#LeanDevelopment for #LeanStartups

March 23, 2011 1 comment
To align with #LeanStartups way of doing things, we also need lean development,  lean technical stack and lean project cycle. Startups are big news these days. And when we talk about startups, there is big push for quick turn-over and get to market before time & money runs out. Hence we talking about #LeanStartups. (If you wondering, why I am using ‘#’ sign, because, that’s how I am getting my topic news on Twitter. So keeping up lingo).

Coming to topic of this blog, whenever I think of implementing some idea or start chalking up some plans to develop something, first thing comes to my mind, which web framework? Which technology stack of APIs. How I can get other developers involved with-out spending time on discussing these things. When we talk about Lean startup, it means you should be able to develop some features quickly and deliver it. As user experience ‘demands’, you are agile enough to change backlog continuously, with-out changing technologies or whole project direction.

Keyword is ‘Continuous’. (This explains it better, http://goo.gl/q6Pnk)

  • You change backlog continuously
  • You build continuously (every commit)
  • You deploy continuous. (even 5-6 times a day)
Now problem is, when we start spending time developing code using traditional frameworks (or technical stack), then we are introducing rigidness to whole continuous process. 
Example: Lets say, you are using Apache tiles + JSP + Spring framework + Hibernate, to formulate any development efforts. If you need to change DB schema, need to change JSPs & their layouts, then it will take a lot of effort to change everything.  That’s one of reason, I think, we have a lot of  PHP based frameworks for startups. Because they are missing layers of layers of configurations. (See my older post https://jframeworks.com/2008/07/03/java-products-but-php-based-website/ touching this subject)
So What I Propose?
Lean Development (& technologies)
(Note: This is written with Java/JEE APIs in mind)

  1. If you are in same boat as me, I have choosen ‘Spring Framework’. Spring Framework is not a framework, it has become underlying nerve of almost all project. It’s all IOC. 
  2. I recently dump technologies like ORM (Hibernate/JPA) in favor of old school JDBC (See my other post on Why?)
  3. I am sticking to JSPs and old school JSP includes. Why? Because my team should be able to introduce any jsp with minimal time and minimal impact. Any developer with little experience of java, can work around JSPs. 
  4. At last but least, standardize html technologies including CSS and JavaScript libraries.
Sample Recipe (If I choose my stack now)
  1. MySQL DB (or you can go with PostgresSQL )
  2. Spring Framework (JDBC, MVC, rich set of Annotations for transaction, cache, webservices )
  3. JSPs for displaying content. No templating framework. Plain JSP includes. 
  4. HTML 4.01 Strict transitional standardized UI
  5. JQuery 1.4.2+ (including JQuery UI and plugins as needed). Google it, you will find thousands
  6. Yahoo YUI CSS grids, to stanardized your grids once for all. (including reset css)

Why not PHP? 

Now speaking of PHP, yes, you can argue why not use PHP (hence products like Drupal)? That’s main concern with us (or me). Acting on a idea is not everything. Having passion to develop it with technologies you love and you are confident in it. I won’t discuss pros/cons of PHP v/s JAVA right now. I have friends, who are in same boat.  Many of them belongs to group, “Why you thinking technology? Just think of idea and pursue it. Just pick Drupal or any existing CMS application.” Yes this is what I been told many times. But I am technologist and I want to know about technology that will be used. I am java web developer with decade of experience. So with so many tested web frameworks available, sticking to java/j2ee technologies makes sense. I don’t advise, against PHP but this is something, doesn’t suit me or my time. Why learn new skills and figure out things, whenever you need to do something different. 
Lean Project Cycle: 
When we talk about this, we talk about all other tasks to give light to a written code. This involves everything like recording requirements, maintaining backlog, continuous builds & deploys.
Generally, if we are bunch of developers, we think, of getting one build server and install some open source tools like ‘Hudson’. Also make maintain source control repositories using subversion ourselves.

  • Provision a development integration server.
  • Provision DB servers for different stages of a project
  • Provision a Unix box, for source control. 
  • And then find people, to install those and manage those. 

Welcome to world of PaaS and Saas

(Platform As A Service and Software As A Service)

If you have experience enough, we know, getting into maintaining tools ourselves, we will be putting hours, which we could have been writing code. Hence, I am in favor of, why not use online services? For example, altassian group provides execellent suite of all tools in one single subscription package. Link http://www.atlassian.com/hosted/studio/ .  Personally, I am big fan of JIRA and used Confluence. So I don’t want to waste my time, learning new tool or spend time, how to install/maintain it. There are lot of other paid subscription services available like http://beanstalkapp.com/ and many others. Point is, I will rather buy subscription for these services and use it.  (If I need my car serviced, I will drive to auto shop, rather than setting up a new one in my garage 🙂 )

Excellent examples of PaaS & Saas

  • Xeround, They are new kid on block, providing DB hosting as a service (SaaS model). I have experimented with their services. At least for startup or low volume work, they can be right fit. You can always do cost-benefit-DBA_salary-Ping_time analysis.
  • Atlassian Studio: Provide hosted services for Subversion/ JIRA / Bamboo, confluence wiki and even agile tools like Greenhopper. Frankly speaking, I am ok with spending $125/mo with them, if I am seriously spending my time for startup. Think of productivity. 
  • Amazon EC2, If you need to provision a server for any reason (or live production hosting) This is one very good option. I am using their micro instance for running my dedicated MySQL server. I even hosted wordpress blog there. (A week back, I moved to blogger.com) (To save some more bucks, I am using ‘Spot Instances’. )
Basically, you need Laptop and your favorite IDE to start a #LeanStartup. By the way, if you not using Maven for builds, you need to start from there. 

Why or Why Not AppFuse ?
For those, who don’t know, AppFuse is excellent open source project, which allows you to download & use it’s pre-built projects. It provides different projects with different technology stack with web interface. Yes, it is good starting point, when you want to see certain API in action and modify, experiment with it. But from my point of view, it’s more like proof of concept. It can be good starting point for you, if you starting from scratch, as long as it matches you pre-determined technical stack. For my own project, it doesn’t. I was spending more time, working around it, hence I decided to write some ‘generic’ web framework from scratch. Also adding different goodies like separate admin, user interface, cache support using annotations etc. Hopefully, I will release it, it’s first alpha release as open source soon.

End Note:
In this post, I tried to look at technologies side of #LeanStartups.  This is something, which can be black hole for many startups if not controlled to begin with. Programming languages like PHP can be easy step for day 1, but when things get serious, we need serious enterprise friendly language and tools supporting it. And Lean development model (as described above, using Java), can serve both purposes of starting easily and able to sustain long term.

Spring 3.1 with Cache and ORM technologies

Recently Spring Framework released Milestone 1 of version 3.1 (New features).  One of new key feature caught my eye is, support for cache using annotations. Now you can annotate your DAOs (or Repositories) with provided cache specific annotations and let spring take case of behind the scene bridge to cache provider.

To be fair, Cache using annotation is not new. It’s been available as part of open source projects like http://code.google.com/p/ehcache-spring-annotations/. But now cache annotations, being part of core spring framework, it is going to be used more seriously and developed pro-actively.

Another major impact is, I am revisiting actual benefits of using ORM API for data access. As we all know, we have pretty much two ways to access database, either plain JDBC or ORM API like Hibernate. I am big fan of Hibernate, due to obvious reasons. And one of main reason is, adding cache capabilities by enabling 2nd level cache.  But in design sense, cache is more like cross-cutting requirement for a running system. Like any other cross-cutting concerns like Transactions, it makes more sense to use ‘annotations’ way.

Why back to JDBC now?
That’s one decision, I recently made. I switched back to JDBC based DAO implementations instead of Hibernate backed DAOs.

  1. We all have experience of writing SQLs. And using Spring JDBC templates, it’s very easy to implement methods.
  2. When we actually implementing DAOs, most of operations are not CRUD type. It’s mostly join of multiple tables. Although HQL/JPQL can achieve can anything but it’s another learning curve. 
  3. Personally, I don’t want to add another layer API in whole technical stack. Hibernate (or any other ORM layer) is great and might have obvious benefits but it always have learning curve and yes, we spend time in debugging HQL or JPQL. 
  4. Major factor was ‘cache’ feature in Hibernate. Now Spring Framework provides cache annotations. It gives me more flexibility on what to cache and what not to. (even eviction policies are supported) 
  5. Plus spring cache annotation can be applied anywhere. Not just DAO, even remote webservices, or any method which is resource intensive. 
You can be setup and running by simple steps like upgrading spring dependency to 3.1.0-M1 (3.1.0.M1) and read this useful article at spring blog. 
Things which might need polishing
  • There seems to be incomplete code, how to generate key. (It’s using just method name to generate key? )
  • Spring team is working on adding more providers (apart from ehcache). Support for providers like JBoss treecache will be nice. Specially in multi-cluster environment.

Categories: cache, spring framework

Fast Forward To MVC 'ONE'

April 25, 2010 1 comment
Recently, I worked on adding a feature to legacy webapp of my client, based upon MVC one model. And  it’s simplicity and getting work done, made me think again, about MVC one based webapps. I am always on hunt for simple web framework, which i can embark on for proof of concept of my startup ideas.
This is year 2010 and we as java developers, have spent countless time in arguing and reading (fun though) about various java web frameworks in play. Many bloggers publish their findings, opinions and countless others copied their content, republished them anyway. One common subject has been, which web framework? Cult is increasing everyday, for Spring MVC, Wicket, now JBoss Seam. I had personally spent time thinking about choosing one framework of choice, for my own projects, but I could never conclude on one. Spring MVC has become strong contender and safe choice, because I will be using spring for services and data access layer. Have we ever took step back and thought, we have surrounded ourselves plethora of frameworks for unlimited reasons, but never thought of ROI and time to market any product. Java always been treated as enterprise solution for big companies with big projects with big budgets. What about simple B2C startup projects which has limited user base and no funds. In today’s real web applications, PHP is thriving as before. People are still coding & adding more to PHP based projects. And those projects have been more successful and widely accepted. Example would be ‘WordPress’ , ‘Drupal’, ‘OSCommerce’. (Even springframework.org used drupal. Not sure whether they still using it). So what is main charishma or any characteristics of PHP? We all have argued, bloggoed about How PHP is inferior compare to Java, but PHP is productive.
Having said that, lets come to drawing board, as new developer or even CIO of a company. What we need in a web application (lets assume startup webapp, upto 100 concurrent users in one cluster)
  1. Pretty interface, which users to love to use it. (Example mint.com)
  2. Interactive & Intuitive interface.
  3. Functional interface. It does what it promises and always does that.
  4. Low or almost NIL learning curve for any new developer.
  5. Able to extend interface + functionality by 3rd party developers. (That strives any web product)
  6. Quick turn around of code to market
  7. Able to remove or disable code or by choice of end user. (user is deployer)
Having listed all the requirements, how many requirements really demand for use of MVC II framework?
First two are more of DHTML only.
Number 3 is quality of code and how well tested code is.
Number 4 is not good for MVC II frameworks like spring or wicket or even struts. They have some learning curve and you need resources, comfortable on that.
Number 5, people can argue, here MVC II excels. But at what cost? Lets analyze that more (I will use example of Spring MVC, because of popularity. Nothing against it)
First drawback is, to write any java code, you need to be java developer. It eliminates pool of casual web programmers who just like to write scripting (like PHP) and DHTML. Second is, if you write anything in JAVA, webapp has to be repackaged (and ofcourse released again). So there is no on-fly programming or releasing code on running webapp. (Lets forget about OSGi for now. It’s different ball game).
What about writing code using JSPs only?

That’s this post is all about. I know, many of you, thinking, c’mon man, Nineties called, they want their MVC one back. But lets entertain this idea for a while. For example, I want to write simple webapp ‘java press’ blogging engine, able to deploy it with in couple of weeks and my available heap size is 64MB (pretty common for VPS plans). If I go by spring mvc route, it will take me a couple of weeks, just enough to setup my environment, DBs, etc etc. I will have re-hash my knowledge of spring, and spring mvc controllers etc etc. But if I just pick JSPs model, i am ready to convert static HTMLs with-in a day.

Using JSPs and JSTL tags, I get lots of java functionality baked in. I can divide my jsps using includes (keeping option of apache tiles open). I can keep two sets of JSPs, presentation jsp and worker jsps. I can use extensively extra request parameters, to drive backend jsp, where to forward or redirect my request after finishing work.
If we still on this concept, few custom tags can be written and being delivered as part of SDK. So anyone who wants to customize it or extend it, he has JSPs, JSTL and some custom util tags at his disposal.
Advantages or trying to look at positive aspects.
  1. For deployments for small companies or concept deliveries or Y combinator kinda projects, time to deliver is small.
  2. You don’t have to muck around which framework to use. You think of doing something, and you doing it.
  3. Think of 3rd party developers pool, you get access to. If you document well, even PHP developer can pick JSP skills in few days and write JSPs for your webapp. (Imagine hiring PHP developer for spring MVC work. I don’t have time & budget for training).
  4. With new JEE specs coming out, you are always safe to upgrade your app and take advantages of new features without rewriting anything. (That’s what spring says, we give you another layer of abstraction. But you have upgrade code for spring 3.x now, isn’t it?)
  5. For scalability, it’s cheaper than before, clustering solutions based upon clouds. So my one deployment supports 50 concurrent sessions, I will just throw couple extra virtual tomcat instances, with in same cloud instance. or couple other different ways.
  6. I am less worried about performance, because recent benchmarks for tomcat 6 using JDK 6, is impressive.
  7. Using data source pooling, getting connections from JSP isn’t resource intensive. (As part of SDK, some classes with static methods can provided, to provide some encapsulation on common used API calls)
  8. web.xml supports basic security model. And again, as part of SDK, some common servlet filters can be provided for cross cutting concerns like security, logging, transactions.
  9. DB Caching can be ignored for now, assuming DB server and tomcat instance are co-located or installed in same instance. Caching adds lots of code maintenance, research & testing. Benefits of using caching diminishes in small db and small users.
  10. Well known advantage of JSP, do code change and see changes immediately on web browser. Hence time to see results, while doing development is almost nil. We all have taken coffee breaks in our past projects while waiting for server to bounce.
This post is not comparison between MVC I and MVC II model. It’s more of another look at MVC I model and putting on my thoughts, why It could make sense to use it.
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