What is a Reference Architecture?

Reference Architecture (RA) refers to a special type of Software Architecture (SA) that contains knowledge about a specific domain, providing a guidance for the development, standardization, and evolution of system architectures of a specific domain.

RA allows stakeholders to increase the levels of reuse and reduce validation and verification activities. A solid software architecture is crucial for the success of any software-intensive system. A Reference Architecture is at a higher level of abstraction and can be seen as a generic architecture for a class of software systems (e.g. e-Navigation solutions). A RA encapsulates a particular segment of a domain, capturing all the domain knowledge and providing an abstract blueprint architecture for the domain.

What is MARSSA?

MARSSA is an acronym for MARine Systems Software Architecture.

The name MARSSA also relates to the word “marsa” in the Maltese language, used when depicting a port or a safe harbor.

MARSSA is the first Open Reference System Architecture (ORSA) in the maritime industry.

MARSSA sets out to provide a RA, which will serve as a base for the development of standards and, at the same time, an architecture to support the integration & interoperability of software-dependent devices and systems onboard and onshore. The RA learns from other domains such as avionics and automotive, however, it directly addresses and takes into account the specificity of the maritime domain. It provides an architectural blue print for a set of products / systems based on the pool of previously successfully implemented solutions and combined with a set of new requirements.

How was MARSSA created?

A team of marine software engineering experts and passionate mariners at MARSEC-XL started to work on MARSSA in 2008. On the 14th of February 2011 MARSEC-XL donated the very first version of MARSSA to the Open Source Community and the work on MARSSA has continued as an open source project hosted by MARSEC-XL Foundation since then. More info about MARSEC-XL on the MARSEC-XL.ORG website.

MARSSA v. 1.0 was developed as a community effort with the help of over 150 contributors around the globe. The MARSSA community gathers software engineering experts, software and system architects, mariners, commercial sea officers, naval architects, engineers, ship builders,  as well as students, enthusiasts, and commercial companies active in the IT and maritime sectors.

Can I contribute to MARSSA?

Yes. All contributions are most welcome. Please get in contact with MARSSA via the CONTACT page  or visit the MARSEC-XL.ORG website for more info about how to contribute.

Why Open Reference System Architecture?

The ORSA enables maritime electronic vendors and manufacturers to derive own differentiating instances and implementations of MARSSA in a cost and time effective manner. It means  reduced development and acquisition costs and higher quality due to a higher degree of reuse. The maritime industry is highly fragmented.

The purpose and main reason for having a RA in place is to guide the development of architectures for new systems as well as product families.

Today, most maritime electronic systems operate on proprietary networks basically allowing only integration between devices operating on the same network, usually within a product portfolio of a singe vendor. With eNavigation solutions roll-out in a multi-vendor environment and a growing need for interoperability between various maritime electronic systems, both shipboard as well as on-shore, a solution is needed, which will provide more flexibility and allow to move away from ad-hoc and proprietary platform engineering to open architectures and standards.

The lack of an open standard permitting interoperability between electronic devices and systems from a variety of manufacturers is hampering maritime operations, limiting innovation in this domain and driving development and acquisition costs. The maritime industry needs a common platform, which will allow the seamless integration of most (if not all) onboard and onshore systems based on a well-engineered RA.

Focus on End Users: Seafarers and Mariners

The end users, seafarers and mariners, should be given the flexibility to select the devices / systems best suiting their usage scenarios. A framework based on an open platform and open standards will allow current proprietary networks to be linked to MARSSA. This will enable a gradual move away from instrument-based architecture towards services as software components, which constitutes a future-proof solution, especially when considering that a ship's lifetime can be in excess of 20 years.

Can MARSSA increase safety at sea?

Yes. MARSSA is contributing to improving safety at sea.

MARSSA is contributing to the MONALISA 2.0 project focused on safety of navigation and sea traffic management: MONALISA 2.0 website

Using Reference Architecture in maritime software development

With a Reference Architecture software architects are able to create an instance of the RA for a particular product or family of products. The RA is important for different stakeholders within the domain of interest. Reference Architectures are used to avoid re-work, re-validation and re-verification of architectures. The RA can be looked upon as the “parent” class in an architecture hierarchy and all instances of the architecture are “children” of this “parent” architecture.

A RA captures a lot of domain knowledge by analyzing past architectures and initiatives and based on the knowledge gathered formulates a reference skeleton architecture from which all future architectures in the domain can be derived. According to the US Department of Defense the purpose of a RA is to steer and control the instantiation of solution architectures.

A RA is a domain and organizational asset as it:

  1.   Provides a common language which can be understood by all involved stake-holders;

  2.   Provides consistency with regard to the implementation technology used to solve challenges;

  3.   Enables the verification and validation of solutions against the reference architecture;

  4.   Encourages the adherence to common standards, patterns and specifications.

The RA encompasses the technical aspects of a given domain as well as the end user's needs.

A RA helps various stakeholders to collaborate on formulating an architecture based on a shared understanding. A RA is based on the lessons learnt and experience of past architectures.

A RA is a rather complex artifact. Therefore, a building block approach has to be adopted in  order to aid with reuse and separation of concerns, as has been done, for example, in the avionics industry. Such an approach allows suppliers to build the “right” building blocks and the integrators to integrate the whole system. Such an approach is only made possible with a RA in place. A RA is a combination of software architectural concepts and building blocks interfaces.

What are the benefits of a Reference Architecture?

The RA addresses and encapsulates an entire domain in a technology independent manner. Industry can use the RA in order to generate their custom architectures for a family of products, with the RA used as the template; All specific architectures will be based on the same common core, enabling seamless integration and fostering innovation.

A RA improves effectiveness as it:

  1. Helps in reducing re-work;

  2. Provides guidance when designing new product(s) / software systems;

  3. Serves as a mechanism through which the software architect is able to validate and verify the architecture.

  4. Serves as a yardstick; The particular technology specific instance of the RA can be compared against the RA for validity;

  5. Enables higher reuse levels;

  6. Significantly reduces the design and commercialization costs of a software product;

  7. Reduces the time to market for the system, as the technology specific architecture for the system can be derived quickly.

  8. ORA allows interaction of COTS (off-the-shelf) components contributing to cost reduction and higher quality and interoperability of systems.

How can MARSSA be implemented?

One possible implementation of MARSSA is in a hybrid cloud environment including a private cloud onboard a ship.


What are the major benefits of utilizing cloud technology on board a vessel?

Empirical data shows that cloud solutions based on Open Architecture, such as MARSSA, achieve up to 80% savings in Total Cost of Ownership with increased quality. It means easier system integration and shorter commissioning times for builders. Data sharing across onboard electronic devices (and vessels) and continuous pushing of raw sensor data into the cloud allows for the prediction of the onboard behaviors enabling optimization of the yacht’s e.g. energy generation, and contributing to improvements in the vessel’s performance attributes such as fuel and/or hybrid-electric efficiency. Cloud’s Scalable computation power and information storage makes it possible to convert historical navigation data into useful real-time predictors.

Are there security risks attached to the use of cloud technology onboard a superyacht? How are these risks negotiated?

A robust system software architecture is key in assuring that the cloud-based services do not have an impact on the safety critical features onboard the vessel. The onboard systems must be split over multiple separate networks; one for safety critical applications, and the others for infotainment and other services. The multiple networks and sets of components are physically or otherwise separated with highly advanced firewalls, preventing any of the applications to interfere with one another. Signing software components with digital certificates and requiring encrypted data transports also contribute to achieving security.

Can a yacht be built to accommodate developments in wireless technology and enhanced connectivity? How future-proof a yacht?

To future proof a yacht the “third architecture”, i.e. systems software architecture, such as MARSSA, must be adopted, next to naval and interior architecture. The three architectures must co-exist seamlessly. Data interfaces must be open allowing for interoperability. By using COTS (Components Off The Shelf) and Open Architecture system integration and refits become easier and cheaper. This allows for rapid and frequent technology insertion and refresh.

© 2013 MARSEC-XL Foundation



Open Reference System Architecture

for the Maritime Industry