People have asked why, since I joined Sun, I’ve been going on about WS-this and WS-that. In part it’s just because I still care about all things XML. But mostly, it’s because in late 2003, before I came here, I had an eye-opening experience that changed how I think about Service-Oriented Architectures and Web Services. I think that the future is in plain sight, and that’s because it’s being built right now by the Government of Ireland, and it’s called reachservices.

Reach is an agency of the Irish government concerned generally with government services to people and organizations, and specifically with E-Government. They are building reachservices, a large piece of E-Government portal and integration infrastructure. In late 2003, Lauren and I consulted for the Irish government while they were in the process of selecting a vendor to lead the construction and deployment.

At that time, the project was known as the PSB, for “Public Services Broker;” its design documentation is on-line. I advise anyone who cares about the future of Web Services and Service-Oriented Architectures to invest some time in reading those documents.

They are hundreds of pages in length and defy summarization, but a few bullet points will give a flavor.

Design Basis · The PSB is:

  • based on asynchronous message-passing: the basic software interfaces are “inject a message” and “receive a message”. There are no RPC semantics anywhere, so it ought to scale.

  • XML-centric; Reach have defined their own simple XML envelope to aid in identifying services and routing requests to them. If you can send and receive these messages, you can work with the system.

  • platform-agnostic; the exchange of XML messages between the system and the outside world can be accomplished with XML over HTTP (or even SMTP), with Microsoft BizTalk, with WSDL and SOAP, or via Java JMS calls. This means that an agency of the Irish government that wants to use it isn’t forced into any particular vendor’s arms. The customer is highly focused on not getting locked into any technology or platform.

  • highly secure. There is all sorts of legislation that controls what may and may not be done with information about the citizens and businesses of Ireland. I was immensely impressed with the thinking on the security architecture.

  • highly accountable; this is related to but distinct from security. That is to say, all transactions that cross the integration framework must be reliably logged and that log reliably preserved.

Implementation · BearingPoint was the partner selected to lead the deployment. The implementation is modern but quite conventional: Sun and HP, Solaris and Linux, Adobe and BEA. Assuming BearingPoint nails this one, they’re going to be a force to reckon with in the E-Government space.

Lessons · reachservices is a good example of what the SOA deployments of the future will look like. I think that if there are any protocols, technologies, or standards that turn out not to be necessary for this project, then maybe they’re not that necessary at all. This is important stuff.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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May 11, 2004
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