Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vancouver Olympics - How'd We Do That?

The Silverlight team recently posted a blog entry entitled "Vancouver Olympics - How'd we do That?" in which they detailed the massive effort across multiple partners to pull together the on-line solution for streaming HD videos, both live and on demand.

This was an exciting post for Wintellect and me because it detailed the effort we contributed to making the project a success. What's more important to me for the Silverlight community, however, is that you don't overlook the key detail they posted on the blog:

Development of a Silverlight application to interface with the service agents via WCF. This tool allows Microsoft to quickly publish new configuration files (such as web.config and clientaccesspolicy.xml) to groups of servers, as well as dynamically manipulate configuration settings through a visual interface (for example, turning off compression on a remote smooth streaming server when required) on multiple remote servers at once.

This is important because as a Silverlight developer I am constantly bombarded with questions about how viable Silverlight is, if it is ready for the enterprise and what practical application it has for business. This is a specific example where it was the right tool for the right job.

I won't go into more details about the tool other than what Microsoft has publicly shared, but I wanted to emphasize that this is another example of how Silverlight helps to solve real world problems. When looking at the requirements for the health monitoring, we had several options for a solution. In this case, WPF wouldn't have worked because they would have had to remote into the environment in order to access the tool. However, using ASP.NET and JavaScript would have required jumping through some major hoops and use of heavy controls to correctly render the user interface they required. The tool essentially parses any XML-base configuration file and allows on-line navigation and updates to that document. While this would have been possible using script, it would have taken much longer and required an extended cycle of testing to stabilize.

Due to Silverlight's unique data-binding model and full LINQ to XML support, we were able to build a solution quickly and effectively. We were also able to use the unit testing framework to build hundreds of unit tests that helped ensure a stable, thorough, and well-tested solution. Again, using scripting would have required more complicated tools that simulated user-clicks, etc. With Silverlight, we can place controls on a test surface and simulate the click events to test everything from behaviors down to internal class methods.

PRISM, or the Composite Application Library, was also crucial with the success of keeping the module light weight. There were literally dozens of functions the tool could provide but only a few might be used at any given time, so we separated the functions into independent modules that dynamically loaded as needed to provide a streamlined experience.

While I was excited to work on the project with my company, I am even more excited that it demonstrates yet again how Silverlight is the right tool, right here, right now for enterprise class applications. This is another "case study" to add to your arsenal as you answer questions about, "Is it ready?" or "Has it been done before." I believe the fact that it was so crucial both in the front end (with the live streaming experience) and back-end (with the management tools) for an incredible event like the Olympics really proves how mature and ready Silverlight is for business class applications.

Jeremy Likness