Friday, October 9, 2009

IT architects seek to bridge gap between cloud vision and reality

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download a copy. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Free Offer: Get a complimentary copy of the new book Cloud Computing For Dummies courtesy of Hewlett-Packard at

he popularity of the concepts around cloud computing have caught many IT departments off-guard.

While business and financial leaders have become enamored of the expected economic and agility payoffs from cloud models, IT planners often lack structured plans or even a rudimentary roadmap of how to attain cloud benefits from their current IT environment.

New market data gathered from recent HP workshops on early cloud adoption and data center transformation shows a wide and deep gulf between the desire to leverage cloud method and the ability to dependably deliver or consume cloud-based services.

So, how do those tasked with a cloud strategy proceed? How do they exercise caution and risk reduction, while also showing swift progress toward an "Everything as a Service" world? How do they pick and choose among a burgeoning variety of sourcing options for IT and business services and accurately identify the ones that make the most sense, and which adhere to existing performance, governance and security guidelines?

It's an awful lot to digest. As one recent HP cloud workshop attendee said, “We're interested in knowing how to build, structure, and document a cloud services portfolio with actual service definitions and specifications.”

Here to help better understand how to properly develop a roadmap to cloud computing adoption in the enterprise, we're joined by three experts from HP: Ewald Comhaire, global practice manager of Data Center Transformation at HP Technology Services; Ken Hamilton, worldwide director for Cloud Computing Portfolio in the HP Technology Services Division, and Ian Jagger, worldwide marketing manager for Data Center Services at HP. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:
Comhaire: Independent of how we define cloud -- and there are obviously lots of definitions out there -- and also independent of what value cloud can bring or what type of cloud services we are discussing, it's very clear that the cloud service providers are basically setting a new benchmark for how IT specific services are delivered to the business.

Whether it's from a scalability, a pay-per-use model, or a flexibility and speed element or whether it's the fact that it can be accessed and delivered anywhere on the network, it clearly creates some kind of pressure on many IT organizations.

... These companies will have tremendous benefits on the thinking model, the organizing for a service centric delivery model, but they may need to just work a little bit on the architecture. For example, how can they address scalability and the way that supply and demand are aligned to each other, or maybe how they charge back for some of these services in a more pay-as-you-go way versus an allocation based way.

These companies will already have a big head start. Of course, if you're working on an internal cloud, have things like virtualization in place, have consolidated your environment, as well as putting more service management processes in place around ITIL and service management, this will benefit the company greatly. We'll want to have the cloud strategy rolling out in the near future.

Jagger: ... If there are critical applications that you seek for your business, and they're available through the cloud, either from a service provider or through the shared services model, that's going to be far more efficient and cost-effective, subject to terms of ... pay-per-use and security. But once security is addressed, there are definite cost and efficiency advantages.

Hamilton: We're seeing a growing interest in cloud specifically around cost savings. Certainly, in this economy, cost savings and switching from a capital-based model to an operational model, with the flexibility that implies, is something that a number of companies are interested in.

But, I'd also like to underscore that, as we've discussed, the definition of cloud and the variety of different, and sometimes confusing possibilities around cloud, are things that customers want to get control of. They want to be able to understand what the full range of benefits might be.

In a typical internal

So, cost savings as well as agility and new business capabilities really are the three main types of benefits that we are seeing customers go after.

environment it may take weeks or months to deploy a server populated in a particular fashion. In that same internal cloud environment that time to market can be as little as hours or minutes, along with some of the increased functionality.

So, cost savings as well as agility and new business capabilities really are the three main types of benefits that we are seeing customers go after.

Because of the service orientation, this puts a greater emphasis on understanding not just the technological underpinnings, but the contractual service level elements and the virtual elements that go with this.

Comhaire: We often talk about all the benefits, but obviously, specifically for our enterprise customers, there's also an interesting list of inhibitors. In every workshop that we do, we ask our participants to rank what they believe are the biggest inhibitors, either for themselves to consume cloud services or, if they want to become a provider, what do they believe will be inhibiting their potential customers to acquire or consume the services that they are looking for? Consistently, we see five key themes coming as major inhibitors:.

A lot of companies have value chains that they've built, but what if some of the parts of that value chain are in the cloud? Have I lost too much control? Am I too much dependent?

  • Loss of control. That means I am now totally dependent on my cloud-service provider in my value chain.
  • Lack of trust in your cloud service provider. That could have to do with the question of whether they'll still be in business five years from now, and also things like price-hikes
  • Security and vulnerability. Some of that is perceived. If you architect it well, best-practice cloud-service providers can do a great job of actually being more secure than a traditional enterprise dedicated environment. Difficulties around identity management and all of the things to integrate security between the consumer and the provider that are an additional complexity there.
  • Confidentiality concerning data, because what guarantees do we have, for example, that an employee at a service provider can't take that data and sell it to a government or some other third party?
  • Reliability -- is the service going to be up enough of the time? Will it be down at moments that are not convenient?
Hamilton: [To get started], the most important thing is to make sure that the executive decision makers have a common understanding of what they might want to achieve with cloud. To that end, we've developed a Cloud Discovery Workshop, which is really a way of being able to frame the cloud decision points and to bring the executive decision makers together.

This Cloud Discovery Workshop does a great job of engaging the executive team in a very focused amount of time, as little as an afternoon, to be able to walk through the key steps around defining a common definition for their view of cloud. It's not just our view or some other vendor's view, but their definition of cloud and the benefits that they might be able to accrue.

They, specifically drill that down into particular areas with a return on investment (ROI) focus, the infrastructure capabilities that might be required, as well as the service management operational and some of the more esoteric capabilities that go hand in hand, addressing security, privacy, and other areas of risk. It's just making sure that they've got a very clear way of being able to document that, and then move forward into more detailed design, if that's the direction they want to move in.

Comhaire: From the workshop customers basically get a better view of the strategy they want to go for. We have an initial discussion on the portfolio and we talk also a little bit about the desired state. In the roadmap service, we actually take that to the next level. So we really start off with that desired state.

We have defined the capability model with five levels of capability. We don't want to call it the maturity model, because for every company, the highest maturity isn't necessarily their desired state or their end state. So, it's unfair to name it "maturity." It's more a capability or an implementation model for the cloud. We have five levels of maturity and then six domains of capabilities.

... One piece of core advice we always give is, "Keep it simple." Rather than bring out a whole portfolio of cloud services, start with one. And, that one service may not have all the functionality that you're dreaming of, but become good at doing a more simplified things faster than trying to overdo it and then end up with a five- or six-year's project, when the whole market will be changed when you can roll out. A lot of the best practice in building the roadmap is to simplify it, so it does not become this four- or five-year project that takes way too long to execute.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download a copy. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Free Offer: Get a complimentary copy of the new book Cloud Computing For Dummies courtesy of Hewlett-Packard at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Successful data center transformation usually requires overdue rethinking of the network

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Special Offer: Gain insight into best practices for transforming your data center by downloading three new data center transformation whitepapers from HP at

ost enterprise networks are the result of a patchwork effect of bringing in equipment as needed over the years to fight the fire of the day, with little emphasis on strategy and the anticipation of future requirements. That's why it's necessary to reevaluate network architectures in light of newer and evolving IT demands, and overall moves to next-generation data centers.

Nowadays, we see that network requirements have, and are, shifting as IT departments adopt improvements such as virtualization, software as a service (SaaS), cloud computing, and service-oriented architecture (SOA).

The network loads and demands continue to shift under the weight of Web-facing applications and services, security and regulatory compliance, governance, ever-greater data sets, and global-area service distribution and related performance management.

It doesn't make sense to embark upon a data-center transformation journey without a strong emphasis on network transformation as well. Indeed, the two ought to be brought together, converging to an increasing degree over time.

I recently interviewed three thought leaders at HP on network transformation to help explain the evolving role of network transformation and to rationalize the strategic approach to planning and specifying present and future enterprise networks. They are Lin Nease, director of Emerging Technologies, HP ProCurve; John Bennett, worldwide director, Data Center Transformation Solutions, and Mike Thessen, practice principal, Network Infrastructure Solutions Practice in the HP Network Solutions Group.

Here are some excerpts:
Bennett: Data-center transformation is really about helping customers build out a next-generation data center, an adaptive infrastructure, that is designed to not only meet the current business needs, but to lay the foundation for the plans and strategies of the organization going forward.

In many cases, the IT infrastructure, including the facilities, the servers, the network, and storage environments can actually be a hindrance to investing more in business services and having the agility and flexibility that people want to have, and will need to have, in increasingly competitive environments.

When we talk about that, very typically we talk a lot about facilities, servers, and storage. For many people, the networking environment is ubiquitous. It's there. But, what we discover, when we lift the covers, is that you have an environment that may be taking lots of resources to manage and keep up-to-date.

... The networking infrastructure becomes key, as an integration fabric, not just between users in business services, but also between the infrastructure devices in the data center itself.

That's why we need to look at network transformation to make sure that the networking environment itself is aligned to the strategies of the data center, that the data center infrastructure is architected to support those goals, and that you transform what you have and what you have grown historically over decades into what hopefully will be a "lean, mean, fighting machine."

Nease: The network has basically evolved as a result of the emergence of the Internet and all forms of communications that share the network as a system. The server side of the network, where applications are hosted, is only one dimension that tugs at the network design in terms of requirements.

You find that the needs of any particular corner of the enterprise network can easily be lost on the network, because the network, as a whole, is designed for multiple constituencies, and those constituencies have created a lot of situations and requirements that are in themselves special cases.

In the data center, in particular, we've seen the emergence of a formalized virtualization layer now coming about and many, many server connections that are no longer physical. The history of networking says that I can take advantage of the fact that I have this concept of a link or a port that is one-to-one with a particular service.

That is no longer the case. What we’re seeing with virtualization is challenging the current design of the network. That is one of the requirements that are tugging at a change or provoking a change in overall enterprise network design.

... Too often people are compelled by a technology approach to rethink how they are doing networking. IT professionals will hear the overtures of various vendors saying, "This is the next greatest technology. It will maybe enable you to do all sorts of new things." Then, people waste a lot of time focusing on the technology enablement, without actually starting with what the heck they're trying to enable in the first place.

Thessen: In years past, you were effectively just providing local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) connectivity. Servers were on the network, and they got facilities from the network to transport their data over to the users.

Now, everything is becoming converged over this network -- "everything" being data storage, and telephony. So, it's requiring more towers inside of corporate IT to come together to truly understand how this system is going to work together.

Nease: [Service orientation] is the only way out. With the new complexity that has emerged, and the fact that traditional designs can no longer rely on physical barriers to implement policies, we have reached a point, where we need an architecture for the network that builds in explicit concepts of policy decisions and policy enforcement.

The only way out is to regard the network itself as a service that provides connectivity between stations -- call them logical servers, call them users, or call them applications. In fact, that very layering alone has forced us to think through the concept of offering the network as a service.

Bennett: ... In parallel with that, we see an increasing drive and demand for virtualizing storage to have it both be more efficiently and effectively used inside the data center environment, but also to service and support the virtualized business services running in virtualized servers. That, in turn, carries into the networking fabric of making sure that you can manage the network connections on the fly.

Virtualization is not only becoming pervasive, but clearly the networking fabric itself is going to be key to delivering high quality business services in that environment.

Thessen: ... Networks need to be prepared for the convergence of the communication paths for data and storage connectivity inside the data center. That's the whole conversion -- enhance, Ethernet, Fiber Channel over Ethernet. That's the newest leg of the virtualization aspect of the data center.

Bennett: Fundamentally, convergence is about better integration across the technology stacks that help deliver business services. We're saying that we don't need separate, dedicated connections between servers for high availability from the connections that we use to the storage devices to have both a high-volume traffic and high-frequency traffic accesses to data for the business services or that we have for the network devices and the connections between them for the topology of the networking environment.

Rather, we are saying that today we can have one environment capable of supporting all of these needs, architected properly for particular customer's needs, and we bring into the environment separate communications infrastructures for voice.

So, we're really establishing, in effect, a common nervous system. Think about the data center and the organization as the human body. We're really building up the nervous system, connecting everything in the body effectively, both for high-volume needs and for high-frequency access needs.

Thessen: ... The

Without understanding who is talking to whom, how applications communicate, and how applications get access to other IT services, such as directory services and so forth, it's really difficult to secure them appropriately.

most important thing is really still the brutal standardization -- network modularity, logical separation, utilizing those virtualization techniques that I talked about a few minutes ago, and very well-defined communications flows for those applications.

Additionally, you need those communication flows especially in these SaaS or cloud-computing, or convergence environments to truly secure those environments appropriately. Without understanding who is talking to whom, how applications communicate, and how applications get access to other IT services, such as directory services and so forth, it's really difficult to secure them appropriately.

... What we focus on is really developing a good strategy first. Then, we define the requirements that go along with business strategy, perform analysis work against the current situation and the future state requirements, and then develop the solutions specific for the client's particular situation, utilizing perhaps a mix of products and technologies.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Special Offer: Gain insight into best practices for transforming your data center by downloading three new data center transformation whitepapers from HP at

Survey says slow, kludgy business processes hamper competitiveness

Corporations, are your business processes slowing you down? If so, you are in good company. Seventy-two percent of organizations say their business processes take too long and need to be streamlined.

So says a new independent survey conducted by Vanson Bourne for Progress Software.

The survey had a single goal, to determine the tools and processes large companies have put in place to support operational responsiveness and the ability to make "real-time" decisions. Vanson Bourne surveyed 400 large companies in the United States and Western Europe to develop its findings.

The bottom line: An overwhelming majority of businesses still feel they have a ways to go before they are equipped to respond to market or customer changes quickly enough to compete well in a global marketplace.

“The quest for faster operational responsiveness is becoming more urgent now that external factors such as social networking have boosted speed of response,” says Dr. Giles Nelson, senior director of strategy at the Apama division of Progress Software. “If organizations can’t keep up with the pace of customer feedback, they will find themselves exposed to competitive threats.”

I recently reached a similar conclusion in a podcast discussion with IT analyst Howard Dresner, with an emphasis on business intelligence (BI) in the stew of real-time requirements. Other firms I've worked with, such as Active Endpoints and BP Logix, call the value "nimble" or the ability to quick orchestrate and adapt processes.

[UPDATE: TIBCO today delivered its iProcess Spotfire product for real-time BI aligned to business process management.]

Sure is a lot of emphasis on real-time data, analysis and process reactivity nowadays! No process like the present, I always say. [Disclosure: TIBCO and Progress are sponsors of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

On average, 22 percent of U.S. companies surveyed by Vanson Bourne admitted that, by the time they noticed it, they had missed the opportunity to react competitively to a change or trend affecting one of their processes. A lack of information seems to be fueling the problem. More than half of companies identified information gaps in decision-making as a cause.

The good news is that surveyed companies have solutions to the information gap in mind, namely access to real-time data. Ninety-four percent of companies cited the importance of real-time data – and the majority of those companies are making moves to gather it. Some 82 percent are planning to invest in real-time technology by mid-2010 in an effort to speed up internal processes, they said.

As Nelson at Apama sees it, bad news now travels very quickly – and companies need to make sure they’re not stuck in the slow lane when it comes to responding to customer issues.

“The overwhelming majority of people we spoke to recognize the importance of responding quickly to customers and to be much more responsive to changes in market conditions. Unfortunately, in most cases at present the process and information reporting infrastructure can’t match that vision,” Nelson says. “Business Event Processing is becoming the way of dealing with this decision-making lag.”

I'd add a bit more. What we're actually seeing is that corporations now see that they must be able to analyze and act in Internet time. Many of us webby and social-media types have known that for some time, but the urgency has now hit the mainstream bricks (not just the clicks).

Furthermore, the payoffs from becoming a real-time-oriented organization will go far beyond knowing what's being said about you on Twitter. As the economy has shown in the last year, those who can move fast and move well will survive and thrive. The others will find themselves in a downward spiral.

BriefingsDirect contributor Jennifer LeClaire provided editorial assistance and research on this post.

Monday, October 5, 2009

HP roadmap dramatically reduces energy consumption across data centers

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Gain more insights into data center transformation best practices by downloading free whitepapers at

roducing meaningful, long-term energy savings in IT operations depends on a strategic planning and execution process.

The goal is to seek out long-term gains from prudent, short-term investments, whenever possible. It makes little sense to invest piecemeal in areas that offer poor returns, when a careful cost-benefit analysis for each specific enterprise can identify the true wellsprings of IT energy conservation.

The latest BriefingsDirect podcast discussion therefore targets significantly reducing energy consumption across data centers strategically. In it we examine four major areas that result in the most energy policy bang for the buck -- virtualization, application modernization, data-center infrastructure best practices, and properly planning and building out new data-center facilities.

By focusing on these major areas, but with a strict appreciation of the current and preceding IT patterns and specific requirements for each data center, real energy savings -- and productivity gains -- are in the offing.

To help learn more about significantly reducing energy consumption across data centers, we welcome two experts from HP: John Bennett, worldwide director, Data Center Transformation Solutions , and Ian Jagger, worldwide marketing manager for Data Center Services. The discussion is moderated by me, BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:
Bennett: We, as an industry, are full of advice around best practices for what people should be taking a look at. We provide these wonderful lists of things that they should pay attention to -- things like hot and cold aisles, running your data center hotter, and modernizing your infrastructure, consolidating it, virtualizing it, and things of that ilk.

The mistakes that customers do make is that they have this laundry list and, without any further insight into what will matter the most to them, they start implementing these things.

The real opportunity is to take a step back and assess the return from any one of these individual best practices. Which one should I do first and why? What's the technology case and what's the business case for them? That's an area that people seem to really struggle with.

... We know very well that modern infrastructure, modern servers, modern storage, and modern networking items are much more energy efficient than their predecessors from even two or three years ago.

... If we look at the total energy picture and the infrastructure itself -- in particular, the server and storage environment -- one of the fundamental objectives for virtualization is to dramatically increase the utilization of the assets you have.

With x86 servers, we see utilization rates typically in the 10 percent range. So, while there are a lot interesting benefits that come from virtualization from an energy efficiency point of view, we're basically eliminating the need for a lot of server units by making much better use of a smaller number of units.

So, consolidation and modernization, which reduces the number of units you have, and then multiplying that with virtualization, can result in significant decreases in server and storage-unit counts, which goes a long way toward affecting energy consumption from an infrastructure point of view.

That can be augmented, by the way, by doing application modernization, so you can eliminate legacy systems and infrastructure and move some of those services to a shared infrastructure as well.

We're talking about collapsing infrastructure requirements by factors of 5, 6, or 10. You're going from 10 or 20 old servers to perhaps a couple of servers running much more efficiently. And, with modernization at play, you can actually increase that multiplication.

These are very significant from a server point of view on the storage side. You're eliminating the need for sparsely used dedicated storage and moving to a shared, or virtualized storage environment, with the same kind of cost saving ratios at play here. So, it's a profound impact in the infrastructure environment.

Jagger: Going back to the original point that John made, we have had the tendency in the past to look at cooling or energy efficiency coming from the technology side of the business and the industry. More recently, thankfully, we are tending to look at that in a more converged view between IT technology, the facility itself, and the interplay between the two.

... Each customer has a different situation from the next, depending on how the infrastructure is laid out, the age of the data center, and even the climatic location of the data center. All of these have enormous impact on the customer's individual situation.

... If we're looking, for example, at the situation where a customer needs a new data center, then it makes sense for that customer to look at all the cases put together -- application modernization, virtualization, and also data center design itself.

Here is where it all stands to converge from an energy perspective. Data centers are expensive things to build, without doubt. Everyone recognizes that and everybody looks at ways not to build a new data center. But, the point is that a data center is there to run applications that drive business value for the company itself.

What we don't do a good job of is understanding those applications in the application catalog and the relative importance of each in terms of priority and availability. What we tend to do is treat them all with the same level of availability. That is just inherent in terms of how the industry has grown up in the last 20-30 years or so. Availability is king. Well, energy has challenged that kingship if you like, and so it is open to question.

. . . Converging the facility design with application modernization, takes millions and millions of dollars of data center construction costs, and of course the ongoing operating costs derived from burning energy to cool it at the end of the day.

Now, you could look at designing a facility, where you have within the facility specific PODs (groups of compute resources) that would be designed according to the application catalog's availability and priority requirements, tone down the tooling infrastructure that is responsible for those particular areas, and just retain specific PODs for those that do require the highest levels of availability.

Just by doing that, by converging the facility design with application modernization, takes millions and millions of dollars of data center construction costs, and of course the ongoing operating costs derived from burning energy to cool it at the end of the day.

... One of the smartest things you can actually do as a business, as an IT manager, is to actually go and talk to your utility company and ask them what rebates are available for energy savings. They typically will offer you ways of addressing how you can improve your energy efficiency within the data center.

That is a great starting point, where your energy becomes measurable. Taking an action on reducing your energy, not just hits your operating cost, but actually allows you to get rebates from your energy company at the same time. It's a no-brainer.

Bennett: What we are advising customers to do is take a more complete view of the resources and assets that go into delivering business services to the company.

It's not just the applications and the portfolio. ... It's the data center facilities themselves and how they are optimized for this purpose -- both from a data center perspective and from the facility-as-a-building perspective.

In considering them comprehensively in working with the facilities team, as well as the IT teams, you can actually deliver a lot of incremental value -- and a lot of significant savings to the organization.

... For customers who are very explicitly concerned about energy and how to reduce their energy cost and energy consumption, we have an Energy Analysis Assessment service. It's a great way to get started to determine which of the best practices will have the highest impact on you personally, and to allow you to do the cherry-picking.

For customers who are looking at things a little more comprehensively, energy analysis and energy efficiency are two aspects of a data-center transformation process. We have a data center transformation workshop.

Jagger: The premise here is to understand possible savings or the possible efficiency available to you through forensic analysis and modeling. That has got to be the starting point, and then understanding the costs of building that efficiency.

Then, you need a plan that shows those costs and savings and the priorities in terms of structure and infrastructure, have that work in a converged way with IT, and of course the payback on the investment that's required to build it in the first place.
Gain more insights into data center transformation best practices by downloading free whitepapers at

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Learn more. Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard.

Part 2 of 4: Web data services provide ease of data access and distribution from variety of sources, destinations

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.

s enterprises seek to gain better insights into their markets, processes, and business development opportunities, they face a daunting challenge -- how to identify, gather, cleanse, and manage all of the relevant data and content being generated across the Web.

As the recession forces the need to identify and evaluate new revenue sources, businesses need to capture such web data services for business intelligence (BI) to work better and fuller. In Part 1 of our web data series we discussed how external data has grown in both volume and importance across internal Internet, social networks, portals, and applications in recent years.

Enterprises need to know what's going on and what's being said about their markets across those markets. They need to share those web data service inferences quickly and easily across their internal users. The more relevant and useful content that enters into BI tools, the more powerful the BI outcomes -- especially as we look outside the enterprise for fast shifting trends and business opportunities.

In this podcast, Part 2 of the series with Kapow Technologies, we identify how BI and web data services come together, and explore such additional subjects as text analytics and cloud computing. So, how to get started and how to affordably manage web data services with BI and business consumers as intelligence and insights?

To find out, we brought together Jim Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester Research, and Stefan Andreasen, co-founder and chief technology officer at Kapow Technologies. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:
Kobielus: The more relevant content you bring into your analytic environment the better, in terms of having a single view or access in a unified fashion to all the information that might be relevant to any possible decision you might make. But, clearly, there are lots of caveats, "gotchas," and trade-offs there.

One of these is that it becomes very expensive to discover, to capture, and to do all the relevant transformation, cleansing, storage, and delivery of all of that content. It becomes very expensive, especially as you bring more unstructured information from your content management system (CMS) or various applications from desktops and from social networks.

... Filtering the fire hose of this content is where this topic of web data services for BI comes in. Web data services describes that end-to-end analytic information pipe-lining process. It's really a fire hose that you filter at various points, so that the end users turn on their tap and they're not blown away by a massive stream. Rather, it's a stream of liquid intelligence that is palatable and consumable.

Andreasen: There is a fire hose of data out there, but some of that data is flowing easily, but some of it might only be dripping and some might be inaccessible.

Think about it this way. The relevant data for your BI applications is located in various places. One is in your internal business applications. Another is your software-as-a-service (SaaS) business application, like Salesforce, etc. Others are at your business partners, your retailers, or your suppliers. Another one is at government. The last one is on the World Wide Web in those tens of millions of applications and data sources.

Accessible via browser

Today, all of this data that I just described is more or less accessible in a web browser. Web data services allow you to access all these data sources, using the interface that the web browser is already using. It delivers that result in a real-time, relative, and relevant way into SQL databases, directly into BI tools, or to even service enabled and encapsulated data. It delivers the benefits that IT can now better serve the analysts need for new data, which is almost always the case.

What's even more important is that incremental daily improvement of existing reports. Analysts sit there, they find some new data source, and they say, "It would be really good, if I could add this column of data to my report, maybe replace this data, or if I could get this amount of data in real-time rather than just once a week." So it's those kinds of improvements that web data services also really can help with.

Kobielus: At Forrester, we see traditional BI as a basic analytics environment, with ad-hoc query, OLAP, and the like. That's traditional BI -- it's the core of pretty much every enterprise's environment.

Advanced analytics -- building on that initial investment and getting to this notion of an incremental add-on environment -- is really where a lot of established BI users are going. Advanced analytics means building on those core reporting, querying, and those other features with such tools as data mining and text analytics, but also complex event processing (CEP) with a front-end interactive visualization layer that often enables mashups of their own views by the end users.

... We see a strong push in the industry toward smashing those silos and bringing them all together. A big driver of that trend is that users, the enterprises, are demanding unified access to market intelligence and customer intelligence that's bubbling up from this massive Web 2.0 infrastructure, social networks, blogs, Twitter and the like.

Andreasen: Traditionally, for BI, we've been trying to gather all the data into one unified, centralized repository, and accessing the data from there. But, the world is getting more diverse and the data is spread in more and different silos. What companies realize today is that we need to get service-level access to the data, where they reside, rather than trying to assemble them all.

...Web data services can encapsulate or wrap the data silos that were residing with their business partners into services -- SOAP services, REST services, etc. -- and thereby get automated access to the data directly into the BI tool.

... So, tomorrow's data stores for BI, and today's as well, is really a combination of accessing data in your central data repositories and then accessing them where they reside. ... Think about it. I'm an analyst and I work with the data. I feel I own the data. I type the data in. Then, when I need it in my report, I cannot get it there. It's like owning the house, but not having the key to the house. So, breaking down this barrier and giving them the key to the house, or actually giving IT a way to deliver the key to the house, is critical for the agility of BI going forward.

Tools are lacking

Today, the IT department often lacks tools to deliver those custom feeds that the line of business is asking for. But, with web data services, you can actually deliver these feeds. The data that IT is asking for is almost always data they already know, see, and work with in the business applications, with the business partners, etc. They work with the data. They see them in the browsers, but they cannot get the custom feeds. With the web data services product, IT can deliver those custom feeds in a very short time.

Kobielus: The user feels frustration, because they go on the Web and into Google and can see the whole universe of information that's out there. So, for a mashup vision to be reality, organizations have got to go the next step.

... It's good to have these pre-configured connections through extract, transform and load (ETL) and the like into their data warehouse from various sources. But, there should also be ideally feeds in from various data aggregators. There are many commercial data aggregators out there who can provide discovery of a much broader range of data types -- financial, regulatory, and what not.

Also, within this ideal environment there should be user-driven source discovery through search, through pub-sub, and a variety of means. If all these source-discovery capabilities are provided in a unified environment with common tooling and interfaces, and are all feeding information and allowing users to dynamically update the information sets available to them in real-time, then that's the nirvana.

Andreasen: This is where Kapow and web data services come in, as a disruptive new way of solving a problem of delivering the data -- the real-time relevant data that the analyst needs.

The way it works is that, when you work with the data in a browser, you see it visually, you click on it, and you navigate tables and so on. The way our product works is that it allows you to instruct our system how to interact with a web application, just the same way as the line of business user.

...The beauty with web data services is that it's really accessing the data through the application front end, using credentials and encryptions that are already in place and approved. You're using the existing security mechanism to access the data, rather than opening up new security holes, with all the risk that that includes.

... This means that you access and work with the data in the world in which the end users see the data. It's all with no coding. It's all visual, all point and click. Any IT person can, with our product, turn data that you see in a browser into a real feed, a custom feed, virtually in minutes or in a few hours for something that would typically take days, weeks, or months -- or may even be impossible.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and View a full transcript or download the transcript. Sponsor: Kapow Technologies.