April 06, 2005

Bigger and better

Writing about SSO v3: Scalability and manageability from Kieran's blog

I was interested to read about the new generation of the web sign-on service that Kieran's been working on. I had come across SAML a few months ago while looking into something else and made a mental note that it looked like a good, well-focussed standard.

What's also interesting is the fact that the new software has taken months of development effort, whereas I hacked together the first version in hours (admittedly re-using some code I'd previously written for something else). This seems typical of the way e-lab's work has changed in its 3 years' existence: in the early days we needed to get stuff up and running quickly, at least in prototype form, whereas now we're putting in the effort to 'do things properly', at least in areas we've identified as being worth the effort, for reasons of scalability and maintainability. My new project, the Academic Data Store, is another example. We have databases that do the various jobs, but the way they all connect to each other is messy, hard to extend and problematic to maintain, so we're going to pour resources into a proper meta-database that will fix that.

As someone who's always been interested in big, complex systems I like this trend. 20 years ago I was fascinated by operating systems, now there are worlds of fascination just within J2EE. I've never been very interested in small projects. Partly that's because I'm process-oriented rather than goal-oriented; I enjoy finishing projects, but it's the getting there that really interests and motivates me. Actually the designing and planning of projects is my favourite part; the blank slate is where there's the most scope for creativity.


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