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JavaOne 2008: SOA and Performance

A well performing SOA implementation requires considerable work and performance tuning

DeCare Systems Ireland Blog

As Service-Oriented Architectures gain ground, it becomes obvious that their performance is the key to their success. I'm going to briefly write about two sessions that I attended in JavaOne 2008. They outline two totally different approaches from two very different companies. You're going to see that a well performing SOA implementation requires considerable work and performance tuning expertise.

35 Million Transactions Per Day

In the session entitled “SOA and 35 Million Transactions per Day: Mission Impossible?“, Matthias Schorer from Fiducia IT AG talked about their SOA architecture and how they manage to get a throughput of 35 million transactions per day, a typical day being around 10 hours. If my notes don’t fail me, in Fiducia, they are responsible for 19% of the banking operations in Germany. They manage 101,000 PCs, 54 million bank accounts, billions of transactions every year, 780 cooperative banks, 31 banks over a 510 TB database… To say the least, it is a colossal system.

Their core banking system contains around 2,500 services and 8,400 Java classes and interfaces distributed over 280 UNIX servers. For them SOA means the “Same Old Architecture” because they started to design services before SOA became an industry buzzword. Almost all of their services are non-Web-Service (the Big Web Services as RESTful camp would call them) services. They chose not to introduce extra layers in order to consume them internally. They use SOAP over HTTP when they need to open a service to the outside world.

It is good and relieving to see companies, such as Fiducia IT AG, talking about their pragmatic SOA architecture. It is important to demonstrate that the major idea behind SOA, the thing that one should get right, is the Service-Orientation. I remember, 2 years ago, on an online Java forum, I talked about creating a service-oriented architecture without Web Services. And you can probably imagine the big wave of reaction I got back. One doesn’t have to pay big bucks to an ESB vendor to have a solid SOA. Half of the job is to get the Service-Orientation right.

Fudacia IT AG have various front-end channels: Bank branches use a Swing-based rich GUI, Home Banking users use their browsers to access the system. They also have Self Service channels and Call Center channels. So, they have various clients for their services, and they have channel-specific and channel-neutral services. One of the good design decisions that they made was to create component clusters (in SCA language, those would correspond to Composites) and guarantee the transactional integrity within a cluster.

Fudacia run their SOA on a grid platform that they’ve built themselves. Furthermore, their system behaves like an ESB thanks to it’s event-driven nature (based on messages and queues). Their environment is not only distributed in a LAN, it is also geographically dispersed for security/safety reasons given the data that they manipulate. As they have numerous customers, they end up running different versions of their system, which adds more challenges. Their portal runs on more than 1,000 servers and they partitioned their data based on their customer ID. They implemented their messaging using Oracle Advanced Queue.

Some lessons learned over the years:
- They don’t keep data in the queues. Queues only contain pointers to the data stored in the database.
- They made sure that the pointers can be recreated if a queue fails.
- They monitor the grid. This visibility is very important therefore services have to be traceable.
- They used an event-driven approach
- They gave the priority on online transactions over batch transactions
- They distributed the transaction processing by creating chunks of the data file and sending the chunks to various queues.

The SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) requirements posed a real challenge to their system: According to the SEPA, a payment file has to be processed the same day. The data exchange is based on UTF8-encoded XML files and somebody thought that it was alright to set a maximum limit of 10 million payments for a file. Schorer said that the biggest file they had encountered had a size of 70GB. Yuk!

They also discovered that JAXB worked much better than XMLBeans in terms of performance. And depending on the size of the XML transactions to be processed, they used StAX or SAX. Up to 100,000 records, they used StAX. After that, they used SAX.

ESB-based SOA for Intel’s IT Department

Another session about converting to SOA was given by David Johnston and CJ Newburn from Intel. They talked about how Intel’s IT department converted their operations to an ESB-based SOA. In this system, they had around 250 services interacting with each other.

They had to go through various iterations and it’s not a surprise that -to quote Johnston- “the first iteration killed the performance“. During the following iterations, the development team tuned the environment so that the performance became acceptable.

It is really important to listen to the rare case studies such as these. Because you don’t get these real-life experiences when talking to a vendor or reading an SOA book. However these are the things that we see on the field. Despite that, it is not always easy to convince everyone that SOA is not a silver bullet and it comes with some compromises. To reiterate the comparison stats between an old system call and a new system call:

Legacy direct call: 28 msecs
First iteration ESB call: 332 msecs
Optimized/Tuned ESB call: 38.5 msecs
Optimized/Tuned legacy call: 18 msecs
After fine tuning their SOA implementation deployed on an ESB, Intel decided that a 1.4x performance degradation was tolerable.

As you can see, even though using an ESB has some benefits, it comes with its drawbacks. The same is true for various implementations of a Service-Oriented Architecture. Depending on the implementation technologies used, it’s natural to see some overhead compared to direct in-process calls. Intel was content with a performance degradation of 1.4x however not all businesses and operations can allow that.

Johnston and Newburn said that the smart test bed that they had built was one of the key points of their successful SOA implementation. They also had a dedicated lab to run the new system in where they’ve run their simulations, configured the required latencies etc.

An important point for a successful SOA implementation is the system visibility and service traceability. Intel used them to fine-tune their system by answering various questions: What’s happening in each step? How long each step takes? Etc. This is where an ESB may be of help as it may provide enterprise-wide logging and monitoring, among other things. It is also important to see the “Latency Pipeline Breakdown” to identify the bottlenecks and go for the biggest bang for the buck when fine-tuning an SOA.

They considered various points when performance analyzing their system:
- Concurrency & Throughput
- Concurrency & Latency
- Message Size
- Scenarios to discover SOA overhead
- XML manipulations and transformations
- Heap Size
- Garbage Collection (GC)

For example, they discovered that the message size does matter. They had a sharp decrease in performance with messages bigger than 64KB. The heap size is important mostly for big message manipulations and GC doesn’t really matter when working with small messages. They used their own (Intel’s) XML acceleration product in order to improve XML manipulation performance and they saw a 1.4x performance increase in overall.

They had two very important points in their summary:
- A SOA implementation can take months of tuning
- Transition to SOA is prohibitively expensive without tuning

More Stories By Yagiz Erkan

Yagiz Erkan is lead Technical Architect, DeCare Systems Ireland, since 1998, and has over 10 years industry experience. He is also the development champion within the company and is responsible for guiding and directing the technical evolution of the software development processes at DSI. He manages an architectural group who ensure that the most up to date and suitable practices are utilized, leading to the delivery of high quality applications and solutions.

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