Section: New Results

Emergent Middleware Supporting Interoperability in Extreme Distributed Systems

Participants : Emil Andriescu, Amel Bennaceur, Luca Cavallaro, Valérie Issarny, Daniel Sykes.

Interoperability is a fundamental challenge for today’s extreme distributed systems. Indeed, the high-level of heterogeneity in both the application layer and the underlying infrastructure, together with the conflicting assumptions that each system makes about its execution environment hinder the successful interoperation of independently developed systems. A wide range of approaches have thus been proposed to address the interoperability challenge. However, solutions that require performing changes to the systems are usually not feasible since the systems to be integrated may be legacy systems, COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) components or built by third parties; neither are the approaches that prune the behavior leading to mismatches since they also restrict the systems' functionality. Therefore, many solutions that aggregate the disparate systems in a non-intrusive way have been investigated. These solutions use intermediary software entities, called mediators, to interconnect systems despite disparities in their data and/or interaction models by performing the necessary coordination and translations while keeping them loosely-coupled. However, creating mediators requires a substantial development effort and a thorough knowledge of the application-domain, which is best understood by domain experts. Moreover, the increasing complexity of today's distributed systems, sometimes referred to as Systems of Systems, makes it almost impossible to develop `correct' mediators manually. Therefore, formal approaches are used to synthesize mediators automatically.

In light of the above, we have introduced the notion of emergent middleware for realizing mediators. Our research on enabling emergent mediators is done in collaboration with our partners of the Connect project (§ ). Our work during the year has more specifically focused on:

  • Architecture enabling emergent middleware. We have been finalizing, together with our partners in the Connect project, the definition of an overall distributed system architecture supporting emergent middleware, from the discovery of networked systems to the learning of their respective behavior and synthesis of emergent middleware enabling them to interoperate [31] .

  • Affordance inference. We have proposed an ontology-based formal model of networked systems based on their affordances (high-level functionalities), interfaces, behavior, and non-functional properties, each of which describes a different facet of the system in a way similar to the service description promoted for semantic Web services. However, legacy systems do not necessarily specify all of the aforementioned facets. Therefore, we have explored techniques to infer the affordance by using textual descriptions of the interface of networked systems. More specifically, we rely on machine learning techniques to automate the inference of the affordance from the interface description by classifying the natural-language text according to a predefined ontology of affordances. In a complementary way, Connect partners investigate protocol-learning algorithms to learn the behavior of networked systems on the fly [17] .

  • Mediator synthesis for emergent middleware. We focus on systems that have compatible functionalities, i.e., semantically matching affordances, but are unable to interact successfully due to mismatching interfaces or behaviors. To solve such mismatches, we propose a mapping-based approach, whose goal is to automatically synthesize a mediator model that ensures the safe interaction of functionnally compatible systems, i.e., deadlock-freedom and the absence of unspecified receptions. Our approach combines semantic reasoning and constraint programming to identify the semantic correspondence between networked systems' interfaces, i.e., interface mapping. Unlike existing approaches that only tackle the one-to-one correspondence between actions and for which we investigated a solution using ontology-based model checking [16] , the proposed mapping-based approach handles the more general cases of one-to-many and many-to-many mappings. This work has resulted in a supporting software prototype that allows validating the approach; related publication is under writing. A further key research issue we are addressing in emergent middleware is the study of cross-paradigm interaction so as to enable interoperability among highly heterogeneous services (e.g., an IT-based service will likely interact using the client-service scheme while thing-based services rather adopt asynchronous protocols). Toward that goal, we are studying abstract models associated with popular interaction paradigms and higher level, generic interaction paradigms to define cross-paradigm mappings that respect the behavioral semantics of the interacting systems.

  • Automated mediation for cross-layer protocol interoperability. While existing approaches to interoperability consider either application or middleware heterogeneity separately, we believe that in real world scenarios this does not suffice: application and middleware boundaries are ill-defined and solutions to interoperability must consider them in conjunction. As part of our recent work, we have proposed such a solution, which solves cross-layer interoperability by automatically generating parsers and composers that abstract physical message encapsulation layers into logical protocol layers, thus supporting application layer mediation. Specifically, we support the automated synthesis of mediators at the application layer using the mapping-based approach discussed above, while we introduce Composite Cross- Layer (CCL) parsers and composers to handle cross-layer heterogeneity and to provide an abstract representation of the application data exchanged by the interoperating components. In particular, we associate the data embedded in messages with annotations that refers to concepts in a domain ontology. As a result, we are able to reason about the semantics of messages in terms of the operations and the data they require from or provide to one another and automatically synthesize, whenever possible, the appropriate mediators. We have demonstrated the validity of our approach by using the framework to solve cross-layer interoperability between existing conference management systems.

  • Models@run.time. We have recently integrated the notion of Models@run.time in our research towards emergent middleware. We use Models@run.time to extend the applicability of models and abstractions to the runtime environment. As is the case for software development models, a run-time model is often created to support reasoning. However, in contrast to development models, run-time models are used to reason about the operating environment and runtime behavior, and thus these models must capture abstractions of runtime phenomena. Different dimensions need to be balanced, including resource-efficiency (time, memory, energy), context-dependency (time, location, platform), as well as personalization (quality-of-service specifications, profiles). The hypothesis is that because Models@run.time provide meta-information for these dimensions during execution, run-time decisions can be facilitated and better automated.

    Thus, we anticipate that Models@run.time will play an integral role in the management of extremely distributed systems. Our way of using runtime models captures syntax and also semantics of behaviour and supports runtime reasoning. Prior models@run.time approaches have generally concentrated on architectural-based runtime models and self-adaptation of existing software artifacts. However, such artefacts cannot always be produced in advance, and we believe that models@runtime have a fundamental role to play in the production of dynamic, adaptive, and on-the-fly software as investigated in the context of emergent middleware [8] . Specifically, two important methods underpin our approach: i) automatic inference of the required runtime models during execution and their refinement by exploiting learning and synthesis techniques; and ii) using these models for a dynamic software synthesis approach, where mediators are formally characterized (using LTS) to allow the runtime synthesis of software.

    In order to enable emergent middleware, we have shown how systems can infer information to build runtime models during execution. Importantly, ontologies were exploited to enrich the runtime models and facilitated the mutual understanding required to perform the matching and mapping between the networked heterogeneous systems. Such reasoning about information that was not necessarily known before execution, is in contrast to the traditional use of models@run.time.