Inside the project: Service-oriented architecture

CHALLENGE: NASA needed a way of managing both a growing body of Earth science data'from NASA centers and academic partners'as well as an increasing number of software tools built to parse the data. Such resources were scattered around the Web, with no repository or directory for one-stop shopping.

SOLUTION: NASA deployed a service-oriented architecture, one that would allow participants to register their data and their applications so researchers could find them. Under a General Services Administration contract, NASA hired Global Science and Technology Inc. to build the architecture. GST brought in Blueprint Technologies Inc. to design the framework and Systinet Corp. to supply a Universal Description, Discovery and Integration registry.

MISSION BENEFIT: With the SOA and UDDI in place, NASA doesn't need to commission and operate a centralized data center to hold all the Earth science resources. The federated approach standardizes language needed to find data and execute applications, but still lets the managers of the data and software host resources on their own machines.

'The typical problem most organizations run into is that nobody knows the complete list of what is available,' said Robin Pfister, NASA development manager. 'ECHO's Extended Service Registry provides the standards-based publication of record that enables researchers and application developers throughout the Earth science domain to publish and access these capabilities.'

LESSONS LEARNED: NASA basically stumbled upon SOA as it tried to find the best solution to its problem. 'This not only allows for a reduction in replicated effort,' said Pfister, 'but also allows for users to see the full marketplace of offerings in a simple way.'

As something of an SOA pioneer, the agency learned a few things. Among them:
  • In a distributed environment, content owners want to take stewardship of their data and the algorithms they create.

  • Web services is not yet off-the-shelf ready; in many cases, integrator development is still needed.

  • A layered architecture allows system development to take place gradually and with manageable ease.

  • A single general-purpose graphical user interface may not be able to address the unique needs of a wide variety of communities.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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