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
Intelligent machines are here. Robots, self-driving cars, drones, bots and many IoT devices are becoming smarter with Machine Learning. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Sudha Jamthe, CEO of IoTDisruptions.com, will discuss the next wave of business disruption at the junction of IoT and AI, impacting many industries and set to change our lives, work and world as we know it.
SYS-CON Events announced today that eCube Systems, the leading provider of modern development tools and best practices for Continuous Integration on OpenVMS, will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. eCube Systems offers a family of middleware products and development tools that maximize return on technology investment by leveraging existing technical equity to meet evolving business needs. ...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
Join Impiger for their featured webinar: ‘Cloud Computing: A Roadmap to Modern Software Delivery’ on November 10, 2016, at 12:00 pm CST. Very few companies have not experienced some impact to their IT delivery due to the evolution of cloud computing. This webinar is not about deciding whether you should entertain moving some or all of your IT to the cloud, but rather, a detailed look under the hood to help IT professionals understand how cloud adoption has evolved and what trends will impact th...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
operations aren’t merging to become one discipline. Nor is operations simply going away. Rather, DevOps is leading software development and operations – together with other practices such as security – to collaborate and coexist with less overhead and conflict than in the past. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will discuss what modern operational practices look like in a world in which applications are more loosely coupled, are deve...
Web Real-Time Communication APIs have quickly revolutionized what browsers are capable of. In addition to video and audio streams, we can now bi-directionally send arbitrary data over WebRTC's PeerConnection Data Channels. With the advent of Progressive Web Apps and new hardware APIs such as WebBluetooh and WebUSB, we can finally enable users to stitch together the Internet of Things directly from their browsers while communicating privately and securely in a decentralized way.
All clouds are not equal. To succeed in a DevOps context, organizations should plan to develop/deploy apps across a choice of on-premise and public clouds simultaneously depending on the business needs. This is where the concept of the Lean Cloud comes in - resting on the idea that you often need to relocate your app modules over their life cycles for both innovation and operational efficiency in the cloud. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at19th Cloud Expo, Valentin (Val) Bercovici, CTO of So...
Enterprises have been using both Big Data and virtualization for years. Until recently, however, most enterprises have not combined the two. Big Data's demands for higher levels of performance, the ability to control quality-of-service (QoS), and the ability to adhere to SLAs have kept it on bare metal, apart from the modern data center cloud. With recent technology innovations, we've seen the advantages of bare metal erode to such a degree that the enhanced flexibility and reduced costs that cl...
With an estimated 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, several industries will begin to expand their capabilities for retaining end point data at the edge to better utilize the range of data types and sheer volume of M2M data generated by the Internet of Things. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and President of Infobright, discussed the infrastructures businesses will need to implement to handle this explosion of data by providing specific use cases for filterin...
Security, data privacy, reliability, and regulatory compliance are critical factors when evaluating whether to move business applications from in-house, client-hosted environments to a cloud platform. Quality assurance plays a vital role in ensuring that the appropriate level of risk assessment, verification, and validation takes place to ensure business continuity during the migration to a new cloud platform.
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
In his session at Cloud Expo, Robert Cohen, an economist and senior fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, will provide economic scenarios that describe how the rapid adoption of software-defined everything including cloud services, SDDC and open networking will change GDP, industry growth, productivity and jobs. This session will also include a drill down for several industries such as finance, social media, cloud service providers and pharmaceuticals.
DevOps is speeding towards the IT world like a freight train and the hype around it is deafening. There is no reason to be afraid of this change as it is the natural reaction to the agile movement that revolutionized development just a few years ago. By definition, DevOps is the natural alignment of IT performance to business profitability. The relevance of this has yet to be quantified but it has been suggested that the route to the CEO’s chair will come from the IT leaders that successfully ma...
We are always online. We access our data, our finances, work, and various services on the Internet. But we live in a congested world of information in which the roads were built two decades ago. The quest for better, faster Internet routing has been around for a decade, but nobody solved this problem. We’ve seen band aid approaches like CDNs that attack a niche's slice of static content part of the Internet, but that’s it. It does not address the dynamic services-based Internet of today. It doe...