Patrick Masson on Lessons Learned Implementing a SOA at SUNY

This remarkably frank and insightful interview with Patrick Masson, the former Director of Technology for the SUNY Learning Network, is well worth the read, though by the end you would be forgiven for despairing about the future of SOA on any campus. I know I do and did. Monoliths ahoy! – SWL

“Monoliths,” APIs and Extensability – A presentation on the past and future directions of CMS

I was very fortunate recently to deliver the above talk to a CMS task Force at UBC on the overall lay of the CMS land. It seems relevant to share it here, especially in light of a recent post by James Farmer on integrating open source pieces with WebCT, and the great follow up by Michael Feldstein.

I think Michael’s read is mostly accurate. As I try to lay out in the presentation, CMS have evolved as a series of “wrappers” around a set of applications, and there were good reasons for this innovation (it was an innovation when it began 10 years ago) in terms of handling scale and providing some stable service across all or many departments in a post-secondary institution within a limited budget.

But this model, which does tend towards monolithism, is now 10 years old; in part because of rapidly maturing alternative models (service oriented architectures and distributed applications development environments in general), in part because of pressure from customers to allow more pedagogically-driven choices in their tools, and in part because of challenges from Open Source and elsewhere, all of the CMS, be they commercial or open source, are moving, some slowly, some more quickly, towards increased extensability and interoperation with other tools. This is in my mind an undeniable trend, and the issue for organizations is not if this will happen, but instead a question of how best to obtain the core services and acceptable level or “service” while increasing the amount of flexbility and choice for instructors and students, and at the same time not increasing the cost (and hopefully decreasing it if you’re really adept).

I don’t think the commercial CMS companies are going away, at least not anytime soon. There are still many organizations (often small ones, but not always) for whom more sophisticated ‘elearning architecture’ approaches, “best-of-breed,” or the choices (and demands) facilitated by open source are not (yet, maybe ever?) realistic choices. There is value in providing a set of tools (however limited you might feel these tools to be) in an integrated environment that can with relative ease tie into other parts of your infrastructure and for which you need to hire application administrators, not developers, to run. But even those customers want more freedom to make choices, and the CMS companies know this and are trying to mediate it without cutting off their own nose. But it’s also clear that they are under fire, and that many institutions will have the wherewithal to adopt or create what Michael terms a “Learning Management Operating System” into which they can insert, or on which they can build, different application choices and approaches. As I read it, the impetus behind OKI, and to the extent to which it embodies openly agreed upon APIs, Sakai, is a step in that direction. Michael’s predicition of a timeline (about 5 years) also seems about right; it will take a while for the implications of this approach to flow through and for the various systems needed to implement it to mature to the point where each implementation is not a large software development initiative of its own. But it is coming, and it will change the landscape of these systems considerably. – SWL

Grand Central Communication’s Business Services Network

Via Loosely Coupled – this has got to be significant, a company seems to think it can make a go of “application integration as a hosted service.” The current list of service providers is relatively small but a start – the well-known suspects like, eBay, Google, and PayPal but others like gelco, and StrikeIron.

Hey bloggers – TAKE THE WEEKENDS OFF! Seriously, you all are generating just WAY too much interesting stuff to wade through on Mondays! – SWL

Article on ‘Intro to the Search/Retrieve URL Service (SRU)’

Related to the last post, this article from the latest issue of Ariadne gives a good introduction to the Search/Retrieve URL Service, a protocol designed to “define a standard form for Internet search queries as well as the structure of the responses.”
Even if the specific topic isn’t greatly of interest to you, the article may be useful in having one of the most stragithforward explanations of the difference between SOAP and REST-based web services, and why, contrary to all the hype, there is still some value in SOAP-based services. – SWL

ULIST – elearning Web Services Interfaces directory?

This is one of those accidental finds that ended up seeming highly relevant but for which I have no background info and really don’t know if it’s real or not. As the site says “ULIST is a website where Web Services interfaces for learning, training and related applications can be exposed for comment and evaluation and where organizations that require Web Services integration of multiple functions can go to find relevant Web Services interfaces.” The contact email address is from the domain, which seems plausible – to me it makes sense for a 3rd party tool builder like Questionmark to champion something this. There are no entries in the directory yet and almost no links to it from the outside world – this seems to be a bit of a proof of concept at this point; still, interesting. – SWL