Section: Scientific Foundations

Middleware Architectures for Pervasive Computing

Today's wireless networks enable dynamically setting up temporary networks among mobile nodes for the realization of some distributed function. However, this requires adequate development support and, in particular, supporting middleware platforms for alleviating the complexity associated with the management of dynamic networks composed of highly heterogeneous nodes. In this section, we present an overview of: (i) service oriented middleware, a prominent paradigm in large distributed systems today, and (ii) middleware for wireless sensor networks, which have recently emerged as a promising platform.

Service Oriented Middleware

The Service Oriented Computing(SOC) paradigm advocates that networked resources should be abstracted as services, thus allowing their open and dynamic discovery, access and composition, and hence reuse. Due to this flexibility, SOC has proven to be a key enabler for pervasive computing. Moreover, SOC enables integrating pervasive environments into broader service oriented settings: the current and especially the Future Internet is the ultimate case of such integration. We, more particularly, envision the Future Internet as a ubiquitous setting where services representing resources, people and things can be freely and dynamically composed in a decentralized fashion, which is designated by the notion of service choreography in the SOC idiom. In the following, we discuss the role that service oriented middleware is aimed to have within our above sketched vision of the Future Internet, of which pervasive computing forms an integral part.

From service oriented computing to service oriented middleware: In the last few years, there is a growing interest in choreography as a key concept in forming complex service-oriented systems. Choreography is put forward as a generic abstraction of any possible collaboration among multiple services, and integrates previously established views on service composition, among which service orchestration. Several different approaches to choreography modeling can be found in the literature: Interaction-oriented models describe choreography as a set of interactions between participants; while process-oriented models describe choreography as a parallel composition of the participants' business processes. Activity-based models focus on the interactions between the parties and their ordering, whereas the state of the interaction is not explicitly modeled or only partly modeled using variables; while state-based models model the states of the choreography as first-class entities, and the interactions as transitions between states.

The above modeling categorizations are applied in the ways in which: service choreographies are specified (e.g., by employing languages such as BPMN, WS-CDL, BPEL); services are discovered, selected and composed into choreographies (e.g., based on their features concerning interfaces, behavior, and non-functional properties such as QoS and context); heterogeneity between choreographed services is resolved via adaptation (e.g., in terms of service features and also underlying communication protocols); choreographies are deployed and enacted (e.g., in terms of deployment styles and execution engines); and choreographies are maintained/adapted given the independent evolution of choreographed services (e.g., in terms of availability and QoS). These are demanding functionalities that service oriented middleware should provide for supporting service choreographies. In providing these functionalities in the context of the Future Internet, service oriented middleware is further challenged by two key Future Internet properties: its ultra large scale as in number of users and services, and the high degree of heterogeneity of services, whose hosting platforms may range from that of resource-rich, fixed hosts to wireless, resource-constrained devices. These two properties call for considerable advances to the state of the art of the SOC paradigm.

Our work in the last years has focused on providing solutions to the above identified challenges, more particularly in the domain of pervasive computing. Given the prevalence of mobile networking environments and powerful hand-held consumer devices, we consider resource constrained devices (and things, although we focus on smart, i.e., computation-enabled, things) as first-class entities of the Future Internet. Concerning middleware that enables networking mobile and/or resource constrained devices in pervasive computing environments, several promising solutions have been proposed, such as mobile Gaia, TOTA, AlfredO, or work at UCL, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Texas at Arlington. They address issues such as resource discovery, resource access, adaptation, context awareness as in location sensitivity, and pro-activeness in a seamless manner. Other solutions specialize in sensor networks; we, more specifically, discuss middleware for wireless sensor networks in the next section. In this very active domain of service-oriented middleware for pervasive computing environments, we have extensive expertise that ranges from lower-level cross-layer networking to higher-level semantics of services, as well as transversal concerns such as context and privacy. We have in particular worked on aspects including semantic discovery and composition of services based on their functional properties, heterogeneity of service discovery protocols, and heterogeneity of network interfaces. Based on our accumulated experience, we are currently focusing on some of the still unsolved challenges identified above.

QoS-aware service composition: With regard to service composition in pervasive environments, taking into account QoS besides functional properties ensures a satisfactory experience to the end user. We focus here on the orchestration-driven case, where service composition is performed to fulfill a task requested by the user along with certain QoS constraints. Assuming the availability of multiple resources in service environments, a large number of services can be found for realizing every sub-task part of a complex task. A specific issue emerges in this regard, which is about selecting the best set of services (i.e., in terms of QoS) to participate in the composition, meeting user's global QoS requirements. QoS-aware composition becomes even more challenging when it is considered in the context of dynamic service environments characterized by changing conditions. As dynamic environments call for fulfilling user requests on the fly (i.e., at run-time) and as services' availability cannot be known a priori, service selection and composition must be performed at runtime. Hence, the execution time of service selection algorithms is heavily constrained, whereas the computational complexity of this problem is NP-hard.

Coordination of heterogeneous distributed systems: Another aspect that we consider important in service composition is enabling integration of services that employ different interaction paradigms. Diversity and ultra large scale of the Future Internet have a direct impact on coordination among interacting entities. Our choice of choreography as global coordination style among services should further be underpinned by support for and interoperability between heterogeneous interaction paradigms, such as message-driven, event-driven and data-driven ones. Different interaction paradigms apply to different needs: for instance, asynchronous, event-based publish/subscribe is more appropriate for highly dynamic environments with frequent disconnections of involved entities. Enabling interoperability between such paradigms is imperative in the extremely heterogeneous Future Internet integrating services, people and things. Interoperability efforts are traditionally based on, e.g., bridging communication protocols, where the dominant position is held by ESBs, wrapping systems behind standard technology interfaces, and/or providing common API abstractions. However, such efforts mostly concern a single interaction paradigm and thus do not or only poorly address cross-paradigm interoperability. Efforts combining diverse interaction paradigms include: implementing the LIME tuple space middleware on top of a publish/subscribe substrate; enabling Web services/SOAP-based interactions over a tuple space binding; and providing ESB implementations based on the tuple space paradigm.

Evolution of service oriented applications: A third issue we are interested in concerns the maintenance of service-oriented applications despite the evolution of employed services. Services are autonomous systems that have been developed independently from each other. Moreover, dynamics of pervasive environments and the Future Internet result in services evolving independently; a service may be deployed, or un-deployed at anytime; its implementation, along with its interface may change without prior notification. In addition, there are many evolving services that offer the same functionality via different interfaces and with varying quality characteristics (e.g., performance, availability, reliability). The overall maintenance process amounts to replacing a service that no longer satisfies the requirements of the employing application with a substitute service that offers the same or a similar functionality. The goal of seamless service substitution is to relate the substitute service with the original service via concrete mappings between their operations, their inputs and outputs. Based on such mappings, it is possible to develop/generate an adapter that allows the employing application to access the substitute service without any modification in its implementation. The service substitution should be dynamic and efficient, supported by a high level of automation. The state of the art in service substitution comprises various approaches. There exist efforts, which assume that the mappings between the original and the substitute service are given, specified by the application or the service providers. The human effort required makes these approaches impractical, especially in the case of pervasive environments. On the other hand, there exist automated solutions, proposing mechanisms for the derivation of mappings. The complexity of these approaches scales up with the cardinality of available services and therefore efficiency is compromised. Again, this is an important disadvantage, especially considering the case of pervasive environments.

Middleware for Wireless Sensor Networks

Wireless sensor networks (WSNs) enable low cost, dense monitoring of the physical environment through collaborative computation and communication in a network of autonomous sensor nodes, and are an area of active research. Owing to the work done on system-level functionalities such as energy-efficient medium access and data-propagation techniques, sensor networks are being deployed in the real world, with an accompanied increase in network sizes, amount of data handled, and the variety of applications. The early networked sensor systems were programmed by the scientists who designed their hardware, much like the early computers. However, the intended developer of sensor network applications is not the computer scientist, but the designer of the system using the sensor networks, which might be deployed in a building or a highway. We use the term domain expert to mean the class of individuals most likely to use WSNs – people who may have basic programming skills but lack the training required to program distributed systems. Examples of domain experts include architects, civil and environmental engineers, traffic system engineers, medical system designers etc. We believe that the wide acceptance of networked sensing is dependent on the ease-of-use experienced by the domain expert in developing applications on such systems.

The obvious solution to enable this ease-of-use in application development is sensor network middleware, along with related programming abstractions (L. Mottola and G. P. Picco. Programming Wireless Sensor Networks: Fundamental Concepts and State of the Art. In ACM Computing Surveys. Volume 43, Issue 3. April 2011.). Recent efforts in standardizing network-layer protocols for embedded devices provide a sound foundation for research and development of middleware that assist the sensor network developers in various aspects that are of interest to us, including the following.

Data-oriented operations: A large number of WSN applications are concerned with sampling and collection of data, and this has led to a large body of work to provide middleware support to the programmer of WSNs for easy access to the data generated and needed by the constituent nodes. Initial work included Hood, and TeenyLIME, which allowed data-sharing over a limited spatial range. Further work proposed the use of the DART runtime environment, which exposes the sensor network as a distributed data-store, addressable by using logical addresses such as “all nodes with temperature sensors in Room 503”, or “all fire sprinklers in the fifth and sixth floors”, which are more intuitive than, say, IP addresses. Taking a different approach toward handling the data in the sensor network, some middleware solutions propose to manipulate them using semantic techniques, such as in the Triple Space Computing approach, which models the data shared by the nodes in the system as RDF triples (subject-predicate-object groups), a standard method for semantic data representation. They propose to make these triples available to the participating nodes using a tuple space, thus giving it the “triple space” moniker. S-APL or Semantic-Agent Programming Language uses semantic technologies to integrate the semantic descriptions of the domain resources with the semantic prescription of agent behavior.

Integration with non-WSN nodes: Most of the work above focuses on designing applications that exhibit only intra-network interactions, where the interaction with the outside world is only in the form of sensing it, or controlling it by actuation. The act of connecting this data to other systems outside the sensor network is mostly done using an external gateway. This is then supported by middlewares that expose the sensor network as a database (e.g., TinyDB and Cougar), allowing the operator to access the data using a SQL-like syntax, augmented with keywords that can be used to specify the rate of sampling, for example. Another direction of integrating WSNs in general with larger systems such as Web servers has been toward using REST (REpresentational State Transfer) technologies, which are already used for accessing services on the Web as a lightweight alternative to SOAP. There has also been work proposing a system that will enable heterogeneous sensor and actuators to expose their sensing and actuation capabilities in a plug and play fashion. It proposes a middleware that defines a set of constraints, support services and interaction patterns that follow the REST architectural style principles, using the ATOM Web publishing protocol for service description, and a two-step discovery process. Additionally, there has been work in implementation of a REST-oriented middleware that runs on embedded devices such as Sun SPOT nodes, and the Plogg wireless energy monitors. This involves a two-fold approach — embedding tiny Web servers in devices that can host them, and employing a proxy server in situations where that is not the case. However, it has been noticed that the abstractions provided by REST might be too simplistic to compose complex applications over the services provided by WSN nodes. Some of the most recent work in this area also proposes to convert existing (network-layer) gateways into smart gateways, by running application code on them.

In addition to supporting the above interactions, sensor network middleware has also been proposed to address the challenges arising from the fact that a particular sensor or actuator may not be always available. This leads to the need for transparent reconfiguration, where the application developer should not have to care about reliability issues. The PIRATES event-based middleware for resource-rich nodes (hosting sensors/actuators, or just processing data) includes a third-party-remapping facility that can be used to remap a component's endpoints without affecting the business logic. In that sense, it is similar to the RUNES middleware targeted at embedded systems.

Finally, we also note the recent initial WSN middleware research focused on the new nascent classes of systems. Most recently, the field of participatory sensing (Lane, N.D.; Miluzzo, E.; Hong Lu; Peebles, D.; Choudhury, T.; Campbell, A.T.; , "A survey of mobile phone sensing," Communications Magazine, IEEE , vol.48, no.9, pp.140-150, Sept. 2010) has emerged, where the role of sensing is increasingly being performed by the mobile phones carried by the users of the system, providing data captured using the sound, GPS, accelerometer and other sensors attached to them. This has led to the emergence of middleware such as JigSaw. The core additional challenges in this domain come from the inherent mobility of the nodes, as well as their extremely large scale.