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Survival of the Fittest Jini Services, Part I
Ensure the Quality of Web Services in the Age of Calm Computing
by Frank Sommers
First Published in JavaWorld, April 2001

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Network Darwinism

Consider a travel reservation system. In this scenario every airline exposes its flight information on the Web in the form of objects, which are available for remote method calls. Such Flight objects are active, in the sense that they are ready to service remote method-call requests. Each object might reside inside a database management system, which in turn might distribute them among geographically dispersed nodes. In addition, airlines might expose objects that provide summary information on flights, such as the list of all flights between two cities. Other types of travel businesses provide objects that represent rental cars, hotel rooms, or credit cards.

You can construct other services to manipulate these objects to some business advantage. For instance, an airline reservation system might let a user book a flight, which is then charged on the customer's credit card. This service would obtain reference to the appropriate Flight object, perhaps via an airline's FlightSchedule service, and the CreditCard object representing the customer's credit card. Thereafter, it would make method calls to reserve a seat, charge the credit card, and then return a confirmation number to the customer. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Service composition

You can compose services of existing services. The reservation service, for instance, is composed of a Flight and a CreditCard service. Further, a travel agency service may be composed from the flight reservation service, and additional rental car and hotel reservation services. Service composition then results in an arbitrarily complex hierarchy, a "web" of services of services, or metaservices.

While the web of interdependent services mirrors the Web of interlinked Webpages, it also presents a fundamental difference. Humans, by and large, are tolerant of Web failures. We are all too familiar with "404 errors," "501 errors," or the occasional unavailability of a Website. However, we can somehow navigate around an error by, for instance, reloading a Webpage or visiting an alternate Website. Also, our memory of such errors is limited to short periods of time. (Can you recall all the nonworking links you clicked on in the last month?)

Machines (software services) are less resilient to error, and also have better memory of errors than humans. If a travel agency service relies on a flight reservation system, and the latter behaves erratically, or doesn't respond, the travel agency service first must detect the problem, and then likely record that the particular flight service was not working. Given that on the web of services many competing service providers will offer services that are semantically interchangeable (meaning that they offer essentially similar benefits), metaservices will do their best to select only those constituent services that perform well. Because metaservices might also become part of other services, it is in the interest of every metaservice to offer the highest-quality service. This will lead to automatic elimination of error-prone services over time. Among competing services, only the fittest will be utilized. The rest will likely die out.

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