Characterising Architectural Styles

I’ve recently been thinking about simple ways to characterise the different architectural approaches we use in distributed systems today. Three simple architectural characteristics I have come up with are:

  • Asset – this is a core capability or “thing” that must be built, procured, maintained and managed in a corporate IT “inventory”.
  • Element – these are the “atomic” building blocks used in the process of Composition.
  • Composition – this is the mechanism which allows the different assets to work together to support a business requirement.

If we apply these characteristics to three common architectural approaches then we get the results in the following table.


EAI, although  unfashionable is still prevalent – even dominant in the industry. For EAI, we are primarily concerned with applications (usually COTS) which embody and support the requirements of different parts of the business. Multiple applications must be coordinated to support the whole business. The primary coordination mechanism under EAI is synchronization of state between the different applications – primarily via data integration. The composition element is the API.

SOA is characterised by Services as the key asset. Services are acquired or built to execute business operations. Elemental Services are composed to support business processes – a sequence of operations which results in a business outcome. BPM (or process orchestration) is the composition mechanism within SOA. The underlying functionality of a Service may reside in one or more applications, but from an SOA perspective this is of secondary importance…SOA is concerned with the Service, not necessarily its implementation.

EDA (Event Driven Architecture) is characterised by Event Services as the key asset which represent an asynchronous notification of an important event associated with the business. Elemental Events are correlated and further processed to derive higher-order business intelligence which may in turn trigger other Events. The primary composition mechanism within EDA is Event Processing (or CEP). An important part of this composition mechanism is the ability to manage or track system state.

This characterization gives more clarity to the difference between JABOWS and true SOA. Many so-called SOA projects have simply involved the “bottom up” exposure of application APIs using web-services standards – resulting in “Just a Bunch of Web Services” which don’t realise the business value of a true SOA. JABOWS is EAI because the applications are the core “asset”. A true SOA has a “top down” process-centric architecture with Services as the core asset.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Characterising Architectural Styles II - State | soabloke on 10.26.09 at 10:44 am

[…] ← Characterising Architectural Styles […]

Leave a Comment