Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Industrial IoT Authors: Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, AppDynamics Blog

Related Topics: Industrial IoT

Industrial IoT: Article

Soft Issues Surrounding Industry Standard Schemas

Soft Issues Surrounding Industry Standard Schemas

It sounds so easy. First, get a bunch of people together who share a common need to interchange some type of data - say, invoices. Explain XML to them. Explain the significant technical benefits of having an industry standard schema for invoices.

Get technically minded individuals into a room with plenty of whiteboards and caffeine. Sometime later they'll emerge with a consensus model of what it is to be an "invoice" enshrined in some schema language (UML/XML Schema/DTD/RelaxNG/whatever).

Thereafter, all interested parties use the schema for data interchange and all is sweetness and light.

This makes 100% technical sense but it often doesn't work in the real world. The reasons it doesn't work have nothing to do with flavors of schema language or indeed flavors of markup language. It often doesn't work because of soft issues concerning people.

Let's start with Zipf's law and the Principle of Least Effort (http://cogsci.umn.edu/millennium/1109153206.html). Simply put, humans strive to do as little as possible to communicate. The language this article is written in, English, is literally riddled with structures that break the rules of English grammar - the schema - in the interests of quick and easy communication.

All human languages exhibit this phenomenon. Successful languages adapt to allow humans to cut corners in the interest of quicker communications. XML tag languages that don't offer similar functionality are asking for trouble. That trouble can manifest itself in a number of possible ways.

First, users may engage in "tag abuse" - using tags for purposes they weren't intended for because it makes their life easier.

Second, users may create point-to-point side agreements between themselves for simpler communications and convert their simple communications to the official schema only when forced to.

Third, users may lobby for "flexibility" that allows them to make local modifications to the industry standard schema, thus creating an entire family of mutually incompatible but similar languages that start as patois and grow into full-blown, mutually incompatible dialects.

Fourth, users may bring the standard initiative down. If this happens, everything from the coffee to the schema language can be blamed. Everything, that is, except noncompliance with Zipf's Principle of Least Effort.

Then there's the matter of organic schema growth and what I call the "tag bag syndrome."

Successful languages, and XML-based tag languages are no exception, need to exhibit the ability to change and evolve over time. Otherwise they atrophy and eventually die. With human languages we just change their grammatical structures and idioms without worrying about historical material fitting the new forms. In other words, we aren't worried about backward compatibility.

With XML tag languages we're typically very worried about backward compatibility. When we need to modify a schema to cater to a new phenomenon, we cannot allow previously valid documents to become invalid. As a result, we loosen the constraints in the schema. Over time, the gradual loosening of constraints erodes the tight control over structure the schema designers put there in the first place. The result is a bag of tags - structures of the form "X can consist of any number of A or B or C or...." In DTD terminology these are known as repeating OR groups.

This leads us nicely to the next soft issue: George Miller's law concerning the cognitive limits of human beings. If you present humans with a list of more than seven options to choose from at any one time, they'll start to feel overloaded and uncomfortable. When it comes to creating XML conforming to a "bag of tags schema," there can be an overwhelming feeling of drowning in a sea of options.

In the back office the software developer is similarly overwhelmed because the large number of choices at each point in the schema translates into a programmer's worst nightmare. known as an exploding state space.

Schema creators ignore Miller's rule at their peril. User and software developers alike can and will subvert the technically elegant designs in order to work within comfortable cognitive limits.

It's important to remember that the "group of people getting together to agree on a data interchange standard" phenomenon is not a new one. Stepping back just one generation, this went on wholesale in the SGML world - without much success. It wouldn't be good soft-issue tactics for me to mention any failed standards initiatives by name. You'll find plenty of evidence if you read through some history of the SGML years, especially the early-to-mid-'90s.

My contention is that the failed industry-standard schema initiatives of the past did not fail for technical reasons; they failed for human reasons. There is a rich lore of experience here that the new wave of XML schema designers could do worse than mine for valuable insights. Those that don't learn from the mistakes of the past truly are doomed to repeat them.

Apart from paying due regard to history, I think XML schema design needs to take a leaf out of the extreme programming book. Start with the customer (human), do the smallest thing than can possibly work, and start using it. Never lose sight of the human creating the XML content or the human writing software to process the content. Remember Miller's law. Remember Zipf's law. Allow the schema to grow/evolve organically over time. It will anyway, whether the schema designer likes it or not.

The only industry standard schemas still standing at the end of this decade will be the ones that address the soft issues.

More Stories By Sean McGrath

Sean McGrath is founder and CTO of Propylon, one of Ireland's fastest growing software companies. Headquartered in Dublin, with development centers in Sligo, Ireland and Mumbai, India, Propylon delivers what it terms "industrial strength XML" and XML consultancy services to its service and product partners in Europe and the United States.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.
The basic integration architecture, as defined by ESBs, hasn’t changed for more than a decade. Most cloud integration providers still rely on an ESB architecture and their proprietary connectors. As a result, enterprise integration projects suffer from constraints of availability and reliability of these connectors that are not re-usable across other integration vendors. However, the rapid adoption of APIs and almost ubiquitous availability of APIs amongst most SaaS and Cloud applications are rapidly redefining traditional integration approaches and their reliance on proprietary connectors. ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures traffic gets delivered faster, safer, and more reliably than ever.
"We have a tagline - "Power in the API Economy." What that means is everything that is built in applications and connected applications is done through APIs," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at Akana, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 16th Cloud Expo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context wi...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fillin...
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits, DevOps is corr...
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Infrastructure & Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS) is a managed services provider of cloud computing solutions for the IBM Power Systems market. The company helps mid-market firms built on IBM hardware platforms to deploy new levels of reliable and cost-effective computing and high availability solutions, leveraging the cloud and the benefits of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS...
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, discussed how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust IoT ...
To many people, IoT is a buzzword whose value is not understood. Many people think IoT is all about wearables and home automation. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed some incredible game-changing use cases and how they are transforming industries like agriculture, manufacturing, health care, and smart cities. He will discuss cool technologies like smart dust, robotics, smart labels, and much more. Prepare to be blown away with a glimpse of the future.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust IT industrialization – allowing customers to provide amazing user experiences with optimized IT per...
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.