Monday, 4 August 2008

Altio support for composite applications

In recent blog entries I have used the term mashup to describe building applications from reusable components, reading recent blogs and press articles I should have used the term composite application. Back in June 2007 I read the specification for Service Component Architecture and discussed this with John Young who was at the time the CTO at Mantas Inc. John had ideas for enhancing the Altio architecture by making it more modular, beyond the use of linked applications in AltioLive 4.x. Reusability is something that I strongly support, but at the time could not see a fully working solution being implemented in AltioLive 4.x. Re-engineering of the AltioLive user interface to use Java Swing has made it possible to enable functionality to create reusable components.

Composite Applications

SOA is effectively a composition of services supporting business functionality. The missing functionality from most descriptions of composite application architecture is the user interface.

It is my belief that the only way to achieve true reuse of functionality within the enterprise is to consider vertical slices from the user interface to the data, identifying the reusable components within different verticals. This will enable business focused,  reusable composite components that should be easy to test and implement. This in turn will mean the enterprise can achieve rapid turn around of business solutions to a high quality standard.

Attributes of composite application framework

In a number of recent discussions and news articles it appears that there is a resurgence of the term composite applications, Microsoft appears to be particularly active in this area with some very good articles on what a composite application framework should deliver, a summary of which is:


Composition must promote alignment among key stakeholders. This could be internal alignment (align different groups within the enterprise) or external alignment (align with suppliers, customers, and partners).

  • Solution-provider perspective: Solutions should align existing IT assets with the needs of business owners.
  • Solution-consumer perspective: It should be easy to assemble composite applications that align groups within a company, and also across organizational boundaries. Frequently, this will require applications that support cross-functional processes and enable collaboration.


Composition must reduce time-to-response for the business when markets change.

  • Solution-provider perspective: The platform for composition should provide adaptive range. This means that it should be easy to externalize points of variability within the solution, so that those artifacts can be changed easily without ripple effects across the rest of the solution. For example, this might mean changing business rules, user interfaces, and business processes.
  • Solution-consumer perspective: It should be easy to reconfigure composite applications when the business must respond to changing market conditions.


Composition should reduce the time-to-benefit of enterprise applications by reducing the time-to-deployment of end-to-end solutions, reducing development and deployment costs, and leveraging best practices. Also, when the business must respond to changes quickly or handle external disruptions smoothly, it should be easy to modify composite applications to accomplish this.

  • Solution-provider perspective: Assets that make up a composite application should leverage established industry standards that make the solution quick to build and easy to assemble together.
  • Solution-consumer perspective: A deployed enterprise solution should enable quick decision making by business decision makers through real-time data flows and business-intelligence tools in the context of the automated process

The full Microsoft article can be found at

For me, the grand vision of composite applications in the enterprise would be for development teams to create products that aligns with business requirements. This would be achieved using a framework that enables the attributes of adaptability and agility described above. The products would contain artifacts for servicing data requests and user interface artifacts that understand how to interact with the data requests.

In business terms there would be products or composite components for CRM, Billing, HR etc. Each of these composite components would be loosely coupled to the underlying technology supporting the business process to enable rapid change in technology requirements to support changing business demands. Development teams would be responsible for creating the components, but solution teams would be responsible for putting together the final application using the appropriate composite components.

Altio architecture and AltioLive as a composite application framework.

The introduction of Composite Service Requests to the Altio architecture in AltioLive 5 and the ability to create modules for related groups of services was the first intentional step towards making the Altio architecture a framework for composite applications. AltioLive 5.2 will see the introduction of composite components that will allow user interface functionality to be packaged as a widget for re-use across many applications.

It was never an intentional path for the Altio architecture to deliver a support framework for composite applications, the roadmap has arisen from business demand. This makes the Altio architecture and AltioLive 5.2  product extremely powerful tools for implementing agile solutions which are adaptable and aligned with business requirements.

I have yet to decide if there is a demand for Altio to provide the ability to interact with OSOA definitions, the first steps will be to provide better integration with XSD's.


It is my opinion that the days of implementing tightly coupled user interfaces is nearing an end. Composite components make the following quality attributes - portability, maintainability and usability far easier to achieve, whereas a user interface that is tightly bound to a specific solution will normally take longer to implement and typically requires far more work to modify. Although, it often takes the creation of a specific user interface solution to identify the creation of reusable components. It is then important that a tool is used that allows components to be created from the different parts of the specific user interface.


OSOA, Service Component Architecture

Micorosoft, Composite Applications,

Wikipedia, Service Component Architecture

EDS, Composite Applications and Portals

Bill Burnham Blogs, Software's Top 10 2005 Trends: #8 Composite Applications


(This article was originally posted to )