize data when you have a de-centralized architecture.

In SOA terms, usually data is shared among the services but this doesnt mean that each service can’t have its own data-layer: it is often seen a very old fashioned RDBMS shared across all the services and some of them using a less traditional solution, like a NoSQL DB; this is mainly done to achieve better performances and different data-retrieval patterns

Think about legacy applications that have a model which can be extensively customized by the end user, that usually implement the EAV pattern, getting stuck into performance bottlenecks, while a document-db like MongoDB or CouchDB would perfectly solve the issue.

If you are running, for example, an e-commerce system, you may want to have transactions and identities in a solid and robust system like MSSQL, while your frontend can actually run with MongoDB: once the user purchases a product, via webservice you store it into MSSQL.

Services need

One typical aspect, in SOA terms, is seeking answers to our questions (read getting responses for our requests), a problem which we can overcame with a simple solution: when a service needs another one, we talk about APIs.

For example, your frontend might offer authentication, while the Identity manager is a service providing identities to multiple layers of your architecture: when the frontend needs to authenticate a user, it will directly rely on the Identity service, asking him to authenticate the user with the credentials he or she submitted to the frontend.

APIs can be traditionally categorized into a few types:

No matter what, you will always find yourself dealing with APIs if you decided to go for SOA: it is the simplest way to provide data-exchange mechanisms to layers that don’t fully know each other’s domain.

Services listen

Another very common scenario, is when services “listen”, waiting for notifications sent across by other components of the architecture: you are probably already thinking about messaging queues and message notifications, and you are right.

A event-driven process can be achieved when we have tools such as RabbitMQ helping in gathering and dispatching notifications to various parts of the architecture: with Rabbit, a service can dispatch a message to a queue and another one (or ones), through a daemon, consumes the message.

Thinking about what I mentioned earlier, an SMS-dispatching mechanism could fit in this context really well: think about SMSes that are sent once the user completes certain actions on your frontend (by gaining credits, placing an order on your e-commerce or so on); once the user completes an action, a notification will be sent out and whoever needs to listen to that message will catch and process it.

So far so good

In our fast and new journey towards integrating services into our architecture, we are finding ourselves pretty well: it is no news that we are using RabbitMQ and Symfony2 for our new, isolated services, and that we already identified a few services that can run on their own, decoupled context.

Thinking in SOA terms, by the way, brings out a new set of problems, like thinking in terms of architecture, and not of application: you don’t deploy a new version of your application, you update a part of the architecture; your system is decoupled, from the code to the processes you use to handle them. And what about the complications in the development environments? And which monitoring tool should I use to understand that all the components are working alltogether? And…

There’s room for generic problems that everyone faced and that we will face as well, and I think it will be very interesting to share our approach and the vision we had in our own context.

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