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ESBs Are Made for This. Aren’t They? | @CloudExpo #ESB #Cloud #DevOps

The following fictional case study is a composite of actual horror stories I’ve heard over the years

The following fictional case study is a composite of actual horror stories I've heard over the years. Unfortunately, this scenario often occurs when in-house integration teams take on the complexities of DevOps and ALM integration with an enterprise service bus (ESB) or custom integration. It is written from the perspective of an enterprise architect tasked with leading an organization's effort to adopt Agile to become more competitive. The company has turned to Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) as a way of scaling Agile, since initial attempts at Agile were not successful despite many scrum master training sessions.

I'm told that our SAFe implementation depends on the flow of information between people from different parts of the organization. Because these groups all use different tools, we need to focus on integrating them.

As senior director of Integrated Things for VeryLarge Corp., I have the expertise and know that my team can pull it off. Some of these tools are familiar to my team; we've already connected a couple of them to satisfy one use case, so I feel confident. ESBs are mature and the team is solid. Knowing that we've already deployed ESBawesome successfully makes me feel like this project is in the bag.

So how could I possibly fail? (Spoiler: Here's how):

ESBs Are Made for This
Choosing an ESB for this is easy. I want ESBawesome, since it's got good backing, super adoption and a great community. It has all the "ilities," including high availability, reliability and scalability. Plus it offers fault tolerance, security, tracking and monitoring.

With the tick boxes checked, I can see that ESBawesome already has a connector for some of the systems that we use: Atlassian JIRA and ServiceNow. And because of its API flexibility, ESBawesome can integrate anything. It even offers an easy way to generate connectors!

ESBawesome also fits in well with VeryLarge Corp.'s integration strategy; we've already got it deployed and we have a team built around it.

Team Capacity
The integration team's backlog isn't looking too bad. They're due to come off the current integration project, integrating the inventory-checking module with POS, and should be ready to begin in about six weeks.

Of course, there are a few hiccups. We're having problems with an upgrade of Atlassian's OnDemand JIRA service - where some of JIRAs changes regarding date handling in its REST APIs have caused hundreds of errors in our JIRA - ServiceNow integration. That, and we have to investigate why we've occasionally started seeing "Not authorized to perform action: Invalid key" errors from Rally. Oh, and we're currently blocking an upgrade of IBM RTC from 4.0.1 to 5.0.2 due to some changes and its client libraries from the old version not being compatible with the new version.

On top of that, I'm having multiple problems with the integrations that we've recently created. Not only were the integrations tricky, maintenance is much harder than we thought. These are taking my team more time than anticipated and, as a result, it's looking like a potential multi-month delay before I can even get started on this new integration effort.

Getting Started
It is three months later and we're finally getting started on our first SAFe integration use-case: quality group defect sharing with development. We've got our ESBawesome ESB application building in our CI environment, and we're deploying it continuously to a staging environment. We're operating at 40 percent capacity because the team is still dealing with the RTC upgrade, but we've got a great start in large part because of our previous ESBawesome experience.

To make the integration fault tolerant we've got to be sure to implement the ESBawesome "reliability patterns" correctly. We're using Oracle as a back-end relational database to help with that, but currently we're waiting on IT to set us up with an account with sufficient permissions to create the tables and sequences that we need.

The ESBawesome reliability patterns also call for a proper JMS queue, and we've finally got one going. It's not the same one that we'll use in production, but it's good enough for development. Hopefully things will just work when we switch over.

Connecting the Systems
It turns out that the JIRA connector for ESBawesome isn't all it's cooked up to be. It's definitely not designed for the kinds of use cases that we have in mind. The problem is that the low-level APIs of JIRA (and the connector) don't deal with JIRA issues as a whole - things such as watchers, links and comments are separate API calls.

Our first integration is all about connecting defects from the QA team with the development team. To do that we need the whole JIRA issue to reflect the state of defects filed in HPE ALM. Propagating only some of the state just won't do, so we have to deal with complexity such as a failure to update an issue with links after successfully creating it in JIRA. We're still trying to wrap our heads around how to manage such partially successful state replication.

On the HPE ALM side the ESBawesome connector is coming together slowly. We've had trouble getting the ESBawesome annotation-based REST connector to work for some of HPE ALM's API calls since we've discovered that some of the assumptions about REST APIs aren't holding true for HPE ALM.

It's now four months since we kicked off this project, and the team has caught its first whiff of success. We've got issue creation in JIRA working! We had to hard code some values for some of the required fields in JIRA, but it works!

The next step is to make it easier to add new projects. Our teams in JIRA have all customized their projects with different statuses, fields and severities. I'm surprised at the lack of commonality among our 3,000 JIRA projects.

At the moment, each time we add a new project we have to hard code more values and field-specific logic into our ESBawesome application. The team knows this won't scale, so it has started creating an XML file to configure these settings. With three projects integrated, the XML file is over 4,000 lines. It's going to be tricky editing this file each time we add new projects, but we'd prefer to do that rather than have it hard coded in the application.

The team thinks that it has the fault tolerance and reliability aspects of the integration solved with the Oracle database and JMS.

We want to use ESBawesome's clustering capabilities for scalability and high availability, but we have to adapt some of our application logic to make that work. We chose the wrong level of abstraction for an integration unit of work, and have found that partial failures can result in issues with missing comments and others with duplicated comments, which causes a communication breakdown. Thankfully we haven't deployed into production yet, and it's not affecting any teams directly.

Our initial tests have shown that we don't really need clustering to scale to the levels we'll need with our 20,000+ developers. I'm cringing at the effort that we're spending on this.

We've had to pull in IT again since we'll need a load balancer in front of our ESBawesome cluster to handle transparent fail-over. It looks like they'll be meeting with us sometime next week to talk about environments, hardware allocation and timelines.

Domain Expertise
We've spent so much time trying to get the integration to work, sorting out the details with the technical bits (connectors, environments, databases and everything else) that we haven't had much time to test things with our users. Today we set up a mock trial with the quality group and it turns out that we completely missed something that's essential for this to work.

When an engineer resolves a defect, the quality team doesn't want it to show up as resolved in HPE ALM since they need to design and run tests to verify that it's indeed closed, and create the appropriate regression tests if needed. This only happens for defects in the ‘Ready for Verification' state - but we can't just move defects to that state without a quality engineer verifying that the change made it into a build that's been deployed to the QA environment. We proposed adding a new status, but that didn't fly because it would mess up their reports, so we're working on a way to have the "development status" show up in a new custom field in HPE ALM.

It's eight months since project kick-off and we now have a few "early adopter" teams trying out the new integration.

Initial feedback has been pretty good, but we now have a backlog of over 150 defects and feature requests. Most of them are minor, but a couple of them worry me. I'm not sure how we're going to deal with the loss of HTML formatting in descriptions for example, and HPE ALM's notion of comments as a single large text field is really problematic.

We had to put a few of our other integration projects on hold for awhile to get this one out the door, so we're switching gears right now to get those back on track. The team should be able to get back to this one in a couple of months, at which point we'll look at incorporating feedback from our users. If everything looks good, we'll be bringing on more teams into the trial and hopefully get the green light to deploy department-wide soon.

I'm feeling optimistic, but one of my engineers has given me a heads-up that Atlassian is about to delivery its next version of JIRA. I learned this happens about every six months. How in the world are we going to keep up?

Overall we failed the business. Looking back at what we accomplished, I'm really proud of my team. They overcame a lot of technical issues and really delivered. Unfortunately it wasn't enough.

It took eight months and a big chunk of my integration team's delivery capacity to deliver the first integration. The delay caused us to miss our SAFe implementation goals, and we only delivered a small piece of the integration puzzle. In the meantime, my team was unable to deliver on other projects, which is costing us in lost opportunities.

Here are some of the things we learned along the way:

  • Integrating teams is more complicated than we thought - the technology is only a part of integration. Understanding the reasons why and supporting specific integration use cases of multiple stakeholders is key.
  • This very quickly turned into a large development effort. Thankfully I have a top-notch team, but even they had to overcome some big problems. And there was constant pressure to deliver. VeryLarge Corp. really needed this up and running before we even started, and we simply couldn't deliver fast enough.
  • ESBawesome is a fabulous ESB. It really pulled through for us as a technology platform. The issue for us, though, was that ESB focused on the technical problem. As a result we were in the weeds a lot of the time. For DevOps and ALM/SDLC integration there was a great deal of customization and it was not straightforward. Using an ESB as the basis for our integration meant that we followed an industry-standard integration approach, but it also meant that a lot of software engineering was required. ESBs solve some of the problems, but come with their own complexity, requiring a high degree of expertise.
  • Connectors are a big part of the equation. ESBawesome only came with one of the connectors that we needed, so we ended up building the others ourselves. It's pretty quick to see some initial headway, but it is difficult to get these right. Building a connector means dealing with all of the idiosyncrasies and bugs of a third-party product API, which can vary from one version to the next.
  • The integrations that we built previously take a lot of effort to maintain. Through no fault of our own, APIs are changing and breaking in unexpected ways. This puts a heavy maintenance burden on my team. I'm going to have to plan for even more of this as we proceed with our integration strategy. I'll need to either cut the team's expected delivery of new features, or expand the team to account for maintenance.

It should be obvious that this enterprise architect went into the Agile scaling project unaware of the many technical and business challenges ahead, thereby spending an inordinate amount of time (and money) going down this route. Not till too far down the road did he understand that it can be very costly trying to accomplish this mission using only tools that his company already used. By then, his group had already failed.

More Stories By David Green

David Green is Vice President, Architecture at Tasktop. He was a founding member of MAKE Technologies, where he held the positions of CTO, vice president of technology and principal tools architect. At MAKE, he pioneered a model-driven approach to legacy modernization on the Eclipse platform, integrating business requirements, semantic code generation and data transformation.

David is an Eclipse committer and creator of Mylyn WikiText, a framework and tools for integrating wiki formatting into the Eclipse platform. He is well known for his widely read blog, Green's Opinion, apps for iPhone and Android, and speaking engagements at conferences such as JavaOne and EclipseCon.

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Daniel Jones is CTO of EngineerBetter, helping enterprises deliver value faster. Previously he was an IT consultant, indie video games developer, head of web development in the finance sector, and an award-winning martial artist. Continuous Delivery makes it possible to exploit findings of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to increase the productivity and happiness of our teams.
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