Welcome!

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Open Source Cloud, @CloudExpo, SDN Journal

Microservices Expo: Article

Beyond REST and SOA: Introducing Agent-Oriented Architecture

Dynamic coupling represents a paradigm shift in how to build and utilize APIs

A question we commonly get at EnterpriseWeb is whether our platform follows REST or not. Representational State Transfer (REST) is an architectural style for distributed hypermedia systems such as the World Wide Web, and is perhaps best known for providing a lightweight, uniform Web-style application programming interface (API) to server-based resources. One the one hand, EnterpriseWeb can both consume and expose any type of interface, including tightly coupled APIs, Web Services, as well as RESTful APIs, and the platform has no requirement that customers must build distributed hypermedia systems. It would be easy to conclude, therefore, that while EnterpriseWeb supports REST, it is not truly RESTful.

Such a conclusion, however, would neglect the broader architectural context for EnterpriseWeb. The platform builds on top of and extends REST as the foundation for the dynamic, enterprise-class architectural style we call Agent-Oriented Architecture (AOA). EnterpriseWeb's intelligent agent, SmartAlex, leverages RESTful constraints as part of the core functionality of the EnterpriseWeb platform. The resulting AOA pattern essentially reinvents application functionality and enterprise integration, heralding a new paradigm for distributed computing.

The Limitations of REST
One of the primary challenges to the successful application of REST is understanding how to extend REST to distributed hypermedia systems in general, beyond the straightforward interactions between browsers and Web servers. To help clarify this point, Figure 1 below illustrates a simple RESTful architecture. In this example, the client is a browser, and it sends GETs and PUTs or other RESTful queries to URIs that resolve to resources on a server, which responds by sending the appropriate representation back to the client. In addition, REST allows for a cache intermediating between client and server that might resolve queries on behalf of the server for scalability purposes.

Figure 1: Simple RESTful Architecture

As an architectural style, however, the point of REST isn't the uniform interface that the HTTP verbs enable. REST is really about hypermedia, where hypermedia are the engine of application state - the HATEOAS constraint essential to building hypermedia systems. In figure 1, we're representing HATEOAS by the interactions between human users and their browsers as people click links on Web pages, thus advancing the application state. The RESTful client (in other words, the browser) maintains application state for each user by showing them the Web page (or other representation) they requested when they followed a given hyperlink.

However, software clients that do not necessarily have user interfaces may be problematic for REST, but they are a familiar part of the Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) architectural style, where we call such clients Service consumers. Combining REST and SOA into the combined architectural style we call REST-Based SOA introduces the notion of an intermediary that presents a Service endpoint and resolves interactions with that endpoint into underlying interactions with various legacy systems. The SOA intermediary in this case exposes RESTful endpoints as URIs that accept GETs, PUTs, etc. from Service consumers, which can be any software client. See figure 2 below for an illustration of the REST-Based SOA pattern.

Figure 2: REST-Based SOA

Note that adding SOA to REST augments the role of the intermediary. Pure REST allows for simple caching and proxy behavior, while SOA calls for policy-based routing and transformation operations that provide the Service abstraction. SOA also reinforces the notion that the Service consumer can be any piece of software, regardless of whether it has a user interface.

Even with REST-based SOA, however, we still have problems with implementing HATEOAS: coding our clients so that they are able to gather the metadata they need by following hyperlinks. In other words, how do we apply REST to any hypermedia system, where instead of a browser we have any piece of software as a client? How do we code the software client to know how to follow hyperlinks, where it doesn't know what the hyperlinks are ahead of time or what representations they're supposed to interact with? Humans simply click hyperlinks until they get the representation they want, even if they don't know beforehand how to find it. How do we teach software to automate this process and gather all the metadata it needs by following a sequence of hyperlinks?

Introducing Agent-Oriented Architecture
The answer to these questions is to cast an intelligent agent in the role of SOA intermediary in the REST-Based SOA pattern in Figure 2. Intelligent software agents (or simply intelligent agents when we know we're talking about software) are autonomous programs that have the authority to determine what action is appropriate based upon the requests made of them. In this new, Agent-Oriented architectural pattern, the agent interacts with any resource as a RESTful client, where the agent must be able to automatically follow hyperlinks to gather all the information it requires in order to respond appropriately to any request from the client.

In other words, when following this newly coined AOA architectural style, software clients do not have to comply with HATEOAS (they may, but such compliance is optional). Instead, the agent alone must follow the HATEOAS constraint as it interacts with resources. To achieve this behavior, we must underspecify the intelligent agent. In other words, the agent can't know ahead of time what it's supposed to do to respond to any particular request. Instead, it must be able to process any request on demand by fetching related resources that provide the appropriate metadata, data, or code it needs to properly respond to that request with a custom response, for each interaction in real time. Figure 3 below illustrates the basic AOA pattern.

Figure 3: Agent-Oriented Architecture

For each request from any client, regardless of whether it has a user interface, the agent constructs a custom response based on latest and most relevant information available. In fact, requests to the agent can come from anywhere (i.e., they follow an event-driven pattern). The agent's underspecification means that it doesn't know ahead of time what behavior it must exhibit, but it does know how to find the information it needs in order to determine that behavior - and it does that by following hyperlinks, as per HATEOAS. In other words, the goal-oriented agent resolves URIs recursively in order to gather and execute the information it needs - a particularly concise example of fully automated HATEOAS in action.

The Benefits of AOA

An earlier Loosely-Coupled newsletter explained that if you follow REST, you're unable to accept out-of-band metadata or business context outside of the hypermedia. Agent-Oriented Architecture, however, solves these problems, because the agent is free to fetch whatever it needs to complete the request, since it treats all entities - metadata, data, code, etc. - as resources. In other words, the agent serves as a RESTful client, even when the software client does not. What was out-of-band for REST isn't out-of-band for AOA. Everything is on the table.

The true power of AOA, though, lies in how it resolves the fundamental challenge of static APIs. Whether they be Web Services, RESTful APIs, or some other type of loosely-coupled interface, every approach to software integration today suffers from the fact that interactions tend to break when API contract metadata change.

By adding an intelligent agent to the mix, we're able to resolve differences in interaction context between disparate software endpoints dynamically and in real time. Far more than a traditional broker, which must rely on static transformation logic to resolve endpoint differences, the agent must be able to interpret metadata, as well as policies, rules, and the underlying data themselves to create real time interactions that maintain the business context - an example of dynamic coupling, a central principle to AOA.

Dynamic coupling, therefore, represents a paradigm shift in how to build and utilize APIs. Up to this point in time, the focus of both SOA and REST has been on building loosely-coupled interfaces: static, contracted interfaces specified by WSDL and various policy metadata when those interfaces are Web Services, or Internet Media Types and related metadata for RESTful interactions. Neither approach deals well with change. AOA, in contrast, relies upon dynamic coupling that responds automatically to change, since the agent interprets current metadata for every interaction in real time.

Icons by http://dryicons.com

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).

Latest Stories
UpGuard has become a member of the Center for Internet Security (CIS), and will continue to help businesses expand visibility into their cyber risk by providing hardening benchmarks to all customers. By incorporating these benchmarks, UpGuard's CSTAR solution builds on its lead in providing the most complete assessment of both internal and external cyber risk. CIS benchmarks are a widely accepted set of hardening guidelines that have been publicly available for years. Numerous solutions exist t...
"We're bringing out a new application monitoring system to the DevOps space. It manages large enterprise applications that are distributed throughout a node in many enterprises and we manage them as one collective," explained Kevin Barnes, President of eCube Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Choosing the right cloud for your workloads is a balancing act that can cost your organization time, money and aggravation - unless you get it right the first time. Economics, speed, performance, accessibility, administrative needs and security all play a vital role in dictating your approach to the cloud. Without knowing the right questions to ask, you could wind up paying for capacity you'll never need or underestimating the resources required to run your applications.
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
Adding public cloud resources to an existing application can be a daunting process. The tools that you currently use to manage the software and hardware outside the cloud aren’t always the best tools to efficiently grow into the cloud. All of the major configuration management tools have cloud orchestration plugins that can be leveraged, but there are also cloud-native tools that can dramatically improve the efficiency of managing your application lifecycle. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, ...
The competitive landscape of the global cloud computing market in the healthcare industry is crowded due to the presence of a large number of players. The large number of participants has led to the fragmented nature of the market. Some of the major players operating in the global cloud computing market in the healthcare industry are Cisco Systems Inc., Carestream Health Inc., Carecloud Corp., AGFA Healthcare, IBM Corp., Cleardata Networks, Merge Healthcare Inc., Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., an...
SYS-CON Events announced today the Kubernetes and Google Container Engine Workshop, being held November 3, 2016, in conjunction with @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. This workshop led by Sebastian Scheele introduces participants to Kubernetes and Google Container Engine (GKE). Through a combination of instructor-led presentations, demonstrations, and hands-on labs, students learn the key concepts and practices for deploying and maintainin...
StackIQ has announced the release of Stacki 3.2. Stacki is an easy-to-use Linux server provisioning tool. Stacki 3.2 delivers new capabilities that simplify the automation and integration of site-specific requirements. StackIQ is the commercial entity behind this open source bare metal provisioning tool. Since the release of Stacki in June of 2015, the Stacki core team has been focused on making the Community Edition meet the needs of members of the community, adding features and value, while ...
Using new techniques of information modeling, indexing, and processing, new cloud-based systems can support cloud-based workloads previously not possible for high-throughput insurance, banking, and case-based applications. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman of Alfresco, described how to scale cloud-based content management repositories to store, manage, and retrieve billions of documents and related information with fast and linear scalability. He addres...
Is your aging software platform suffering from technical debt while the market changes and demands new solutions at a faster clip? It’s a bold move, but you might consider walking away from your core platform and starting fresh. ReadyTalk did exactly that. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and over a decade of audio conferencing product development to start an innovati...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
Ovum, a leading technology analyst firm, has published an in-depth report, Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a DevOps Release Management Solution, 2016–17. The report focuses on the automation aspects of DevOps, Release Management and compares solutions from the leading vendors.
Continuous testing helps bridge the gap between developing quickly and maintaining high quality products. But to implement continuous testing, CTOs must take a strategic approach to building a testing infrastructure and toolset that empowers their team to move fast. Download our guide to laying the groundwork for a scalable continuous testing strategy.
It’s 2016: buildings are smart, connected and the IoT is fundamentally altering how control and operating systems work and speak to each other. Platforms across the enterprise are networked via inexpensive sensors to collect massive amounts of data for analytics, information management, and insights that can be used to continuously improve operations. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian Chemel, Co-Founder and CTO of Digital Lumens, will explore: The benefits sensor-networked systems bring to ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...