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1 Introduction


The performance and utility of a personal
computer will be defined less by faster Intel
processors and new Microsoft software and
increasingly by Internet services and software.
c tex2html_wrap_inline672 net news article excerpt, 11/25/98

Once a disorganized collection of data repositories and web pages, the Internet has become a landscape populated with rich, industrial-strength applications. Many businesses and organizations have counterparts on the web: banks, restaurants, stock trading services, communities, and even governments and countries. These applications possess similar properties to traditional utilities such as the telephone network or power grid: they support large and potentially rapidly growing populations, they must be available 24x7, and they must abstract complex engineering behind simple interfaces. We believe that the Internet is evolving towards a service-oriented infrastructure, in which these high quality utility-like applications will be commonplace. Unlike traditional utilities, Internet services tend to rapidly evolve, are typically customizable by the end-user, and may even be composable.

Although today's Internet services are mature, the process of erecting and modifying services is quite immature. Most authors of complex, new services are forced to engineer substantial amounts of custom, service-specific code, largely because of the diversity in the requirements of each service--it is difficult to conceive of a general-purpose, reusable, shrink-wrapped, adequately customizable and extensible service construction product.

Faced with a seemingly inevitable engineering task, authors tend to adopt one of two strategies for adding new services to the Internet landscape:

Inflexible, highly tuned, hand-constructed services: by far, this is the most dominant service construction strategy found on the Internet. Here, service authors carefully design a system targeted towards a specific application and feature set, operating system, and hardware platform. Examples of such systems are large, carrier-class web search engines, portals, and application-specific web sites such as news, stock trading, and shopping sites. The rationale for this approach is sound: it leads to robust and high-performance services. However, the software architectures of these systems are too restrictive; they result in a fixed service that performs a single, rigid function. The large amount of carefully crafted and hand-tuned code means that these services are difficult to evolve; consider, for example, how hard it would be to radically change the behavior of a popular search engine service, or to move the service into a new environment--these sorts of modifications would take massive engineering effort.

``Emergent services'' in a world of distributed objects: this strategy is just beginning to become popularized with architectures such as Sun's JINI [31] and the ongoing CORBA effort [25]. In this world, instead of erecting complex, inflexible services, large numbers of components or objects are made available over the wide area, and services emerge through the composition of many such components. This approach has the benefit that adding to the Internet landscape is a much simpler task, since the granularity of contributed components is much smaller. Because of the explicit decomposition of the world into much smaller pieces, it is also simpler to retask or extend services by dropping one set of components and linking in others.

There are significant disadvantages to this approach. As a side-effect of the more evolutionary nature of services, it is difficult to manage the state of the system, as state may be arbitrarily replicated and distributed across the wide area. Wide-area network partitions are commonplace, meaning that it is nearly impossible to provide consistency guarantees while maintaining a reasonable amount of system availability. Furthermore, although it is possible to make incremental, localized changes to the system, it is difficult to make large, global changes because the system components may span many administrative domains.

In this paper, we advocate a third approach. We argue that we can reap many of the benefits of the distributed objects approach while avoiding difficult state management problems by encapsulating services and service state in a carefully controlled environment called a Base. To the outside world, a Base provides the appearance and guarantees of a non-distributed, robust, highly-available, high-performance service. Within a Base, services aren't constructed out of brittle, restrictive software architectures, but instead are ``grown'' out multiple, smaller, reusable components distributed across a workstation cluster [3]. These components may be replicated across many nodes in the cluster for the purposes of fault tolerance and high performance. The Base provides the glue that binds the components together, keeping the state of replicated objects consistent, ensuring that all of the constituent components are available, and distributing traffic across the components in the cluster as necessary.

The rest of this paper discusses the design principles that we advocate for the architecture of a Base (section 2), and presents a preliminary Base implementation called the Ninja MultiSpacegif (section 3) that uses techniques such as dynamic code generation and code mobility as mechanisms for demonstrating and evaluating our hypotheses of service flexibility, rapid evolution, and robustness under change. While we have begun preliminary explorations into the scalability and high availability aspects of our prototype, that has not been the explicit focus of this initial implementation, and instead remains the subject of future work. Two example services running on our prototype Base are described in section 4. In section 5, we discuss some of the lessons we learned while building our prototype. Section 6 presents related work, and in Section 7 we draw conclusions.

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Next: 2 Organizing Principles Up: The MultiSpace: an Evolutionary Previous: The MultiSpace: an Evolutionary