Frameworks for Distributed Interoperability

Frameworks for Distributed Interoperability

José C. Delgado (Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch347
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Interoperability (between two or more systems) is a word formed by the juxtaposition of a prefix (inter) and the agglutination of two other words (operate and ability) and means the ability (of two or more systems) to operate together.

What these two last words really mean depends largely on the domain which the systems belong to, although there is a pervasive, underlying notion that these systems are active, reacting upon stimuli sent by others and cooperating to accomplish higher level goals than those achievable by each single system.

Interoperability has been studied in domains such as enterprise cooperation (Jardim-Goncalves, Agostinho, & Steiger-Garcao, 2012), e-government services (Gottschalk & Solli-Sæther, 2008), military operations (Wyatt, Griendling, & Mavris, 2012), cloud computing (Loutas, Kamateri, Bosi, & Tarabanis, 2011), healthcare applications (Weber-Jahnke, Peyton, & Topaloglou, 2012), digital libraries (El Raheb et al., 2011) and metadata (Haslhofer & Klas, 2010).

In this article, we adopt a more general perspective, exploring interoperability in the context of distributed systems, independently of what they are or which domain is the most relevant to them. Distributed is used here as a synonym of lifecycle independence, not necessarily implying geographical dispersion. In other words, two systems are distributed if one can evolve (to a new version) without having to change, to suspend or to stop the behavior or interface of the other.

The main goals are:

  • To contribute to a better understanding of what distributed interoperability is and what is really involved;

  • To propose an interoperability framework, which can be defined as a set of principles, assumptions, rules and guidelines to analyze, to structure and to classify the concepts and concerns of interoperability;

  • To exploit partial interoperability through the concepts of compliance and conformance.

This article is structured as follows. The next section describes some of the most relevant existing interoperability frameworks. The following section introduces the basic concepts that establish a foundation for interoperability in distributed contexts. Next, a multidimensional interoperability framework is proposed and its advantages discussed. Finally, future research directions are hinted and conclusions drawn.



One of the first systematizations of distributed interoperability was accomplished by the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) reference model, a standard since 1984 (ISO, 1994), which considers seven layers (Table 1). This standard deals mostly with communication issues, with the objective of sending data and reproducing it at the receiver. How those data are interpreted by the receiver and how it reacts to the data is left unspecified, encompassed by the topmost layer, Application. Since interoperability must ensure not only data exchange but also meaningful use of information (ISO/IEC/IEEE, 2010), we need to detail the Application layer.

Table 1.
Comparison between several layered interoperability frameworks (referred to by acronym or first author)
ApplicationCollaborationOrganizationalSocial worldConceptualPoliticalSWOT
ConsolidationSemanticSemanticSemanticSemantic (includes syntactic)Adaptation
Physical MediumPhysical worldPhysical Medium

Key Terms in this Chapter

Distributed Interoperability: Interoperability between systems that have independent lifecycles. This means that they can evolve (to a new version) without having to change, to suspend or to stop the behavior or interface of the other. Distribution does not necessarily imply geographical dispersion.

Compliance: Asymmetric property between a consumer C and a provider P ( C is compliant with P ) that indicates that C satisfies all the requirements of P in terms of accepting requests.

Conformance: Asymmetric property between a provider P and a consumer C ( P conforms to C ) that indicates that P fulfills all the expectations of C in terms of the effects caused by its requests.

Consumer: A role performed by a system A in an interaction with another B , which involves making a request to B and typically waiting for a response.

Choreography: Contract between two or more systems, which establishes how they cooperate to achieve some common goal.

Dimensions of Interoperability: Organization of an interoperability framework that defines several axes, or dimensions, of orthogonal interoperability concerns. This allows a better specification of an interoperability problem than by using just a single dimension of interoperability layers.

Layers of Interoperability: Organization of interoperability concepts and concerns along a single dimension, in layers of monotonically varying degree of complexity and abstraction.

Interoperability Framework: Set of principles, assumptions, rules and guidelines to analyze, structure and classify the concepts and concerns of interoperability.

Interoperability: The ability of a consumer C to be partially or fully compatible with a provider P . By composition, it can also refer to multilateral compatibility between several systems, interacting in the context of some choreography.

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