Making the Architecture WorkBy John McCormick Print
The TransUnion subsidiary's pioneering service-oriented architecture approach to software development helps it quickly build credit reporting and scoring applications.
While the WebLogic product has taken care of most of TrueCredit's platform challenges, the company faces other ongoing issues. One is how its applications work with the software of Citicorp, Providian and its other partners. "One of the largest hurdles," Metzger says, "is making sure that the contracts between us and the partner organizations are accurate."
A Providian credit card member might go to the Providian Web site and see offers for credit products and services. But TrueCredit is the engine behind many of these products. It's crucial that the Providian Web applications and TrueCredit credit reporting and scoring applications interact correctly.
For this task, TrueCredit has a formal requirements solicitation and documentation process where the company gets its partners to agree on the business requirements of each application.
The biggest challenge here, according to Metzger, is the "problem statement," a document that describes a problem and its roots, and outlines possible solutions.
Metzger says TrueCredit put a lot of effort into this process to get a clear way of documenting what the business requirements are, who's responsible for what, and where the data of record will reside for all the crucial data points in the application.
It's a back-and-forth conversation over the course of two to three months to define a business rule, such as how to deal with exceptions and how information should be presented on Web sites, says Jennifer Young, a TrueCredit product developer who works with the company's partners.
"It's not a trivial process," Metzger says. "It's a very consultative process."
In addition to finding a better way to develop products and services, TrueCredit also needed a more powerful hardware platform to handle the expected load on its applications. Just the size of all the components it was deploying—based on memory requirements—prompted the company to move from its 32-bit processors to 64-bit Intel-based servers from California Digital running the Linux operating system.
The easiest way to think of it, Metzger says, is that the more concurrent sessions you have—the more people hitting your applications at the same time—the more copies of components you need in memory to handle the requests. "From a memory perspective," he says, "we needed a bigger footprint to support the higher level of concurrency, the higher loads."
Another thing the company needed to do as it was moving to the WebLogic platform was monitor its components so that if they were stressed, or if one component failed, the software development team could isolate the problem and fix it.
TrueCredit turned to Acsera, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company that specializes in applications performance monitoring and diagnostics, and bought Acsera's Manager 5 product.
Acsera's president, Allen Bannon, says TrueCredit had developed a very large set of mission critical applications with SOA, but had to manage their performance.
Acsera's product is designed to provide 24/7 applications monitoring and diagnosis for J2EE applications built on a service-oriented architecture.
Unlike monitoring tools for traditional applications that just measure resources such as the central processing units, memory and disk performance, Acsera's tool monitors application response time and availability. It also monitors applications' business functions as well as software components, even if those components and applications are running on different servers.
A business function or process can be an online application form, in which a series of questions are asked. Each question may be a component and may lead a person filling out a form to different questions depending on the answers that are filled in. Acsera monitors the performance of the application and all of the components that provide the services for the process. "If there is a problem, we can narrow it down to where the problem is," Bannon says.
As companies move to a distributed architecture, he says, they need a new approach to applications performance monitoring: "The applications are mission critical, distributed and made out of lots of moving parts."
But SOA applications can and do fail. There can be bottlenecks and failures in the application components, in the database calls, or in connections between Web components and legacy applications.
"Failure in one of the components can wreak havoc with the rest of your SOA," says BEA's Connell.
And software project managers, no matter how much testing they do, can never really be sure how well their applications will react at peak loads.
If there are too many requests being made to one component, it will overload and bring the application down.
But, Bannon says, his tool monitors components and alerts system administrators to potential problems. Among the metrics Acsera reports are the overall system's response time and capacity, the application response time, the component response time and the business function response time.
Despite the challenges, Metzger says TrueCredit is satisfied with its service-oriented approach to software development.
The company has come a long way. SOA has cut software development time from six months in 2003-2004 to about 90 days today, and, primarily because of the company's 64-bit processors, it has increased the number of simultaneous users its programs can support from 25,000 to about 50,000.
It hasn't been an easy journey, but Metzger and his team have blazed a nice trail. As Bannon puts it: "TrueCredit was pioneering."
TrueCredit: Charging Ahead with SOA
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