The Web as Middleware - or Why You Don't Need a Bloated ESB

Loraine Lawson

I've found a wickedly funny, irreverent and occasionally even (mildly) offensive Webcast on SOA, integration and ESBs for you.

I know -- that's a rare feat in the IT sector. But I promise -- "Does My Bus Look Big in This?" delivers.

ThoughtWorks' Chief Scientist Martin Fowler and Dr. Jim Webber, global head of architecture for ThoughtWorks, gave this presentation at Qcon. You may remember Webber as the advocate of Guerrilla SOA -- a concept he revisits in this 42-minute talk.

No doubt, you're thinking you don't have time for a 42-minute lunch, much less a Web video. But you'll want to make time for this if you're at all interested in or involved with integration or SOA.

Here are six reasons why:

  1. They give an entertaining and educational retrospective of integration -- how it evolved as a discipline and where it went wrong.
  2. They explain how SOA is headed down a similar path.
  3. They take a critical look at vendor-offered ESB, outlining why they believe an ESB is just covering up a mess -- like a closet door -- but is actually still just bloated middleware.
  4. They offer an alternative to the ESB. (Hint: You probably have one lying around already if you're online.)
  5. They define services in a simple way that makes sense.
  6. They explain agility and how to achieve it in a simple way that makes sense.
  7. They make a compelling case for why the Web, with simple HTTP, is middleware and the best model for enterprise integration.

Along the way, they manage to call SOA out as a "dog's breakfast" and compare integration middleware to a "fat bloak" with a "beer belly" with "man boobs." And of course, there's the gratuitous reference to Lord of the Rings.

The core of their case is that SOA sounds good, but in practice tends to look like the same old spaghetti-connection architecture we've always had -- and an ESB just puts a nice door on it. One of the arguments for SOA -- and against Guerrilla SOA -- is that by designing SOA as a whole, you're able to create a more strategic architecture. But Fowler contends that this more traditional approach to SOA can also be inflexible and down-right unrealistic.

He says a SOA expert once told him the key to building an SOA was to make sure when you built a service, you built it so it never needed to be changed. "Does that sound like a workable plan to you?" he asks the audience.

Well, when you put it that way, no, it doesn't. He points out that agility is based on three principles:

  1. You must accept change as inevitable. Business needs change; business users change their minds. Things change. Deal with it.
  2. To deal with it, you must design software processes as if change were normal.
  3. People are the most important part of the software process. So, focus processes around what makes people effective.

And yet, he said he's heard from enterprise architecture teams who are proud of the fact that they don't talk with business users.


Achieving agility requires tools that allow you to build systems multiple times a day, quickly find out if something goes wrong, and take a vigorous approach to automated testing, he noted. It sounds pretty impossible -- until you consider that we already have a network that's achieved all of this on a much larger scale than a mere enterprise.


"The thing about the Internet is it's the stupidest network on the planet," said Webber. "It's dumb. Really dumb, but it's global. And the dumbness of the Internet is a real, real win because it enables us to do innovative things at the edges."


They don't just talk theory, either. Fowler and Webber offer specific technology suggestions for what makes their vision work. They offer a critical challenge to much of the status-quo, vendor-dominated thinking around SOA these days. And even if you disagree with their argument about Web-based design and the common-sense Guerrilla SOA, you'll still be entertained along the way.


Thanks to Rickard -berg, who pointed the way to this great resource when he linked to it from his "Stuck in the Middle" blog.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 13, 2008 2:04 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says:
Eric-It's an enterprise service bus. Sometimes, the full name is just as confounding as the three letter acronym. See this: Reply
Jun 13, 2008 8:48 AM Rajeev Rajeev  says:
REally Well written article.Rajeev Vashisht Reply
Jun 13, 2008 12:40 PM Eric Eric  says:
What is an ESB? It was never defined. Reply

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