Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Global study: Hybrid model rules as cloud heats up, SaaS adoption blazing

Cloud” is the game and “hybrid” is the name. A recent global study has encouraging news for cloud-computing enthusiasts, revealing a sharp uptick in the adoption, as well as consideration, of cloud computing. The same study also indicates that those who are adopting cloud aren’t going whole hog, but are taking a hybrid approach -- mixing external and internal clouds.

The study, commissioned by global IT consultancy Avanade, showed a surprising increase in the interest in cloud computing, even from a similar study conducted in January of this year. In January, 54 percent of respondents said they had no plans to adopt cloud computing. By September, that percentage had shrunk to 37 percent.

At the same time, the percentage of companies planning or testing cloud computing increased three-fold, going from 3 percent of respondents to 10 percent.

What’s significant in the report is that less than 5 percent of companies are using an all-cloud model. The rest are relying on a hybrid approach, and report security concerns as the chief factor for being cautious.

Nine months ago, 61 percent of respondents indicated that they were using only internal IT systems and today, that number has dropped to 41 percent. At the same time, those using a combined approach on a global level have increased to 54 percent from 33 percent nine months earlier.

The report says it not clear whether the hybrid model will lead to a pure-play adoption at some point.

SaaS is taking off

One aspect of cloud computing that’s finding wide adoption is software as a service (SaaS), with more than half of the respondents worldwide -- and 68 percent in the US -- reporting that they have adopted SaaS at some level. Despite extremely high satisfaction -- more than 90 percent -- reliability is still an issue. About 30 percent of respondents said they had lost more than a day of business due to a service outage.

Still, the reliability concerns haven’t dampened users’ enthusiasm for SaaS, and 62 percent of respondents reported that they had plans to move into more SaaS within the next year. However, similar to their experience with cloud, users tend to deliver SaaS applications internally, rather than from the third-party provider.

On a global basis, those who deliver SaaS application internally outnumber those who used a third party by a ratio of 2 to 1. In the US, that increases to 4 to 1. Also, those who do use SaaS often rely on multiple providers, with one third using three or more providers. This leads the report to conclude that there is opportunity in the SaaS market.

Other conclusion from the report:
  • Cloud will continue to make significant inroads for the next year, although there won’t be a migration to a full cloud environment.

  • The gap is closing between companies with plans to adopt and those without. Avenade sees those curves intersecting in 2011 or 2012.

  • Despite the widespread adoption of cloud, there will be some applications that should remain on-premises.

  • SaaS adoption will continue to spread and is spreading faster than other technologies have in the past.
The study was conducted by Kelton Research and surveyed 500 C-level and IT executives worldwide.

BriefingsDirect contributor Carlton Vogt provided editorial assistance and research on this post.

Here's why Apple is doing so well -- it's the top half, stupid

I've been ruminating the past few days on why Apple is doing so well with it's pricey high-end products and services during a recession. The answer came as I was reading today's New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, whom I deeply admire and read anything and everything he puts out.

Friedman points out that the winners in today's fast-shifting U.S. job market are the ones demonstrating "entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity." He says, "They are the new untouchables," in contrast to other still highly educated but less creative types.

Friedman cites Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz, who explains in the column that the now disadvantaged are "those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want. ... They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”

They are also more likely to be using personal computers with nine-year-old operating systems, with little choice but to take what their companies provide in terms of personal productivity IT. They are the 90 percent for whom good enough IT has made them as good as anyone anywhere.

In contrast, it's the "top half" of the labor pool, and more specifically the apparent 10 percent that are "entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity"-focused among them, that know to succeed and win they need the very best computer and associated services, even if it costs $500 more. Nowadays there's no better way to gain an advantage in business and life than to have the best technology.

The people who are succeeding are buying Macs, iPhones, iPod Touches and Apple's services and applications. A flight to quality is usually spurred by disruption and uncertainty. It's not about brand religion or pretty graphics. It's about survival and success when the going gets tough. It works for me, it has to.

A chef doesn't buy the cheapest knifes. A painter doesn't buy the cheapest brushes. A carpenter doesn't buy the cheapest hammer. And all the winners in the economy today -- those that have a say in what they use to do all the digital things so critical now to almost any knowledge- and services-based job -- need the best tools. And they will upgrade those tools just as fast as they can (hence the rapid adoption of Apple's Snow Leopard OS X upgrade in recent months.)

So for all those millions of newly laid off workers who know that "entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity" is their only ticket to a new, fresh start -- those that no longer have an IT department to tell them what to do (at lowest cost) -- they seem to be making a new move to a Mac. I expect they won't soon go back, once they taste the fruits of heightened knowledge productivity.

Because when failure is not an option, you have to have the best tools, especially when the going gets tough. The sad part is that Apple does so well when so many are not.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SOA user survey defines latest ESB trends, middleware use patterns

Take the BriefingsDirect middleware/ESB survey now.

Forgive my harping on this, but I keep hearing about how powerful social media is for gathering insights from the IT communities and users. Yet I rarely see actual market research conducted via the social media milieu.

So now's the time to fully test the process. I'm hoping that you users and specifiers of enterprise software middleware, SOA infrastructure, integration middleware, and enterprise service buses (ESBs) will take 5 minutes and fill out my BriefingsDirect survey. We'll share the results via this blog in a few weeks.

We're seeking to uncover the latest trends in actual usage and perceptions around these SOA technologies -- both open source and commercial.

How middleware products -- like ESBs -- are used is not supposed to change rapidly. Enterprises typically choose and deploy integration software infrastructure slowly and deliberately, and they don't often change course without good reason.

But the last few years have proven an exception. Middleware products and brands have shifted more rapidly than ever before. Vendors have consolidated, product lines have merged. Users have had to grapple with new and dynamic requirements.

Open source offerings have swiftly matured, and in many cases advanced capabilities beyond the commercial space. Interest in SOA is now shared with anticipation of cloud computing approaches and needs.

So how do enterprise IT leaders and planners view the middleware and SOA landscape after a period of adjustment -- including the roughest global recession in more than 60 years?

This brief survey, distributed by BriefingsDirect for Interarbor Solutions, is designed to gauge the latest perceptions and patterns of use and updated requirements for middleware products and capabilities. Please take a few moments and share your preferences on enterprise middleware software. Thank you.

Take the BriefingsDirect middleware/ESB survey now.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Speaking of SOA: Are services nouns or verbs?

This guest post comes courtesy of Jason Bloomberg, managing partner at ZapThink.

By Jason Bloomberg

ZapThink revels in stirring up controversy almost as much as we enjoy clarifying subtle concepts that give architects that rare "aha!" moment as they finally discern the solution to a particularly knotty design problem. Last month's "process isomorphism" ZapFlash, therefore, gave us a particular thrill, because we received kudos from enterprise architects for streamlining the connections between Business Process Management (BPM) and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), while at the same time, several industry pundits demurred, disagreeing with our premise that services should correspond one-to-one with tasks or subtasks in a process.

Maybe we got it wrong, and inadvertently mislead our following of architects? Or perhaps the pundits were off base, and somehow ZapThink saw clearly a best practice that remained obscure to other experts in the field?

Upon further consideration, the true answer lies somewhere in between these extremes. Now, we're not reconsidering the conclusions of the process isomorphism ZapFlash. Rather, further explanation and clarification is warranted.

As with any best practice, process isomorphism doesn't apply in every situation, and not every service should correspond to a process task or subtask. That being said, there is also a good chance that some of our esteemed fellow pundits might not be opining from a truly service-oriented perspective, as many of their comments hint at an object-oriented (OO) bias that may be too limiting in the SOA context.

In fact, understanding which services the process isomorphism pattern applies to, and how other services support such services goes to the heart of how to think about services from a SOA perspective.

The object-oriented context for services

In the early days of web services, as various standards committee members tried to hash out how core standards should support the vision of SOA, the SOAP standard for message transport was an acronym for the "Simple Object Access Protocol." The reasoning at the time was that services were interfaces to objects, and hence service operations should correspond to object methods, also known as remote procedures.

SOAP was nothing more than a simple, XML-based way of access those methods. Over time, however, people realized that taking this Remote Procedure Call (RPC) approach to service interfaces is too limiting: It leads to tightly coupled, synchronous interactions that constrain the benefits such services could offer. Instead, the industry settled on document style as being the preferred interface style, which expects requests and responses to conform to schemas that are included in the service contracts by reference, where the underlying service logic is responsible for validating interactions against the relevant schemas.

Document style interfaces provide greater loose coupling than their RPC-style cousins because many changes to a service need not adversely impact existing service consumers, and furthermore, document style interfaces facilitate asynchronous interactions where a request need not correlate immediately with a response. In fact, the W3C eventually dropped the "Simple Object Access Protocol" definition of SOAP altogether, and now SOAP is just SOAP, instead of being an abbreviation of anything.

The answer is straightforward: If a service has no operations, then what it's supposed to do is understood from the context of the service itself.

However, document style interfaces still allow for operations, only now they're optional rather than mandatory as is the case with RPC-style interfaces. The fact that operations are optional is a never-ending sense of confusion for students in our Licensed ZapThink Architect course, perhaps because of the object-oriented pattern of thinking many of today's techies follow, often without realizing it.

How would you ever know what a service is supposed to do, the reasoning goes, if you don't call an operation on that service? The answer is straightforward: if a service has no operations, then what it's supposed to do is understood from the context of the service itself. For example, an insurance company may want a service that simply approves a pending insurance policy. If we have an approvePolicy Service, the consumer can simply request that service with the policy number of the policy it wants to approve.

Nouns vs. Verbs

The insurance policy example brings up a fundamental question. Which is the service, the insurance policy entity or the approve policy task? In other words, should services be nouns or verbs? It's possible to design services either way, as Entity Services, which predictably represent business entities, or as Task Services, that represent specific actions that implement some step in a process, in other words, verbs. Which approach is better?

If you look at the question of whether services should be nouns or verbs from the OO perspective, then services are little more than interfaces to objects, and hence it's best to think of services as nouns and their operations as the verbs. For example, following the OO approach, we might have an insurance policy object with several operations, including one that approves the policy, as the following pseudocode illustrates:

myPolicy = new Policy (); ... successOrFailure = myPolicy.approve ();

The first statement above instantiates a particular policy, while the second one approves it, and returns either success or failure.

Now, it is certainly possible to create a Policy Service as an Entity Service that has an approve operation that works more or less like the example above, with one fundamental difference: because services are fundamentally stateless, you don't instantiate them. Here, then, is pseudocode that represents how an Entity Service would tackle the same functionality:

request to create new policy, specifying create policy operation --> Policy Service --> response with policy number 12345
request to approve policy 12345, specifying approve policy operation --> Policy Service --> response with success or failure

Note that we're representing service interactions as input and output messages that contain documents, where in this case, the input documents specify operations. In this example, there is no object in the OO sense representing policy 12345 and maintaining the state information that indicates whether or not that particular policy is approved or not.

Instead, the underlying service implementation maintains the state information. There is only the one Policy Service, and it accepts requests in the form of XML documents and returns responses, also in the form of XML documents. If a request calls the create policy operation, then the Policy Service knows to create the policy, while a request that specifies the approve policy operation follows the same pattern.

Note that the fact that the Policy Service has a document style interface gives us two advantages: First, we can make certain changes to the service like adding new operations without adversely impacting existing consumers, and second, its stateless nature enables asynchronous interactions, where instead of returning success or failure of the approve request, perhaps, the service returns a simple acknowledgment of the request (or perhaps no response at all), and then notifies the consumer at some point in the future that the policy has been approved, either through a one-way notification event or possibly as a response to a further query.

Task services as verbs

While there is a significant role for Entity Services in SOA, it is important to break free from OO-centric thinking and consider other types of services as well that serve other purposes. In fact, there is another way of offering the same functionality as the Entity Service above where the Services represent verbs rather than nouns, what we call Task Services. Here is the pseudocode for this situation:

request to create new policy --> createNewPolicy Service --> response with policy number 12345
request to approve policy 12345 -- > approvePolicy Service --> response with success or failure

In this example, neither Task Service has any operations, but rather the functionality of each Service is understood from the context of the Service. After all, what would an approvePolicy Service do but approve policies? If you read the process isomorphism ZapFlash, the benefits of delivering capabilities as Task Services is clear. If you design each Task Service to represent tasks or subtasks in business processes, then it's possible to build a service-oriented business application (SOBA) that is isomorphic to the process it implements.

Combining entity and task services

A casual reading of the process isomorphism ZapFlash might lead you to think we were suggesting that all services should be Task Services. However, in spite of the fact that architects with OO backgrounds often rely too heavily on Entity Services, such services do play a critical role in most SOA implementations.

Remember that in the enterprise context, services expose existing, legacy capabilities and data that are typically scattered across different applications and data stores, limiting the enterprise's agility and leading to high integration maintenance costs, poor data quality, reduced customer value, and other ills all too familiar to anybody working within a large organization's IT department. SOA provides best practices for addressing such issues by abstracting such legacy capabilities in order to support flexible business processes.

Both Entity and Task Services help architects connect the dots between legacy capabilities on the one hand, and flexible process requirements on the other, as the figure below illustrates:

Process, task, and entity service layers

In the figure above, the bottom row contains Entity Services, which directly abstract underlying legacy capabilities. Above the Entity Services lie the Task Services, which may actually be abstractions of individual operations belonging to underlying Entity Services. The top layer contains Process Services, which are typically compositions of Task Services. In other words, Process Services are interfaces to SOBAs, and when those SOBAs are compositions of properly designed Task Services, they will exhibit process isomorphism.

The essential question for the architect is which capabilities to abstract in which service layer. Take for example the Address Change Task Service. Changing addresses is a common example of a particularly challenging task in many large organizations, because address information is typically maintained by different applications and data stores in a haphazard, inconsistent manner. To make matters worse, there may be addresses associated with customers, policies, or other business entities.

When architecting the Customer Entity Service, the core design principle is to pull together the various instances of customer-related information and functionality across the as-is legacy environment into a single, consolidated representation. Such a Service will likely have an update address operation, and the Customer Entity Service's logic will encapsulate whatever individual queries and API calls are necessary to properly update customers' addresses across all relevant systems.

The Address Change Task Service, then, abstracts the Customer Entity Service's update address operation, as well as whatever other address change operations other Entity Services might have. The Service logic behind this Task Service understands, for example, that insured properties in polices have addresses and customers have addresses, and these addresses are related in a particular way, but are by no means equivalent.

The ZapThink take

As is usually the case, architects have several options at their disposal, and knowing which option is appropriate often depends on the business problem, an example of the "right tool for the job" principle. If the business problem is process-centric, say, a need to streamline or optimize the policy issuance process, then implementing SOBAs as compositions of Task Services will facilitate process flexibility.

In other cases, the business problem is more information-centric than process-centric, for example, putting consolidated customer information on a call center rep's screen. In such instances the architect's focus may be on an Entity Service, because the rep is dealing with a particular customer and must be able to interact with that customer in a flexible way.

The big picture of the SOA architect's challenge, of course, is delivering agility in the face of heterogeneity. On the one hand, the IT shop contains a patchwork of legacy resources, and on the other hand, the business requires increasingly agile processes. Understanding which capabilities belong in Entity Services and which belong in Task Services is a critical part of the best practice approach to SOA.

This guest post comes courtesy of Jason Bloomberg, managing partner at ZapThink.


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