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Small progress taking the first real steps in moving Second Signal off IBM Domino

By Andrew Pollack on 01/21/2013 at 01:08 PM EST

I've been dealing with some serious analysis-paralysis with this project. Between not having a deadline and having so many choices to look at -- with virtually no experience with any of them -- I've found it very difficult to take the next step. As a result, the site is beginning to suffer from inattention and that needs to stop. I've finally decided to break off a big chunk and get working on a back end database.

You don't know how spoiled you are working with IBM Domino as a development platform until you start trying to get all the benefits it offers in any other way. Replication, directory management, indexing, and security are all built in. The combination remains, in my opinion, the most efficient and cost effective way to build dynamic web sites. What a shame that the market just doesn't care. I've spent a lot of time looking at other platforms and I'm convinced that no shelf-ready solution is going to do things just the way I want. No matter which way I go, I'm looking at a piecemeal solution by comparison. I've decided that I need to break the decision process down further and start with with the base level of my architecture. The back end database.

With the architecture choices I've made, the first step is the back end database. Everything builds up from there no matter which specific products I pick at each layer. For the database, I'm really liking what I read about mongoDB and I plan to test that out first. If I don't go that way, I'm probably going to go with a traditional relational database even if that limits my ability to store semi-structured data. In that case I'm leaning toward PostgreSQL based on what I've read, but until I've worked with it more and played with the tools I'm still considering both MySQL and MSSQL as fall backs. I'll really only pick MSSQL if I become too frustrated with other choices. My biggest concern in picking mongoDB will be deciding that it has the stability, reliability, tool availability, and industry acceptance that I really want.

Since I have an immediate need to starting using a better back end database for some other things I'm doing, I'm going to tackle this first -- even before choosing the tools for the rest of the platform.

The next layer up in the site will be the most important. I plan to build the whole thing as a set of interfaces accessible though SOAP:XML. All access to the back end data will be through these interfaces. There will be no direct web page calls to the back end data store. In all likelihood I'll be using Java servlets under Tomcat to provide these interfaces -- though that hasn't been decided yet. This part of the architecture will incorporate the security layer as well, which is why I've chosen a direction strong on object modelling. Within this architectural layer will be three layers of object modelling. The one closest to the back end database where the reading and writing actually happens; a second layer that provides access controls; and a third layer where where application logic happens.

On top of all that comes the application platforms. This will include some native Visual Studio .NET applications for running on Windows as well as whatever frameworks make sense for the various development tools I use for mobile applications and web site interfaces. A JSON layer overlay of the SOAP:XML web services may be used here as well.

The next time I write on this subject, hopefully I'll have a lot of positive things to say about the new back end database, and can make my final decision on the middle ware layer.

There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Small progress taking the first real steps in moving Second Signal off IBM DominoBy Craig Schumann on 01/21/2013 at 07:49 PM EST
I'm intrigued about your choice around SOAP? Why not model the API layer on
REST? Since you are considering using servlets anyway, seems like added
overhead of SOAP to be something that can only get in the way. MongoDb
represents everything in JSON anyway so you could probably get pretty far with
a light-weight API serviced by Tomcat.

Not trying to change any minds, just curious.
re: Small progress taking the first real steps in moving Second Signal off IBM DominoBy Andrew Pollack on 01/21/2013 at 10:29 PM EST
Craig, good question - but SOAP:XML gives me a layer that's really nice to work
with from a tooling perspective on several platforms. Keep in mind the web
site in this case is providing an interface for the users but also for several
application specific programs that interface with the radio equipment and the
telephony system.

JSON is touchy as hell and like everything javascript, it's very easy to screw
up. I really see JSON as useful only for moving objects into javascript from
something else. In short, JSON is a semi-elegant hack, but not more. I
consider anything coming from the browser (or application client) side to be
suspect, and JSON just begs to be exploited if you don't read it carefully.
I would work from the API levelBy Stephan H. Wissel on 01/21/2013 at 08:15 PM EST
Your external API (SOAP as of your planning) is the contract that is hard to
change (and shouldn't change anyway). So I would start from there:
- define a XML Schema and a list of actions, both incoming and outgoing
- based on the action you can define a webservice both in SOAP as well as in
- based on the XML Schema you can define your Java beans ( see )
- based on the XML Schema you can define your JSON (later GSON is a nice tool
to swap JavaBeans with their JSON representation)

--- you haven't coded anything yet ---

Now you implement down from the contract the persistence - and - for testing
your mock objects and up the other bits and pieces. If you realize along the
way, that you want a different DB, your schema work doesn't change. You want to
do everything in dotNet, Node, Python... they all have tools to deal with an
XML Schema and XML Data
re: I would work from the API levelBy Andrew Pollack on 01/21/2013 at 10:41 PM EST
That's all true -- but only as far as it goes. Several of the web services are
already in use, however. The remaining ones aren't, but the objects they
represent are fairly mature in the system now. They'll need fleshing out, but
that outer layer of web services is actually pretty simple in the case of my

The first and most pressing need is to pick the database because in some ways
that's going to drive a lot more. On top of that mongoDB is so different from
a traditional RDB that if I go that route I have to entirely re-think my object
management layer as well as the read-write layer. That's two out of three
layers in that model.

Looking at mongoDB, I'm already seeing potential problems with it that are
sufficiently large as to make me also need a traditional RDB. I'm not sure I
want to do that. In a very short time this afternoon, I plugged in a new
PostreSQL database server and got it talking very nicely with my ASTERISK PBX,
where it's already storing all the call billing data, and connected to it from
my workstation with nice GUI managemetn client. The PostgreSQL platform also
has a reasonably elegant warm standby replication solution out of the box and
is very well accepted in the industry. Based on that, I think I'm seeing my

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