Thursday, March 27, 2008

We know SOA depends on cultural shifts, but -- like the weather -- we still don't do much about it

Recent observations on on lack of meaningful SOA adoption suggest that the technologies and techniques have amounted to but a mere improvement on EAI. Some conveniently calling it EAI 2.0, but admit the effects are not yet wide nor deep.

We have yet to see SOA adoption lead to substantive transformation, surveys and primary research will no doubt indicate.

The acknowledgment that SOA requires top-down, bottom-up, organizational and behavioral, ie "cultural," change to proceed to its potential is well documented and debated. We have come back to this topic again and again, for example, on the BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition analyst-powered podcast series.

So let's recognize that a higher purpose is at work here, and that SOA is a subset -- not even a leading driver, perhaps -- of the end-game. Also augmenting and influencing the IT transformation journey in addition to SOA are several mega IT trends and shifts (in no particular order): SaaS, RIA/mashups, virtualization, cloud computing, open source adoption, ITIL adoption, business process outsourcing, applications modernization, data center consolidation, SAN adoption, BI, BPM, master data management, etc. etc. etc.

There are great new tools and effects that can make IT perform better. The tech folks obviously have their hands full with them, and are often expected to implement under the "do more for less" ongoing mandate, the unfortunate business-side takeaway from Moore's Law.

But these IT efficiencies are the means, not the ends. The end-game is business transformation. Contingent to and in coordination with that is IT transformation. The relationship between the two is intrinsic, interdependent and highly variable -- from enterprise to enterprise, IT department to IT department -- often an enigma in motion. While the IT trends deeply affect the trajectory of the IT-centric transformation, they to do necessarily have an understood or appreciable influence on the business transformation processes.

Frankly, it's all too complex, too unwieldy, too unmanageable -- this bridging of the "business side" with the "IT side." People and passions play a huge role, too. Agendas get crafted. Sides are taken. Leaders and followers emerge. Politics permeates the process, regardless of how well the IT performs. And then any means to meaningfully simplify the complexity (tactically or strategically) become themselves highly complex. And so on. And so on. Transformation remains a distant vision.

There remains therefore an ongoing, pernicious reinforcement gap between the change agents of IT, the change agents of business requirements, and the means to engender change in cultures, groups and individuals. In other words the politics of change in large, complex organizations remains a mystical, quizzical patchwork of leaps, lunges and stumbles.

Let's not necessarily blame SOA or IT, any more than we should blame the rain. SOA in of itself is not enough to overcome the many obstacles on the path to ongoing and effective business and cultural transformation.

And yet, companies do succeed. Profits are made. Solutions are crafted and delivered to markets. Buyers keep buying, and workers keep working. Productivity seems to emerge and proceed at a certain scale, at the right level of decentralization. They say our brains are constructed to work best in close groups of 8-10, and to seek cooperation in larger groups up to about 140. Family and village are the scales we've been designed for. People therefore naturally seem to gravitate back to the scale that works, and perhaps even subconsciously resist moving beyond the perceived scale (and perhaps natural order) that actually functions for them.

There's a fascinating new essay by Paul Graham, "You Weren't Meant to Have a Boss," that relates this to developers and software development, but there may be a larger lesson in it, too. IT is great and keeps getting better by leaps and bounds, but biology and evolution are destiny. IT needs to line up behind this fact, not seek to side-step it -- or worse, ignore it. It's not nice to fool mother nature, as the margarine commercial used to say.

Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. SOA's expected role and virtue is closely tied to politics. And the decisions being made by IT executives, by business management, and by the line of business implementors often have very little relationship, little in the way of interchange between the people and the processes in a natural order.

SOA's great promise is to help align people, process, and processing. But something remains in the way. SOA lacks a political context. It lacks power over the people, and so far the power of the people has not been much interested in embracing SOA. Why should they?

We in the industry have not answered this question: Why should the people promote SOA as a means for them to get their jobs done in the ways they know work best in real life. What's in it for the average bear? What are the incentives to SOA adoption for those carrying the load?

The politics of SOA needs to succeed if SOA is to succeed as a lynchpin of both IT and business transformation. When SOA's virtues are translated to real improvements to real people, we may see the myriad gears of adoption mesh.

There should be a good story here. I think SOA is part of the answer, not the problem. But looking to SOA to change cultures seems to be a moot expectation. Politics changes cultures, and cultures are reflected in politics.

When the business consumers of IT services demand SOA and its effects, then we'll see the real transformation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Elastra emerges to make cloud computing more attainable for enterprises

Cloud computing as a concept has been gathering significant interest in the past months, but aside from developers, testers and startups, the ability to exploit the efficiencies and cost-benefits of cloud computing for average enterprises have remained hard to grasp.

Startup Elastra unveiled its approach today to making cloud computing more practical, introducing two markup languages -- one (ECML) that helps pull applications together to deploy to a cloud environment, and a second (EDML) to help define and organize the right cloud-based infrastructure to support those applications.

In general the Elastra approach provides onramps to compute clouds based on descriptive tools that help reduce complexity for IT departments. This should encourage experimentation and ultimately lead to ramp ups in the use of public clouds, as well as the build-out and use of home-grown, so-called private clouds. Less attention has been given of late to the promise of private clouds, which are really a natural extension of current datacenter consolidation, clustering, application modernization, ITIL and virtualization initiatives.

As virtualized software has become the primary layer over now-buried hardware that architects and engineers must deal with, we should expect more tools and "bridging" technologies like Elastra to emerge to help grease the skids for what can (and should?) be deployed in clouds. The software then becomes agile services that can be provisioned and consumed via innovative and highly efficient business models and use-based metering schemes.

I suppose we can coin this as "middleware for cloud computing," or maybe "APIs for cloud computing." In any event, let's hope these onramps become highly visual, automated and increasing based on widely accepted standards.

Because Elastra's approach allows applications to be deployed to public (like Amazon's EC2/S3) or private clouds (like the ones many enterprises are likely to build out as they virtualize datacenters), it aims to become a de facto standard for accessing cloud resources. Packaged under the Elastra Cloud Server, the database-driven product can help bring applications rapidly to a pay-as-you-use model. Enterprises may be able to provide more applications as services, charging internal consumers as a managed service provider.

I had a chance to sit down last week and discuss the arrival of ECML and EDMl with Kirill Sheynkman, president and CEO of Elastra. He was a major force behind integration and enterprise portal provider Plumtree Software, which was acquired by BEA in 2005. Indeed, there are a lot of former BEA folks under the hood at Elastra.

Sheynkman is obviously a fan of cloud-based infrastructures, and also has had experience on what it takes to practically define and introduce a new category to the enterprise IT mind. His vision for the cloud opportunity is compelling, but his feet seem firmly on the ground, with a strong sense of what will work in real-world use.

Part of Elastra's DNA is putting more data in the cloud, where it can be used assiduously to support apps, services and business processes. And once the data layer makes its way to the cloud (private, public or both), can the rest of the support infrastructure be far behind? We're already seeing a lot of talk around integration as a service, and infrastructure as a service. And we're also increasingly seeing tools and development as a service.

Once the IT support infrastructure is effectively abstracted to a cloud, with specific languages to manage and access those resources, then the move to Nick Carr's utility vision seems well under way. What remains is for the tools and architecture definitions to be readily described, communicated, and managed for the compelling economics of cloud-based support to take off.

I'm beginning to think the segue to the cloud could happen sooner than many think, and be very much a mainsteam enterprise endeavor after all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

SpringSource releases tool suite based on Eclipse Mylyn

SpringSource, the company behind the Spring Portfolio Java application platform, has announced its SpringSource Tool Suite, a Spring-specific developer tool set designed to reduce the complexity of enterprise Java development and maintenance.

Based on Eclipse Mylyn, SpringSource Tool Suite extends Mylyn's task focus, tool integration, and workflow streamlining to enterprise application development and is designed to relieve information overload for developers by identifying only the information relevant to the task at hand.

Targeted to both ends of the developer spectrum, the tool suite provides tool-guided assistance to newcomers to the Spring Framework, while providing seasoned experts with architecture review tools to ensure best practices and support tools for finding resolutions for incidents.

The tool suite builds on the success of Eclipse, Mylyn, and Spring IDE to simplify the large aggregation of tools used in complex applications.

While the SpringSource press releases glossed over many of the specifics of the tools suite, Charlie Babcock at Information Week did a little digging and found some nuggets:

Java developers frequently test their programs by running them and are notified of runtime errors, prompting them to search through thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of lines of code, to find the errors. With the SpringSource Tool Suite, they will be able to zero in on problematic code, with the relevant lines highlighted in a different color, said Christian Dupuis, SpringSource lead engineer on the SpringSource Tool Suite, in an interview. By mousing over the segment, the Tool Suite will consult a database of known problems and in some cases be able to recommend a solution.

In other news, SpringSource has joined the Eclipse Foundation and will assist in developing the Eclipse ecosystem.

Sybase releases iPhone enterprise email solution

Sybase has now released the iAnywhere solution for bringing enterprise emails to the Apple iPhone. We blogged on this just a few days ago.

Based on the reaction, Sybase will get a lot more evaluation for their mobile messaging solution, even though it's designed to work with most all mainstream smartphones.

And, my, oh, my, I just keep seeing more people with iPhones, just about everywhere I go this week in the Bay Area. I'm glad this is panning out as I expected a mere hour after the announcement of the iPhone's pending release.

Apple has finally found its toehold in the enterprise with iPhone. The only question is much of the rest of the Apple bandwagon gets dragged into the big business maw. I have to say, using Keynote to whip out a preso I'm giving this morning saved my butt. Trying to do it in Powerpoint would have made me miss the point.

Oh, and now Safari runs on Windows, faster than most, and comparable to FireFox 3.x.

Yep, despite the Microsoft-funded malarky from some quarters, Apple is pushing its envelope further than ever. Productivity wins after all?

Monday, March 17, 2008

EclipseCon debuts OSGi runtime offerings, common platform frees up developers from middleware drudgery

Tony Baer has a great rundown of the EclipseCon OSGI-based runtime Equinox news today. Extending the Eclipse community's unity to runtimes makes a ton of sense, given that developers can focus on the applications and business logic and become far less concerned with complex deployment issues. Write once, run anywhere?

Eclipse's component development plan, called CODA (Component Oriented Development and Assembly), hinges on Eclipse's Equinox, which is the foundation's OSGi-based runtime and a part of the new Eclipse Runtime project.

The best new benefits will come in the conjunction of the Eclipse tools and Equinox runtimes. For example, developers in a vertical industry niche can use the tools and runtimes together and via community synergies enjoy a "common platform for participation."

I've long been a complainer about the gulf between runtime and design time, with the clear need for better feedback between the two -- especially in the era of Agile and web services assembly. An Eclipse-Equinox ecology symmetry gets us on the way.

The arrival of OSGi-based runtimes also conjures up the ability to repackage middleware as OSGi bundles, sort of like the BEA microarchitectures, which would be most welcome in highly virtualized runtime stack environments. Are you going to need a full LAMP or Windows stack to support a service in an SOA? Why not build a SOA stack on top of Equinox? Check out Swordfish on this sort of thing.

I can see where the OSGi runtime stuff, open source ESB stuff and variety of SOA tools in general can come together in fruitful ways. Flexible custom stacks and SOA make great conceptual bedfellows. Optimized stacks on the fly?

There are also implications for the SaaS and cloud folks, whereby they can look to these flexible custom Equinox stacks to efficiently support their applications and services, be they in virtualized or traditional stacks. Custom build the apps from the ground up, for better performance, less waste, less integration headaches. Green, baby.

What's more, the whole mobile and MID space is a perfect target for OSGi runtime bundles, given that OSGi originated in the embedded space. Small, lightweight, and reliable -- works for me. Sprint is already an OSGi fan. I think we'll also see OSGi running closely with Android. And Android on the iPhone (someday) offers a very interesting future.

Who loses from a viral Equinox runtime community and uptake? Well, Microsoft and .NET offer similar values, but with less openness and choice. The Java community is entertaining some JSRs, numbers 291 and Sun's 277, that undergird new component models. Sun losing traction on 277 could mean a further loss of control over Java.

Winners could be IBM, because the Lotus Notes and associated groupware clients are already OSGi-based. Community development around Notes, et al -- nice fit, for sure. They ought to give all that Notes client stuff away under OSS licenses anyway, no?

Microsoft licenses Adobe Flash Lite, turns up heat under Apple and iPhone?

Look for Flash applications to be coming to more mobile devices near you, just not an iPhone. Adobe Systems announced today that Microsoft has licensed Adobe's Flash Lite software to enable Flash-compatible content in the Internet Explorer Mobile browser.

This will mean that people using those devices will be able to access the building avalanche of rich content available via Flash clients. Microsoft has also licensed Adobe Reader LE software, which will allow users to view email attachments and Web content in PDF format.

Maybe Microsoft really does get the benefits of open, for fun and profit ... or at least to take some oxygen from the market competition.

[UPDATE: Looks like Apple and Abode have been of a like mind on this. See Computerworld story.]

Microsoft will also make Flash Lite and Reader LE available to OEMs who license Windows Mobile software.

Flash Lite already runs on numerous devices, and Adobe estimates that over half a billion have already shipped with Flash capability. However, the latest news now puts more pressure on Apple, whose popular iPhone doesn't support Flash, something that has had the blogoshpere bubbling since the iPhone made its debut. The recent iPhone SDK did nothing to make Flash a feature either.

I mean, I don't get it. Apple will deal with Microsoft to bring Exchange to iPhone, but resists Flash content. I know Apple has been a persnickety partner, but this is not necessarily putting the customer first.

Last July, Walt Mossberg went out on a limb and predicted that iPhones would see Flash "within the next couple of months."

Chris Zeigler at the Endgadget Mobile blog refers to the "spat" between Apple and Adobe as being part of a Goldilocks syndrome. Last week, he quoted part of Steve Jobs' remarks at a recent shareholders meeting:

Basically, Steve doesn't like Flash Lite -- the pared-down version Adobe has designed for small screens and lightweight processors -- and the full-fledged version has too much bloat for the iPhone's resources.

Whether Jobs is right remains to be seen, but the half billion devices that already use Flash technology may put a few holes in his argument. It would seem that Apple is in kind of a bind. The early adopters and gadget geeks have all gotten their iPhones, and now competitors are lining up with similar products, some coming in at a much lower price than the iPhone.

Later adopters, and even some gadget geeks, may place less value on novelty and slick features, and pay more attention to the rich media experience they're already used to on desktops and laptops. A lot of smart phones and PDAs already use Windows Mobile. Adding Flash to those would create a lot of pressure in the market.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sybase readies means to make iPhone a Lotus Notes client

Take a look at this Flash demo of an Apple iPhone running corporate email mainstay Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange using Sybase technology. And this is without the benefits of the recently delivered SDK.

Not sure when this will be available (I expect quite soon). But it shows that iPhones can very rapidly be used for online/offline corporate email, with the corporate address book accessed via the iPhone's browser. So you won't have to depend on the local address book.

This demo has me jazzed to take the best of the iPhone UI and multiple network connections and jibe it with the best of corporate email. Could this be a Blackberry buster?

We won't know if the total cost of the Sybase iAnywhere plus email plus iPhone costs competes with the total cost of the Blackberry approach until Sybase announces. But it is nice to see more competition. Prices are bound to come down.

IT administrators will very soon have a number of choices on enabling their users to access email, address book and some calendar functions via the iPhone. This Sybase iAnywhere approach, which I first reported on last fall, handles both IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Exchange for mobile delivery.

iAnywhere also delivers these email back-ends to many other mobile clients, too. So there may be plenty of different mobile endpoints in use -- though we know the panache the iPhone generates and therefore the iPhone is set for a place in the enterprise pantheon.

We know that soon Exchange support will come to iPhone via ActiveSync. But Lotus Notes email will need different support. Sybase will, no doubt, have the very large Lotus market in its sights when it makes the iPhone solution available.

I'm also curious what the experience will be if, as reported, we see a JVM on the iPhone, and perhaps an OSGi-based client that could make the iPhone a very cool end-point to all things Domino, including all those workflow apps. And the client would keep running no matter what other apps or tools the iPhone wanders into. Dropping app sessions when changing apps is a kind of downer for the iPhone with the current SDK.

So look for the Sybase foot to drop on availability and pricing on iPhone support to corporate email soon, especially Lotus email. It's good to have choice.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sun waits out Microsoft, gets some interoperability bang after all

What a nut I was. Back when Sun Microsystems and Microsoft announced they would be joining forces on interoperability between Sun, nee Java, and .NET (remember Steve Ballmer [of "Ballmer and Butthead" fame) and Scott McNealy sitting side by side) I thought they meant it.

I pushed the envelope, just for giggles, calling for binary compatibility between Java and .NET/DCOM/COM. What good was mere web services standards interoperability when what the enterprises really needed was a way to make their Windows stuff and the rest of their stuff work well together? I figured the customer has to count in all of this, somehow. I still thank all those who held their hysterics and brickbats in check.

Long before SOA became a tech buzzword, I was thinking it made sense for native low-level messaging between Windows Everywhere and, well ... everywhere else. I even suggested that Microsoft buy BEA Systems and make it the glue between all things .NET/Windows legacy stuff and, well ... everything else.

Now, today, we're part more of the way there. It's still the Microsoft roach motel -- service message calls go in but they can't come out. But there seem to be more ways for the roaches to move around, which may lead to even more openness if the little buggers can chew long enough.

The biggest shift is not that Microsoft is doing away with the roach motel, it's just that they are not so much concerned with the client any more -- they want (and must) preserve the roach motel on the server. And that means Microsoft needs partners, because the relationship between the virtualized hardware means that multi-core, multi-thread hardware (and the interplay between binary-level software and parallelism) counts more than ever.

And so in today's announcements there are strong hints of this shift by Microsoft. Indeed, this latest in the recent Microsoft drumroll of openness and interoperability fobs includes some downright interesting stuff:
  • A demonstration and testing area for Windows on Sun x64 systems and storage
  • A lab space for customer proofs-of-concept focused on Windows Server 2008 on Sun x64 systems and storage
  • The ability to certify Java Platform Enterprise Edition (Java EE) and Java Platform Standard Edition (Java SE), including Sun's Java Runtime Environment software for and with Microsoft operating environments and applications
  • Joint work to help enable cross-platform server virtualization, including Windows Hyper-V and Sun xVM software
  • Cross-company collaboration to allow Sun Ray thin client software to provide a first-rate virtual desktop for the Windows environment and support Windows technologies.
Much of the "sharing" comes via a Sun/Microsoft Interoperability Center on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. campus. Yo, engineers without borders: That's good work if you can get it.

It's nice to see the ongoing Java compatibility moves. You may recall that Microsoft paid more than $20 million for the right to screw up Java compatibility long enough to let open source frameworks and stacks become truly useful. Now that was money well spent!

Now, perhaps to reduce the true usefulness of open source frameworks and OSGi runtimes (just in the nick of time), Sun and Microsoft can see eye to eye on Java. It should work with Windows. Fine, no need to quarrel on that account any longer.

Much more interesting here is the cross-platform server virtualization stuff. So the VMs can work on a variety of platforms? Right, stunning achievement. Virtualization can be virtual after all. We all thank you. Let's move on.

And then there's the: "Allow Sun Ray thin client software to provide a first-rate virtual desktop for the Windows environment and support Windows technologies." Whoa. And not even a week after Exchange Server support on the Apple iPhone.

So you'll be able to run a Windows instance (via terminal emulation, no doubt -- hey, and maybe even Java if performance can muster) in the Sun Ray. This does show some shifts. Microsoft wants the client license and the "software plus services" payola, and who cares what the end hardware device is, right?

Between Microsoft's acquiescence that the iPhone is not going away and will soon end up en masse in the enterprise -- and this acknowledgment that thin clients can be a good value after all -- we see Microsoft moving away from the big honking hardware PC mantra, and closer to the "big, honking webtone switch" mantra.

Thin clients can be good for Microsoft, because it can get a CAL for the Windows instance, and for the server license. And, over time, for the ad revenue and per-user subscriptions for the applications and services. That's "software plus services," and not "hardware plus services," folks.

So Sun was right after all. They were right about "write once, run anywhere." They were right about 64-bit servers, 64-bit files, parallelism, Rock, Niagara, utility, grid. They were right about virtualization (but wrong about not buying VMWare). They were right about thin client terminals (though not right about buying Cobalt).

And now Microsoft gets it, too. Trouble is Microsoft can better afford mistakes than Sun. Yet Sun has been able to wait out the uber trends nonetheless, notwithstanding some investor value diminishment. And Microsoft is not being stupid, not being happy with investor value diminishment either.

From this new shift at Microsoft who is left in the dust? All those PC hardware makers, for one. Guess we should expect thin terminal products from HP and Dell any day now. Heck, why not go straight to the mobile Internet device (MID) and leap-frog the thin clients all together?

The shift also mean we're going to see more of Microsoft being a kingmaker in the market for the lower-cost, higher-performance server clouds that support virtualized Windows containers. Sun ought to do pretty well there, and may give Dell, HP and IBM a run on total cost.

Ironic, but just as Java compatibility seems complete, Sun's future may actually be in providing the cloud support for more Windows containers than Java. Funny, eh?