Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Panel explores how the IT4IT Reference Architecture acts as a digital business enabler

The next BriefingsDirect expert panel discussion examines the value and direction of The Open Group IT4IT initiative, a new reference architecture for managing IT as a business.

IT4IT was a hot topic at The Open Group San Francisco 2016 conference in January, and the enterprise architect and IT leader attendees examined it from a variety of different angles. This panel, conducted live at the event, elevates the IT4IT discussion to the level of enabling digital business value.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

And so to learn more about how IT4IT aids businesses, we are joined by Chris Davis, Professor of Information Systems at the University of South Florida and also Chairman of The Open Group IT4IT Forum; Lars Rossen, a Distinguished Technologist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and a chief architect for the IT4IT program; Ryan Schmierer, Business and Enterprise Architect for IT at Microsoft, and David Wright, Chief Strategy Officer at ServiceNow. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: I hear IT4IT described as a standard, a framework, a methodology, and a business-enabler. Chris, is it all of those, is it more, is this a whole greater than the sum of the parts? Help us understand the IT4IT potential.

Davis: It could be seen as all of those. I have been academically in this space for 20 to 25 years, and the thing that is different, the thing that adds potential to this is the value-chain orientation.

As well as being a really potent technical standard, we've abstracted this to levels that can be immediately appreciated in the C Suite. People like Kathleen come along, they see it and get it, and that provides some traction. That is a very positive thing, and will enable us to pick up speed as people like Toine invite real penetration down to the CMDB level and so on.

We have this multilayer view. Lars and I articulated it as levels of abstraction, but I think the integration of Mike Porter’s stuff really adds some perspective to this technical standard that maybe isn’t present or hasn’t been present in other frameworks and tools.

Gardner: And as we explain this up the value chain into the organization, do you expect that IT4IT is something you would take to a board setting environment and have them understand this concept of a value stream and consolidating around that?

Davis: Yeah, I do. Some of the observations that were made yesterday about the persistence of models like value chain, value stream, and so on, still make enormous sense to people at the CIO level. That enables the conversation to begin and also provides the ability to see whereabouts, how much of the standard, which particular value streams, where in the organization (the various parts and perspectives) fit.

As well as being very potent and very prescriptive, we have that conceptual agility that the standard provides. I find it exciting and quite refreshing. 

Organic development

Gardner: Lars, one thing that’s also interesting to me about IT4IT is that this was an organic development within IT organizations, for and by them. Tell us how, at HPE, you developed this, and why it was a good fit for The Open Group as a standardization process? 

Rossen: A couple of things made us kick this off, together with Shell initially and then a lot of members came over the years. For us in HPE, it was around consumption of our toolsets. That’s where I came from.

I was sitting on the portfolio group and I said, well, we're all drawing all of these diagrams around how it could fit together and we have these endless discussions with customers about whether this was right or this was wrong. I was completely disagreeing with all our friendly partners, as well as not so friendly competitors, about what was the right diagram.

Putting this into the open -- and we chose Open Group for that particular reason; they have shown in the past that they can create these kinds of things -- allowed us to have that common framework for defining the To-Be architecture for our customers. That simply made it much easier for us to sell our product suite. So it made a lot of business value for us.

And it also made it much easier for our consultancy service. We didn’t have to argue about the To-Be architecture; it was a given. Then, we can talk about how to actually implement it, which is much more interesting. 

Gardner: And while we are speaking about HPE and your experience there, do you have any tangible metrics of success as to how this improved? You went through a large business separation of IT departments; that must have been a difficult process. Was there anything that the IT4IT approach brought to that particular activity that you can point to as a business driver or business benefit?

Rossen: I can. A very large organization is compartmentalized in many different ways, and you could say, well, how do all of these units interchange and work with each other, because it goes both ways; it’s not only the split, but it’s also all the acquisitions we've been doing over the years.

And then we have the framework that we can use and plot things in to, and we have a standardized toolset we can use and reuse over and over again.

Before we had IT4IT, we counted how many integrations we had between our various IT management products, and it ran to about 500. With IT4IT, we can drill down and see that there are only about 50 that are really interesting. Then, we can double down on those. We can now measure how much these are the ones that are being consumed moving forward, both internally within our service practice and as well as with our customer base.

Gardner: Ryan, at Microsoft, I’m wondering about Bimodal IT and Shadow IT. Because you perhaps have a more concentrated view on IT and you can control your organization, you don’t have that problem – or maybe you do. Is there is any degree of Bimodal IT at Microsoft or Shadow IT within your IT organization, have you addressed that, and has IT4IT been a use in that direction?

Consistency and repeatability

Schmierer: First, starting with the idea of Bimodal IT, we go back to some of the research and the thoughts coming from Gartner over the last couple of years about different parts of IT needing to work at different paces. Some need to be more agile and work faster; others need to be the foundational stalwarts of the organization, providing that consistency and that repeatability that we need.

At Microsoft, we tend to look at it a little bit differently. When you think about agile versus waterfall, it’s not a matter of one versus the other. Should we do one or the other? There's a place for both of these. They are tools within our toolbox. Within IT, there are places where we want to move in a more agile way -- where we want to move faster. There are also certain activities where waterfall is still an excellent methodology to drive the consistency and predictability that we need.

A good example of that comes with large releases. We may develop changes or features in a very agile way, but as we move towards making large changes to the business that impact large business functions, we need to roll those changes out in a very controlled, scripted way. So, we take a little bit different look at Bimodal than some companies do.

Your other question was on Shadow IT. One of the things that we have challenged a lot over the last year or so is this concept the role of the IT organization relative to the rest of the enterprise. As we think about that, we're not thinking about IT as a service provider to the enterprise, but as a supporting function to the enterprise.

What does that mean? It means Shadow IT doesn’t exist. It just happens to be someone else within the organization providing that function. And so it becomes less of a question of controlling and preventing Shadow IT and more of embracing that outside-in approach and being able to assimilate those changes and coordinate them in a more structured way to manage things like risk and security.
We're not thinking about IT as a service provider to the enterprise, but as a supporting function to the enterprise.

Gardner: Well, we have heard that there’s a bridging of siloes benefit to IT4IT in either Bimodal or Shadow IT. Can you relay a way in which IT4IT helped you bridge silos and consolidate culturally and otherwise your IT efforts?

Schmierer: Absolutely. Very similar to some of the experiences that Lars explained at HPE, at Microsoft we've had a number of different product groups focusing on different products and solutions and service suites over the last few years.

As we've moved to more of a One Microsoft approach, we're looking at, how to bring the organization and the enterprise together in a cohesive way?

IT plays a role in enabling that as a supportive function to the company and the IT4IT standard has been a great tool for us to have a common talking point, a common framework, to bridge those discussions about not only what we do internally within IT, but how the things that we do internally relate to the products and services that we sell out into the marketplace as well. Having that common framework, that common taxonomy, is not just about talking with customers; it’s about talking internally and getting the entire enterprise aligned.

Business service management

Gardner: Dave, as organizations are working at different paces toward being digital businesses, they might look to their IT organizations for leadership. We might, as a business, want to behave more like our IT organizations.

At ServiceNow I have heard you describe IT service management (ITSM) as one step toward business service management (BSM), rather than just ITSM. How do you see the evolution from ITSM to business service management and a digital business benefit? And how do you foresee IT4IT aiding and accelerating that?

Wright: The interesting thing about IT4IT is the fact that it conceptualizes the whole four stages that people go through on the journey. I suppose you could say the gift that ITIL gave IT was to give it an operational framework to work with.

Most other parts of the business haven’t got an operational framework. If you want to request something off most parts of the business, you will send them an email. If you want something off legal, you want something off marketing, send them an email. They haven’t got a system where they can request something.

If we take some of the processes described in IT4IT and publish that in a business-service catalog, you effectively allow everyone to have a single system of engagement. They might have their own back-end systems, they might have their own human capital management system, their own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, but how do you engage and link all those companies together?

The other thing that IT has learned over a number of different implementations is how important the experience becomes, because if you can generate an experience where people want to use it, that’s what’s going to drive adoption of it as a function.

Let’s take this room as a whole. If we all sat together and built Uber, it would be crap. It would be really good for the taxi drivers, but it would be terrible for the people who actually wanted to request the service, and that’s because we tend to build everything from the inside out.

The fact we have now got a way to elevate that position and look at it from above, and understand all those components, and be able to track all those components from start to finish, and give people visibility in where you are in that process, that’s not just a benefit to IT; that’s a benefit to anyone who provides a service.

Gardner: As we also explore ways that we can evangelize and advocate for this in our organizations, it’s helpful to have places where it works first, the crawl-walk-run approach. Chris, can you help us understand areas where applying IT4IT early and often as a beachhead works?

Need and competence

Davis: Where you have the need and the competence. Back to my earlier point about how the standard can be envisioned, and the point that David just made, what we offer in IT4IT is something that’s not only prescriptive and ready to hand, but it’s also ready to mind, so people get it very quickly.

The quick wins are the important ones, not necessarily the low-hanging fruit, but the parts of the business where opportunities like the ones that David just suggested -- if we were to try to do something like Uber -- that would be too much.

If somewhere in an organization like Microsoft -- where Kathleen is in-charge -- there is a group that can gain rapid traction, that would be most effective. Then the telling of the early success stories; the work by Toine that shows how from the early stages in the development of the architecture, it was useful at Rabobank, that adds momentum.

Gardner: Lars, same question, where did you see this as getting traction best? Maybe it’s new efforts, greenfield application development, mobile-first type development, or maybe it’s some other area. Where might you point to as a great starting point to build this into an organization?
It isn't until you have the value streams more in order that you can start building up that service backbone that is so crucial to IT4IT.

Rossen: It’s pretty simple actually. We've done more than 50, maybe a 100 engagements now using the IT4IT model with our customer base. Very often, it's the central IT. It comes out of saying, "We're too inconsistent." It’s the automation story that comes first, and then typically you end up in a discussion around Detect to Correct. It’s a familiar area and people understand the various components that are involved in that.

But back to what you mentioned before is the layer approach that allows us to go in with a single slide. We can put it up in large format on the wall, and you can start to put Post-It notes on it. You don’t need to understand architecture. That implies that we can have decision makers coming in, and we break down a lot of siloes in the operations area, just with Detect to Correct. That’s where 99 percent of our engagements have been starting.

Then, the Request to Fulfill with the experience is where people want to go. That’s the Holy Grail, or one of the Holy Grails. There are actually two Holy Grails, and that’s just one of them. The other one is to be able to do Strategy to Portfolio, and no longer just say, "I have this application and I need to move it to the next version or whatever." It's understanding what are the services, not the applications, but the services I'm delivering to the business.

It isn't until you have the value streams more in order that you can start building up that service backbone that is so crucial to IT4IT.

Gardner: Is there an element of educating the consumer of IT in an enterprise to anticipate services differently? Ryan, when you mentioned earlier the Request to Fulfill value stream, I can understand how that makes a great deal of sense from IT out to the organization. But do people have to make an adjustment in order to receive things as a value stream, to consume them, to think of asking things through the lens of your being a broker organization? What must we do to educate and help the consumer of IT understand that it might be a different ballgame? 

Reducing friction

Schmierer: We need to start with the goal of reducing friction within the organization. Consumers of IT are operating in a changing landscape. I talked earlier about the network effect and how the environment is constantly evolving, constantly changing. As it does, the needs and desires of the people consuming technology and information will continue to change.

Request to Fulfill helps provide the mechanics for a corporate IT organization to become that broker of services. But if we look at that from a consumption perspective (from the users of services) it's all about enabling them to change their mind, change their needs, change their business processes faster, and removing the friction that exists within the process of provisioning today.

If something is a new technology that they want to bring into their organization, because they see a potential to it, how do we get that in there faster? The whole Request to Fulfill value stream is about accelerating the time to value for new technology coming into the organization and reducing the friction of the request process. 
When you look at how people consume things now, there is definitely a trend going on, where people are becoming more service-aware.

Gardner: Dave, anything to offer on that same side, the consumption side, rather than the delivery perspective? 

Wright:  We're getting this breakdown now, where people are saying that it’s not about the CIs; it’s about the service that those CIs support, how you can take something that can have not a CI-centric CMDB, but a service-centric CMDB. How people can map those relationships. The whole consumption side of it is flipping now, as people’s expectations come in line.

The other thing I found specifically with the IT4IT concept is that people start to put together a kind of business logic very quickly around things. So they'll look at the whole process. And I had someone said to me a few weeks ago, "If I understand the cost elements of each of those, I truly know what that service costs. Could I move and actually be able to manage my system based on what it’s costing the business not the fact it’s a server on problem or it’s a red light? It’s costing me x-amount of dollars a minute for this to be down and I’ve spent this much money actually building it and getting out." But you have to have all those elements tied in, all the way from the portfolio element right the way through to the run element.

Gardner: So it really seems as if it also offers a value of rationalization, prioritization, but in business terms rather than IT terms. Is that correct?

Rossen: Correct.

Gardner: As I try to factor where this will work best, early, and often, not only would we look at specific parts of IT within organization, but we might look at specific companies as a culture, as a type of company but also vertical industries. I'll go back to you, Dave, because ServiceNow has a fairly horizontal view of many different companies. Are there particular companies that you think it would be, as a culture or a type of company, better suited for adoption of IT4IT or in other vertical industries where this makes sense first?

Holistic process

Wright: The people I have seen who would be most disciplined about wanting to be able to look at things holistically right across the whole gamut have been the pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies have come along and they're obviously very regimented in the same way finances are. They're the people who seem to be the early adopters of looking at this holistic process.

If I look at customers, the people who are adopting it first, at a low level, tend to be the financial institutions, but after that, the conversation tends to go through pharmaceuticals. I don’t think any one business has really nailed it, but this is a challenge of every company. Every company has an IT division, and they run IT, but their business isn’t to run IT; their business is inherently to provide financial services or develop drugs.

Looking at what processes people do to drive their core business, the people who are very regimented and disciplined tend to be the people who are saying there has to be a way we can gain more visibility into what we're doing from an IT perspective.
It’s a scale question and it’s a risk question. Who is under the most pressure to improve their cost performance?

Gardner: Ryan, thoughts on the similar question about where this is applicable either as a type of company or a vertical industry?

Schmierer: I'd look at who is most threatened by the changes going on in the world today. Where are cost pressures to drive efficiencies most prevalent because they're going to have the most motivation to change quickly? I'd also look at companies that were early adopters of IT who, through their early adoption, have ended up with a lot of legacy debt that they're trying to manage and they now need to rationalize that in order to get their total IT cost profile down.

In terms of specific verticals, there are pockets within each vertical or each industry that there are opportunities here. I'd look at it from a scale perspective. If you go back to the scale model that I shared this morning about the different sizes of organizations, a lot of small organizations don’t need this, and a lot of start-ups can build it into their DNA. Some of the companies that have more legacy (more mature enterprises) have more of a fundamental need for this type of structure and are going to be able to reap some benefits more quickly or with only a few pieces of it.

It’s a scale question and it’s a risk question. Who is under the most pressure to improve their cost performance?

Gardner: So if I do IT4IT correctly, how might I know a few months -- six months, a quarter or two down the road – later that I can attribute improvement to that particular activity?

Rossen: There are a couple of different things that I believe can be done at an abstract level where actually within IT4IT trying to make more concrete key performance indicator (KPI) assessments of what would make sense in terms of measuring it. More abstractly, are you really embracing the multi-supplier options that reside in IT4IT. That’s one of the reasons we kicked it off. Shell has some good examples of what it costs to integrate a supplier. And that’s tremendous high cost typically, because you have to design how to exchange an incident every time over-and-over again, and then it becomes much more reusable.

That's a place where you see that the cost of working with your partner should go down, and you can become a service broker. That's a particular area where we would see benefits very quickly. But it's also coming back to the original question or questions. That's also where we see the typical companies that wants to pick it up are the companies that really are having that pain that it's not a centralized IT any longer. It's lines of business IT, it's central, it’s suppliers and you yourself are supplying to others. If you have that problem then IT4IT is really good for you and you can quickly see benefits.

Gardner: Chris, thoughts on this notion of how do I attribute benefits in my IT organization at the business level to IT4IT?

Holy Grail for academics

Davis: This has been another Holy Grail for academics. We go all the way back to the 1970s constructive cost model and things like that. Lars hit the nail on the head. The other thing is what Cathleen said this morning. It will be less easily measured, more easily sensed, there will be changes in mindsets and so on. So it's very difficult to articulate and measure, but we're working on ways to make it much more tractable.

Wright: I've been implementing ITSM system since the mid-90s, but we still do one thing in the same way that’s truly weird and you are kind of hitting on this question. Can we define the outcomes?

Whenever anyone undertakes a project like this, they decide they're going to completely redefine the way that IT manages itself as a business. You probably should design the outcomes in the metrics that you want before you put the system in. Almost everyone I can ever remember implements a system and goes "Cool, let's write some reports." And then you take the reports you can get and say, "We'd like a report that shows this," and the consultant who put it in says, "Oh, you can't get that."

If only you step back and said, "Let's think what we want and build a system that delivers that data," is would provide a lot more value to the business.

Gardner: Well, I've had a chance to ask lots of questions. Let's go now to our architects, the people in the trenches. Dave Lounsbury, CTO at The Open Group, help us out with some practical approaches to implementing IT4IT.

Lounsbury: First off, I want to mention that it's really gratifying to see that new participants like Ryan and David come in and adopt this technology, and give us their insights. So thank you very much for participating, as well as our legacy folks. IT always has a legacy, right?

Each speaker mentioned the need for better data management as part of this process, and so this is a governance issue. And who in these evolving organizations should be responsible for data governance; is it the business, is it IT, is it a third entity that should be doing that? Any thoughts on that?

Schmierer: Let me take that one. We need to start by rethinking the idea of data governance. We're trying to govern the data because we're trying to create too much data. We're spending far too much time adding overhead tasks to people who need to do their day jobs, people who are trying to execute on the value stream in order to generate data needed to make decision-making. When we don't get the data that we're looking for to drive decisions, we apply governance and we apply more overhead on top of it.

As we think about IT4IT and the fact that we have a value stream and a separate set of supporting functions, it gives us an opportunity to ask "How can we reduce the amount of data required to be generated within the value stream itself?"

The extra data points that someone collects as a part of a request or the status updates that are created as a part of a project or an agile release, how do we get to the point that we can derive that from the operational systems themselves and let people just do their jobs? If we're not asking people to manually create data, there's no need to create governance processes for it. That's why IT4IT has a lot of value here. We're going to get greater [quality] data by making people’s jobs easier.

Service backbone

Rossen: I'd like to answer that, very much in line to what you are saying. One of the purposes of the service backbone is that everything relates back to that. If you really follow it, everything would be available. You don’t need to do anything further in terms of data skews, any log message, any incident, or any report or set of data from the development. It can all be related back to the conceptual service and then you can have fun with creating the reports you want to do, but you don’t add any overhead to the individuals in the value chain.

Lounsbury: Can you elaborate on how best to address the people and mindset shifts you need to make as you transition to this kind of a model?

Schmierer: From a Microsoft perspective, it starts with valuing the individuals, the contributions they’ve made to the organization, and the opportunity for them to be a part of the future where the company is going. We need to make sure that we talk with individuals and reinforce that they are valuable and appreciated.

Change is always difficult. When you talk about changing skill sets, asking people to learn new skills, adopting new ways of working, it’s uncomfortable. We're moving people out of their comfort zone and asking them to do something new. But I don’t think this one is difficult at all; it’s basic. Appreciate your people and tell them thank you.
Change is always difficult. When you talk about changing skill sets, asking people to learn new skills, adopting new ways of working, it’s uncomfortable.

Lounsbury: So given a complex service request demand by a business user, how will IT4IT assist me in designing a service with say, five different vendors?

Rossen: Well, the first thing is that within S2P, which is really where such a thing comes in, it’s a new service that needs to be introduced. We now have the framework for working on the conceptual service that we will make up whatever is requested. But everybody in the room here should probably appreciate the fact. We're not throwing away all the good stuff that goes around TOGAF and architecture in general for the business. If it's a very complex thing, you need to have an enterprise architecture worked out for that.

But it feeds into the pipeline of that, executing it. You can split it up into projects. You can still attract them as being part of the bigger things, but it does lead to that. A very important thing in IT4IT and in the industry in general is that you have to design small things that are making dependences to each other so one service depends on another service and so on. It’s not just an app on top of the infrastructure or platform infrastructure. It becomes much more complex with respect to that, but it’s the way the industry goes.

Lounsbury: What are the most important steps a small-to-medium sized enterprise (SME) could take to move to this service broker model that’s been advocated in IT4IT?

Wright: If it’s an SME, typically they're going to be using multiple systems coupled together. There won’t be any real formality around it. But the first thing for them is to get a common place where they can go and request these services. So that catalog is going to be structured in a way that’s easy to use.

I have a funny story. We were looking at how we designed UI/UX for our customers to interact with software, and we hired a group of people who were 23 or 24 years old to build the UI. We were showing a lot of them a standard service-management type of process you go through, and he said it was very complex, and I said it was. He asked how people learn to use it? I said, "What typically happens is you roll the system out and then you send all your users on a training course." He was horrified. He said, "You're allowed to write a software that’s so bad, you have to train people how to use it?" I said, "Yes, I’ve made a good living for 25 years doing that."

Service catalog

To be able to get a catalog, especially in a smaller business where you’ve perhaps got a younger workforce, more rapid turnover, or a potential to expand, it's development system is where you don’t have to train people how to use them where it’s very intrusive. 

I go onto this, I request something, and then suddenly something pops-up. I've got a task I need to do. It’s not like the going in sorting through records wondering what it all means and why have I got like 300 fields on the form and a couple of tabs to go through. It’s making work as simple as possible, that’s what’s going to drive the adoption of this.

But at a high level, what really drives the adoption is the visibility of the end result that you get from this, having that clarity of information. Imagine everyone in this room used to seeing incidents by category, so you can see a percentage of where you're spending your time, you are on hardware issues, you are doing software upgrades. No other part of the business, especially in this consolidated business model, can see that.

If you go to human resources and ask for a breakdown of percentages, how much you spend on each different type of task, you'll get some tribal knowledge ballpark figures. Same for legal, same for finance. Everyone who has been there for a while knows it, but there are no metrics. If you can provide those metrics at a top level, that just drives it further and further into the organization.
Because you don’t have a service backbone, you don’t really have connected information, so implementing IT4IT will allow you to make these decisions much easier.

Lounsbury: One more, okay, so which one to choose? And of course people will be able to interact with these folks at the breaks and at our evening reception if I don’t get to your question. So how does IT4IT help in a situation where a company is trying to eliminate a data center and move to the public cloud? As a broker of services who owns the system integration and process services, how does that flow in the IT4IT model?

Rossen: I'll take the first crack. Again it’s a classical scenario around saying where can you rationalize your portfolio? So do I outsource it, do I move the infrastructure to the cloud, do I still maintain the actual application, etc. You can’t make these decisions without having assistance of insight around what you're actually running, how it’s being consumed, what business value does it bring, which goes back to strategy to portfolio, what conceptual services do you have, how are they currently implemented, how are they running, what is the quality, how many consumers are there on it?

If you have that data, it’s actually fairly easy to make these decisions, but typically most organizations, this exercises require 60 spread sheets, half a calendar year 60 people trying to figure that out and in the meantime it’s not really correct, right? And that’s again because you don’t have a service backbone, you don’t really have connected information, so implementing IT4IT will allow you to make these decisions much easier.

Schmierer:  Let me add onto that a little bit. As we talked about, "If you want to move something in a cloud, how can I get IT4IT to help me?" We have to remember that this is an area where the industry is evolving. We haven’t got it all figured out yet. IT4IT is a great starting point for having the conversation with those folks helping you in system integration and your cloud service provider to step through the questions about how things need to change, what needs to be done differently. "What are the things that the consuming IT organization no longer needs to do because the cloud service provider is doing for them?"

For now, start by using IT4IT as a checklist, use it as a starting point for brokering the conversation to ask if we've thought about everything. Over time, this will get repeatable -- it will become a common pattern, and we'll just know and won’t need to have that conversation. But for now, IT4IT is a great reference model to help us have that conversation.

Gardner: Would it not make sense for you as a consumer of cloud services to wonder whether your cloud provider is using IT4IT and wouldn’t that give you a common denominator by which to pursue some of these benefits?

Tool certification

Rossen: That would certainly be in the future when we come to tool certification within The Open Group. A cloud provider would also need to be certified to saying, well, if you find my service, I can actually provide you with an incident interface according to the standards, so it's easy for you to hand over and go back and forth if there are issues just to take one example, right?

Gardner: Any more to offer from anyone?

Schmierer: One thing I can offer is this: since the IT4IT standard launched in Edinburgh three months ago, I can’t tell you how many emails I receive from our account teams and from customers who are asking us this exact question.

Customers are asking the question about IT4IT, how it plays into the service provider landscape and how they can use it to drive the conversation. So the word is getting out, and the best thing you can do as a consumer of this stuff, as you go work with different service providers is to ask the questions, and ask their opinion and their thoughts on it.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How Etsy uses big data for ecommerce to put buyers and sellers in the best light

The next BriefingsDirect big data case study discussion explores how Etsy, a global e-commerce site focused on handmade and vintage items, uses data science to improve buyers and sellers’ discovery and shopping experiences.

We'll learn how mining big data at speed and volume helps Etsy define and distribute top trends, and allows those with specific interests to find items that will best appeal to them.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about leveraging big data in the e-commerce space, please join Chris Bohn aka “CB,” a Senior Data Engineer at Etsy, based in Brooklyn, New York. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us about Etsy for those that aren’t familiar with it. I've heard it described as it’s like being able to go through your grandmother's basement. Is that fair?

CB: Well, I hope it’s not as musty and dusty as my grandmother’s basement. The best way to describe it is that Etsy is a marketplace. We create a marketplace for sellers of handcrafted goods and the people who want to buy those goods.

We've been around for 10 years. We're the leader in this space and we went public in 2015. Just some quick little metrics. The total of value of the merchandise sold on Etsy in 2014 was about $1.93 billion. We have about 1.5 million sellers and about 22 million buyers.

Gardner: That's an awful lot of stuff that’s being moved around. What does the big data and analytics role bring to the table?

CB: It’s all about understanding more about our customers, both buyers and sellers. We want to know more about them and make the buying experience easier for them. We want them to be able to find products easier. Too much choice sometimes is no choice. You want to get them to the product they want to buy as quickly as possible.

We also want to know how people are different in their shopping habits across the geography of the world. There are some people in different countries that transact differently than we do here in the States, and big data lets us get some insight into that.

Gardner: Is this insight derived primarily from what they do via their clickstreams, what they're doing online? Or are there other ways that you can determine insights that then you can share among yourself and also back to your users?

Data architecture

CB: I'll describe our data architecture a little bit. When Etsy started out, we had a monolithic Postgres database and we threw everything in there. We had listings, users, sellers, buyers, conversations, and forums. It was all in there, but we outgrew that really quickly, and so the solution to that was to shard horizontally.

Now we have many hundreds of sharded MySQL servers, horizontal. Then we decided that we needed to do some analytics on this stuff. So we scratched our heads. This was about five years ago. So we said, "Let’s just set up a Postgres server and we'll copy all the data from these shards into the Postgres server that we call BI server." And we got that done.

Then, we kind of scratched our heads and said, "Wait a minute. We just came full circle. We started with a monolithic database, then we went sharded, and now all the data is back monolithic."

It didn't perform well, because it's hard to get the volume of big data into that database. A relational database like Postgres just isn’t designed to do analytic-type queries. Those are big aggregations, and Postgres, even though it is a great relational database, is really tailored for single-record lookup.

So we decided to get something else going on. About three-and-a-half years ago, we set about searching for the replacement to our monolithic business-intelligence (BI) database and looked at what the landscape was. There were a number of very worthy products out there, but we eventually settled on HPE Vertica for a number of reasons.

One of those is that it derives, in large part, from Postgres. Postgres has a Berkeley license. So  companies could take it private. They can take that code and they don’t have to republish it out to the community, unlike other types of open source copyright agreements.

So we found out that the parser was right out of Postgres and all the date handling and typecasting stuff that is usually different from database to database was exactly spot-on the same between Vertica and Postgres. Also, data ingestion via the copy command is the best way to bulk-load data, exactly the same in both, and it’s the same format.
There were a number of very worthy products out there, but we eventually settled on Vertica for a number of reasons.

We said, "This looks good, because we can get the data in quickly, and queries will probably not have to be edited much." So that's where we went. We experimented with it and we found exactly that. Queries would run unchanged, except they ran a lot faster and we were able to get the data in easily.

We built some data replication tools to get data from the shards and also some legacy Postgres databases that we had laying around for billing and got that all data into HPE Vertica.

Then, we built some tools that allowed our analysts to bring over custom tables they had created on that old BI machine. We were able to get up to speed really quickly with Vertica, and boom, we had an analytics database that we were able to hit the ground running with it.

Gardner: And is the challenge for you about the variety of that data? Is it about the velocity that you need to move it in and out? Is it about simply volume that you just have so much of it, or a little of some of those?

All of the above

CB: It’s really all of those problems. Velocity-wise, we want our replication system to be eventually consistent, and we want it to be as near real-time as possible. There is a challenge in that, because you really start to get into micro-batching data in.

This is where we ended up having to pay off some technical debt, because years ago, disk storage was fairly pricey, and databases were designed to minimize storage. Practices grew up around that fact. So data would get deleted and updated. That's the policy that the early originators of Etsy followed when they designed the first database for it.
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Eventually what we have got now is lossy data. If someone changes the description or the tags that are associated with a listing, the old ones go away. They are lost forever. And that's too bad, because if we kept those, we can do analytics on a product that wasn’t selling for a long time and all of a sudden it started selling. What changed? We would love to do analytics on that, but we can't do it because of the loss of data. That's one thing that we learned in this whole process.

But getting back to your question here about velocity and then also the volume of data, we have a lot of data from our production databases. We need to get it all into Vertica. We also have a lot of clickstream data. Etsy is a top 50 website, I believe, for traffic, and that generates a lot of clicks and that all gets put into Vertica.
This is where we ended up having to pay off some technical debt, because years ago, disk storage was fairly pricey, and databases were designed to minimize storage.

We run big batch jobs every night to load that. It's important that we have that, because one of the biggest things that our analytics like to do is correlate clickstream data with our production data. Clickstream data doesn't have a lot of information about the user who is doing those clicks. It’s just information about their path through the site at that time.

To really get a value-add on that, you want to be able to join on your user details tables, so that you can know where this person lives, how old they are, or their buying history in the past. You need to be able to join those, too, and we do that in HPE Vertica.

Gardner: CB, give us a sense about the paybacks, when you do this well, when you've architected, and when you've paid your technical debts, as you put it. How are your analysts able to leverage this in order to make your business better and make the experience of your users better?

CB: When we first installed Vertica, it was just a small group of analysts that were using it. Our analytics program was fairly new, but it just exploded. Everybody started to jump in on it, because all of a sudden, there was a database with which you could write good SQL, with a rich SQL engine, and get fantastic results quickly.

The results weren’t that different from what we were getting in the past, but they were just coming to us so fast, the cycle of getting information was greatly shortened. Getting result sets was so much better that it was like a whole different world. It’s like the Pony Express versus email. That’s the kind of difference it was. So everybody started jumping in on it.

More dashboards

Engineers who were adding new facets of the product wanted to have dashboards, more or less real time, so they could monitor what the thing was doing. For example, we added postage to Etsy, so that our sellers can have preprinted labels. We'd like to monitor that in real time to see how it's this going. Is it going well or what?

That was something that took a long time to analyze before we got into big-data analytics. All of a sudden, we had Vertica and we could do that for them, and that pattern has repeated with other groups in the company.

We're doing different aspects of the site. All of a sudden, you have your marketing people, your finance people, saying, "Wow, I can run these financial reports that used to take days in literally seconds." There was a lot of demand. Etsy has about 750 employees and we have way more than 200 Vertica accounts. That shows you how popular it is.
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One anecdotal story. I've been wanting to update Vertica for the past couple of months. The woman who runs our analytics team said, "Don't you dare. I have to run Q2 numbers. Everybody is working on this stuff. You have to wait until this certain week to be able to do that." It’s not just HPE Vertica, but big data is now relied on for so many things in the company.

Gardner: So the technology led to the culture. Many times we think it's the other way around, but having that ability to do those easy SQL queries and get information opened up people's imagination, but it sounds like it has gone beyond that. You have a data-driven company now.

CB: That's an astute observation. You're right. This is technology that has driven the culture. It's really changed the way people do their job at Etsy. And I hear that elsewhere also, just talking to other companies and stuff. It really has been impactful.
This is technology that has driven the culture. It's really changed the way people do their job at Etsy.

Gardner: Just for the sake of those of our readers who are on the operations side, how do you support your data infrastructure? Are you thinking about cloud? Are you on-prem? Are you split between different data centers? How does that work?

CB: I have some interesting data points there for you. Five-plus years ago, we started doing Hadoop stuff, and we started out spinning up Hadoop in Amazon Web Service (AWS).

We would run nightly jobs. We collected all of the search terms that were used and buying patterns and we fed these into MapReduce jobs. The output from that then went into MATLAB, and we would get a set of rules out of that, that then would drive our search engine, basically improving search.

Commodity hardware

We did that for a while and then realized we were spending a lot of money in AWS. It was many thousands of dollars a month. We said, "Wait a minute. This is crazy. We could actually buy our own servers. This is commodity hardware that this can run on, and we can run this in our own data center. We will get the data in faster, because there are bigger pipes." So that's what we did.

We created what we call Etsydoop, which has got 200+ nodes and we actually save a lot of money doing it that way. That's how we got into it.

We really have a bifurcated data analytics, big-data system. On the one hand, we have Vertica for doing ad hoc queries, because the analysts and the people out there understand SQL and they demand it. But for batch jobs, Hadoop rocks, and it's really, really good for that.

But the tradeoff is that those are hard jobs to write. Even a good engineer is not going to get it right every time, and for most analysts, it's probably a little bit beyond their reach to get down, roll up their sleeves, and get into actual coding and that kind of stuff.
The analysts and the people out there understand SQL and they demand it. But for batch jobs, Hadoop rocks, and it's really, really good for that.

But they're great at SQL, and we want to encourage exploration and discovering new things. We've discovered things about our business just by some of these analysts wildcatting in the database, finding interesting stuff, and then exploring it, and we want to encourage that. That's really important.

Gardner: CB, in getting to understand Etsy a little bit more, I saw that you have something called Top Trends and Etsy Finds, ways that you can help people with affinity for a product or a craft or some interest to pursue that. Did that come about as a result of these technologies that you have put in place, or did they have a set of requirements that they wanted to be able to do this and then went after you to try to accommodate it? How do you pull off that Etsy Finds capability?

CB: A lot of that is cross-architecture. Some of our production data is used to find that. Then, a lot of the hard crunching is done in Vertica to find that. Some of it is MapReduce. There's a whole mix of things that go into that.

I couldn't claim for Etsy Finds, for example, that it’s all big data. There are other things that go in there, but definitely HPE Vertica plays a role in that stuff.

I'll give you another example, fraud. We fingerprint a lot of our users digitally, because we have problems with resellers. These are people who are selling resold mass-produced stuff on Etsy. It's not huge, but it's an annoyance. Those products compete against really quality handmade products that our regular sellers sell in their shops.

Sometimes it’s like a game of Whack-a-Mole. You knock one of these guys down -- sometimes they're from the Far East or other parts of the world -- and as soon as you knock one down, another one pops up. Being able to capture them quickly is really important, and we use Vertica for that. We have a team that works just on that problem.

What's next?

Gardner: Thinking about the future, with this great architecture, with your ability to do things like fraud detection and affinity correlations, what's next? What can you do that will help make Etsy more impactful in its market and make your users more engaged?

CB: The whole idea behind databases and computing in general is just making things faster. When the first punch-card machines came out in the 1930s or whatever, the phone companies could do faster billing, because billing was just getting out of control. That’s where the roots of IBM lie.

As time went by, punch cards were slow and they wanted to go faster. So they developed magnetic tape, and then spinning rust disks. Now, we're into SSDs, the flash drives. And it’s the same way with databases and getting answers. You always want to get answers faster.

We do a lot of A/B testing. We have the ability to set the site so that maybe a small percentage of users get an A path through the site, and the others a B path, and there's control stuff on that. We analyze those results. This is how we test to see if this kind of button work better than this other one. Is the placement right? If we just skip this page, is it easier for someone to buy something?
The whole idea behind databases and computing in general is just making things faster.

So we do A/B testing. In the past, we've done it where we had to run the test, gather the data, and then comb through it manually. But now with Vertica, the turnaround time to iterate over each cycle of an A/B test has shrunk dramatically. We get our data from the clickstreams, which go into Vertica, and then the next day, we can run the A/B test results on that.

The next step is shrinking that even more. One of the themes that’s out there at the various big data conferences is streaming analytics. That's a really big thing. There is a new database out there called PipelineDB, a fork of Postgres. It allows you to create an event steam into Postgres.

You can then create a view and a window on top of that stream. Then you can pump your event data, like your clickstream data, and you can join the data in that window to your regular Postgres tables, which is really great, because we could get A/B information in real time. You set up a one minute turnaround as opposed to one day. I think that’s where a lot of things are going.

If you just look at the history of big data, MapReduce started about 10 years ago at Google, and that was batch jobs, overnight runs. Then, we started getting into the columnar stores to make databases like Vertica possible, and it’s really great for aggregation. That kicked it up to the next level.

Another thing is real-time analytics. It’s not going to replace any of these things, just like Vertica didn't replace Hadoop. They're complementary. Real-time streaming analytics will be complementary. So we're continuing to add these tools to our big data toolbox.

Gardner: It has compressed those feedback loops if we provide that capability into innovative, creative organization. The technology might drive the culture, and who knows what sort of benefits they will derive from that.

All plugged in

CB: That's very true. You touched earlier about how we do our infrastructure. I'm in data engineering, and we're responsible for making sure that our big databases are healthy and running right. But we also have our operations department. They're working on the actual pipes and hardware and making sure it’s all plugged in. It's tough to get all this stuff working right, but if you have the right people, it can happen.

I mentioned earlier about AWS. The reason we were able to move off of that and save money is because we have the people who can do it. When you start using AWS extensively, what you're doing is you are paying for a very high priced but good IT staff at Amazon. If you have got a good IT staff of your own, you're probably going to be able to realize some efficiencies there, and that's why really we moved over. We do it all ourselves.

Gardner: Having it as a core competency might be an important thing moving forward. The whole idea behind databases and computing in general is just making things faster.

CB: Absolutely. You have to stay on top of all this stuff. A lot is made of the word disruption, and you don't go knocking on disruption’s door; it usually knocks on yours. And you had better be agile enough to respond to it.

I'll give you an example that ties back into big data. One of the most disruptive things that has happened to Etsy is the rise of the smartphone. When Etsy started back in 2005, the iPhone wasn't around yet; it was still two years out. Then, it came on the scene, and people realized that this was a suitable device for commerce.
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It’s very easy to just be complacent and oblivious to new technologies sneaking up on you. But we started seeing that there was more and more commerce being done on smartphones. We actually fell a little bit behind, as a lot of companies did five years ago. But our management made decisions to invest in mobile, and now 60 percent of our traffic is on mobile. That's turned around in the past two years and it has been pretty amazing.

Big data helps us with that, because we do a lot of crunching of what these mobile devices are doing. Mobile is not the best device maybe for buying stuff because of the form factor, but it is a really good device for managing your store, paying your Etsy bill, and doing that kind of stuff. So we analyzed all that and crunched it in big data.

Gardner: And big data allowed you to know when to make that strategic move and then take advantage of it?

CB: Exactly. There are all sorts of crossover points that happen with technology, and you have to monitor it. You have to understand your business really well to see when certain vectors are happening. If you can pick up on those, you're going to be okay.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

The UNIX evolution: A history of innovation reaches an unprecedented 20-year milestone

The next BriefingsDirect expert panel discussion examines the illustrious 20-year history of the UNIX operating system environment as an industry-wide and global standard success story.

It's not often that you reach a multi-decade anniversary in information technology, especially where the technology's relevance remains so high and the promise of more innovation and value is so needed and promising.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or  download a copy.

To chart this unprecedented journey of interoperable software and stewardship success, we're joined by a distinguished panel: Andrew Josey, Director of Standards at The Open Group; Darrin Johnson, Director of Solaris Engineering at Oracle; Tom Mathews, distinguished engineer of Power Systems at IBM, and Jeff Kyle, Director of Mission-Critical Solutions at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: UNIX has been evolving during probably the most dynamic time in business and technology. How is it that UNIX remains so prominent, a standard that has clung to its roots, with ongoing compatibility and interoperability? How has it been able to maintain its relevance in such a dynamic world?

Josey: Thank you, Dana. As you know UNIX was started in Bell Labs by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie back in 1969. It was a very innovative, a very different approach, an approach that has endured over time. We're seeing, during that time, a lot of work going on in different standards bodies.

We saw, in the early '80s, the UNIX wars, almost different fractured versions, different versions of the operating system, many of them incompatible with each other and then the standards bodies bringing them together.

We saw efforts such as the IEEE POSIX, and then X/OPEN. Later, The Open Group was formed to bring that all together when the different vendors realized the benefits of building a standard platform on which you can innovate.

So, over time, the standards have added more and more common interfaces, raising the bar upon which you can place that innovation. Over time, we've seen changes like in the mid-'90s, when there was a shift from 32-bit to 64 bit computing.

At that time, people asked, "How will we do that? Will we do it the same way?" So the UNIX vendors came to what, at that time, was X/OPEN. We had an initiative called the Large File Summit and we agreed the common way to do that. That was a very smooth transition.

Today, everybody takes it for granted that the UNIX systems are scalable, powerful, and reliable, and this is all built on that 64-bit platform, and multi-processor, and all these capabilities.

That's where we're seeing the standards come in allowing the philosophy, the enduring, adaptable pace, and that’s the UNIX platform that's relevant today. We're saying it is today’s virtualization, cloud, and big data, which is also driven by UNIX systems in the back office.

The Open Group involvement

Gardner: So while we're looking at UNIX’s 40-year history, we're focusing on the 20-year anniversary of the single UNIX specification and the ability to certify against that, and that’s what The Open Group has been involved in, right?

Josey: We were given the UNIX trademark from Novell back in, I think it was 1993, and at that point, the major vendors came together to agree on a common specification. At the time, its code name was Spec 1170. There were actually 1168 interfaces in the Spec, but we wanted to round up and, apparently, that was also the amount of money that they spent at the dinner after they completed the spec.

So, we adopted that specification and we have been running certification programs against that.

Gardner: Darrin, with the dynamic nature of our industry now -- with cloud, hybrid cloud, mobile, and a tightening between development and operations -- how is it that UNIX remains relevant, given these things that no one really saw coming 20 years ago?

Johnson: I think I can speak for everybody here that all our companies provide cloud services, whether it’s public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, and whether it’s infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS), or any of the other as a service options. The interesting thing is that to really be able to provide that consistency and that capability to our customers, we rely on a foundation -- and that foundation is UNIX.

So our customers, even though they can maybe start with IBM, have choice. In turn, from a company perspective, instead of having to reinvent the wheel all the time for the customer or for our own internal development, it allows us to focus on the value-add, the services, the capabilities that build upon that foundation of UNIX.

So, something that may be 20 years old, or actually 40 years from the original version of UNIX, has evolved with such a solid foundation that we can innovate on.

Gardner: And what’s the common thread around that relevance? Is it the fact that it is consistently certified, that you have assurance that what's running in one place will run into another on any hardware? How is it that the common spec has been so instrumental in making this a powerful underpinning for so much modern technology?

Josey: A solid foundation is built upon standards, because we can have, like you mentioned, assurance. If you look at the certification process, there are more than 45,000 test cases that give assurance to developers, to customers that there's going to be determinism. All of the IT people that I have talked to say that a deterministic behavior is critical, because when it’s non-deterministic, things go wrong. Having that assurance enables us to focus on what sits on top of it, rather than does the ‘ls’ command work right or can we know how much space is in a file system. Those are givens. We can focus on the innovation instead.

Gardner: Over the past decades, UNIX has found itself at the highest echelon of high-performance computing, in high-performance cloud environments. Then, it goes down to the desktop as well as into mobile devices, pervasively, and as micro-devices, embedded and real-time computing. How has that also benefited from standards, that you have a common code base up and down the spectrum, from micro to macro?

Several components

Johnson: If you look at the standard, it contains several components, and it's really modular in a way that, depending on your need, you can pick a piece of it and support that. Maybe you don't need the complete operating system for a highly scalable environment. Maybe you just need a micro-controller. You can pick the standard, so there is consistency at that level, and then that feeds into the development environment in which an engineer may be developing something.

That scales. Let’s say you need a lot of other services in a large data center where you still have that consisting throughout. Whether it’s Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, Linux, or even FreeBSD, there's a consistency because of those elements of the standard.

Gardner: Developers are, of course, essentially making any platform continue over time, the chicken and the egg relationship, the more apps the more relevant the platform, the stronger and more pervasive the platform the more likely the apps. So, Jeff, for developers, what are some of the primary benefits of UNIX and how has that contributed to its longevity?

Kyle: As was said for developers, it’s the consistency that really matters. UNIX standards develop and deliver consistency. As we look at this, we talk about consistent APIs, consistent command line, and consistent integration between users and applications.

This allows the developers to focus a lot more on interesting challenges and customer value at the application and user level. They don’t have to focus so much on interoperability issues between OSes or even interoperability issues between versions of the single OS. Developers can easily support multiple architectures in heterogeneous environments, and in today’s virtualized cloud-ready world, it’s critical.

Gardner: And while we talk about the past story with UNIX, there's a lot of runway to the future. Developers are now looking at issues around mobile development, cloud-first development. How is UNIX playing a role there?

Kyle: The development that’s coming out of all of our organizations and more organizations is focused first on cloud. It’s focused first on fully virtualized environment. It’s not just the interoperability with applications, but it is the interoperability between, as I said before, the heterogeneous environments, the multiple architectures.

In the end, customers are still trying to do the same things that they always have. They're trying to use applications in technology to get data from one place to another and more effectively and efficiently use that data to make business decisions. That’s happening more and more "mobile-y," right?

I think every HP-UX, AIX, Solaris, and UNIX system out there is fully connected to a mobile world and the Internet of Things (IoT). We're securing it more than any customers realize.

Gardner: Tom, let’s talk a little bit about the hardware side and the ability to recognize that cost and risk have a huge part of decision-making for customers, for enterprises. What is it about UNIX now, and into the future, that allows a hardware approach that keeps those cost risks down, that makes that a powerful combination for platform?

Scale up

Mathews: The hardware approach for the UNIX has traditionally been scale-up. There are a lot of virtues and customer values around scale-up. It’s a much simpler environment to administer, versus the scale-out environment that’s going to have a lot more components and complexity. So that’s a big value.

The other core value that is important to many of our customers is that there has been a very strong focus on reliability, availability, and scalability. At the end of the day, those three words are very important to our customers. I know that they're important to the people that run our systems, because having those values allows them to sleep right at night and have weekends with their families and so forth. In addition to just running the business, things have to stay up -- and it has been that way for a long time, 7×24×365.

So these three elements -- reliability and availability and scalability -- have been a big focus, and a lot of that has been delivered through the hardware environment, and in addition to the standards.

The other thing that is critical, and this is really a very important area where the standards figure in, is around investment protection. Our customers make investments in middleware and applications and they can’t afford to re-gen those investments continuously as they move through generations of operating systems and so forth.

The standards play into that significantly. They provide the stable environment. In the standards test suite right now, there are something like 45,000 tests for testing for standards. So it's stability, reliability, availability, and serviceability in this investment-protection element.

Gardner: Now, we've looked at UNIX through the lens of developers, hardware, and also performance and risk. But another thing that people might not appreciate is a close relationship between UNIX and the advancement of the Internet and the World Wide Web. The very first web servers were primarily UNIX. It was the de-facto standard. And then service providers, those folks hosting websites were hosting the Internet itself, were using UNIX for performance and reliability reasons.
Any standard, whether it’s Ethernet or UNIX, helps bring things together in a way that you don’t have to think about how to get data from one point to another.

So, Darrin, tell us about the network side of this. Why has UNIX been so prevalent along the way when the high-performance networks, and then the very important performance characteristics of a web environment, came to bear?

Johnson: Again, it’s about the interconnectedness. Back in my younger years, having to interface Ethernet with AppleTalk, with picking your various technologies, just the interfacing took so much time and effort.

Any standard, whether it’s Ethernet or UNIX, helps bring things together in a way that you don’t have to think about how to get data from one point to another. Mobility really is about moving data from one place to another in a quick fashion where you can do transactions in microseconds, milliseconds, or seconds. You want some assurance in the data that you send from one place to another. But it's also about making sure of, and this is a topic that’s really important today, security.

Knowing that when you have data going from one point to another point, it's secured and on each node, or each point, security continues, and so standards and making sure that IBM interacts with Oracle, interacts with HPE, really assures our customers. And the people that don’t even see the transactions going on, they can have some level of confidence that they're going to have reliable, high-performance, and secure networks.

Standardization certification

Gardner: Well, let’s dig a little bit into this notion of standardization certification, of putting things through their conformity paces. Some folks might be impatient going through that. They want to just get out there with the technology and use it, but a level of discipline and making sure that things work well can bear great fruit for those who are willing to go through that process.

Andrew, tell us about the standard process and how that’s changed over the past 20 years, perhaps to not only continue that legacy of interoperability, but perhaps also increase the speed and the usability of the standards process itself.

Josey: Since then, we've made quite a few changes in the way that we're doing the standards development ourselves. It used to be that a group of us would meet behind closed doors in different locations, and there were three of such groups of standard developers.

There was an IEEE group, an X/Open (later to become an Open Group group), and an International Standards Group. Often, they were same people who had to keep going to these same meetings, and seeing the same people but wearing different hats. As I said, it was very much behind closed doors.

As it got toward the end of the 1990s, people were starting to say that we were spending too much money doing the same thing, basically producing a pile of standards that were very similar but different. So in late 1997-1998, we formed something that we call the Austin Group.

It was basically The Open Group’s members. Sun, IBM, and HP came to The Open Group at that time, and said, "Look, we have to go and talk to IEEE, we have to talk to ISO about bringing all the experts together in a single place to do the standard. So starting in 1998, we met in Austin, at the IBM facility -- hence the name The Austin Group -- and we started on that road.
We do everything virtually and we've adopted some of the approaches of open source projects.

Since then, we developed a single set of books. On the front cover, we stamped the designation of it being an IEEE standard, an Open Group standard, or an International Standard. So technical folks only have to go to a single place, do the work once, and then we put it through the adoption processes of the individual organizations.

As we got into the new millennium, we changed our way as well. We don’t physically go and meet anywhere, anymore. We do everything virtually and we've adopted some of the approaches of open source projects, for example an open bug tracker (MantisBT).

Anybody can access the bug tracker file, file a bug against the standard and see all the comments that go in against a bug, so we are completely transparent. With the Austin Group, we allow anybody to participate. You don't have to be a member of IEEE or an international delegate any more to participate.

We've had lot of input and continue to have a lot of input from the open-source community. We've had prominent members of Linux and Open Source communities such as maintainers of key subsystems such as glibc command and utilities. They would come to us because they want to get involved, they see the value in standards.

They want to come to a common agreement on how the shell should work, how this utility should work, how they can pull POSIX threads and things into their environments, how they can find those edge cases. We also had innovation from Linux coming into the standard.

In the mid-2000s, we started to look at and say that new APIs in Linux should also be in UNIX. So in the mid-2000s, we added, I think, four specifications that we developed based on Linux interfaces from the GNU Project. So in the areas of internationalization and common APIs, that’s one thing we have always wanted to do is to look at raising that bar of common functionality.

Linux and open-source systems are very much working with the standard as much as anybody else.

Process and mechanics

Johnson: There's something I’d like to add about the process and the mechanics, because in my organization I own it. There are a couple of key points. One is, it’s great that we have an organization like The Open Group that not only helps create the standard or manage the standard, but is also developing the test suites for certification. So it’s one organization working with the community, Austin Group, and of course IEEE and The Open Group members to create a test certification suite.

If anyone of our organizations had to create or manage that separately, that’s a huge expense. They do that for them, that’s part of the service, and they have evolved that and it’s grown. I don’t know what it was originally, but 45,000 tests have grown, and they’ve made it more efficient in terms of the process. And it’s a collaborative process. If we have  an issue, is it our issues, is it the test read issue. There's a great responsiveness.

So kudos to The Open Group, because they make it easy for us to certify, that’s really our obligation to get into that discipline, but if we factor it into the typical quality assurance process as we release the operating system, whether it’s an update or a patch, or whatever, then it just becomes pretty obvious. The next major release that you want to certify, you've done most of the heavy lifting. Again, The Open Group makes it really easy to do that.
It’s that the standards have actually encouraged innovation in the software industry because that just made it easier for developers to develop, and it's less costly for them to provide their stuff across the broad range of platforms.

Mathews: Another element that’s important on this cost point is goes back to the standards and the cost of doing development. Imagine being a software ISV. Imagine a world where there were no standards. That world existed at one point in time. What that caused is this, ISVs had to spend significant effort to port their to each platform.

This is because the interfaces and the capabilities on all of those platforms will be different. You will see difference all of the way across. Now with the standards, of course, ISVs basically develop for only one platform: the platform defined by the standards.

So that’s been crucial. It’s that the standards have actually encouraged innovation in the software industry because that just made it easier for developers to develop, and it's less costly for them to provide their stuff across the broad range of platforms.

So that’s been crucial. We have three people from the major UNIX vendors on the panel, but there are other players there, too, and the standards have been critical over time for everybody, particularly when the UNIX market was made up of a lot of vendors.

Gardner: So we understand the value of standards and we see the role that a neutral third-party can play to keep those standards on track and moving rapidly. Are there some lessons from UNIX of the past 20 years that we can apply to some of the new areas where standards are newly needed? I'm thinking about cloud interoperability, hybrid cloud, so that you could run on-premises and then have those applications seamlessly move to a public cloud environment and back.

Andrew, starting with you, what it is about the UNIX model and The Open Group certification and standardization model that we might apply to such efforts as OpenStack, or Cloud Foundry, or some other efforts to make a seamless environment for the hybrid cloud?

Exciting problem

Josey: In our standards process, we're very much able to take on almost any problem, and this certainly would be a very exciting problem for us to tackle to bring parties together. We're able to bring different parties together, looking for commonality to try and build the consensus.

We get people in the room to talk through the different points of view. What The Open Group is able to do is to provide a safe harbor where the different vendors can come in and not be seen as talking in an anti-competitive position, but actually discussing the differences and their implementations and deciding what’s the best common way to go forward who is setting a standard.

Gardner: Anyone else on the relationship between UNIX and hybrid cloud in the next several years?

Johnson: I can talk to it a little bit. The real opportunity, and I hope people reading this, and especially the OpenStack community listens, is that true innovation can be best done on a foundation. In OpenStack, it’s a number of communities that are loosely affiliated delivering great progress, but there is interoperability, and it’s not with intent, but it’s just people are moving fast. If some foundation elements can be built, that's great for them because then we, as vendors, can more easily support the solutions that these communities are bringing to us, and then we can deliver to our customers.
In hybrid cloud environments, what UNIX brings to customers is security, reliability, and flexibility.

Cloud computing is the Wild West. We have Azure, OpenStack, AWS, and could benefit from some consistency. Now I know that each of our companies will go to great lengths to make sure that our customers don't see that inconsistency. So we bear the burden for that, but what if we could spend more time helping the communities be more successful rather than, as I mentioned before, reinventing the wheel? There is a real opportunity to have that synergy.

Kyle: In hybrid cloud environments, what UNIX brings to customers is security, reliability, and flexibility. So the Wild West comment is very true, but UNIX can present that secure, reliable foundation to a hybrid cloud environment for customers.

Gardner: Let’s look at this not just through the lens of technology but some of the more intangible human cultural issues like trust. It seems to me that, at the end of the day, what would make something successful as long as UNIX has been successful is if enough people from different ecosystems, from different vantage points, have enough trust in that process, in that technology. And through the mutual interdependency of the people in that ecosystem they keep it moving forward. So let’s look at this from the issue of trust and why we think that that's going to enable a long history for UNIX to continue.

Josey: We like to think The Open Group is a trusted party for building standards and that we hold the specification in trust for the industry and do the best thing for it. We're fully committed always to continue working in that area. We're basically the secretariat, and so we're enabling our customers to save a lot of cost. We're able to divide up the cost. If The Open Group does something once, that’s much cheaper than everybody doing the same thing themselves.

Gardner: Darrin, do you agree with my premise that trust has been an important ingredient that has allowed UNIX to be so successful? How do we keep that going?

One word: Open

Johnson: The foundation of UNIX, even going back to the original development, but certainly since standards came about is the one word “open.” You can have an open dialogue to which anybody is invited. In the case of the Austin Group, it’s everybody. In the case of any of the efforts around UNIX, it’s an open process, it’s open involvement, and in the case of The Open Group, which is kind of another open, it’s vendor-neutral. Their goal is to find a vendor-neutral solution.

Also look at this way. We have IBM, HPE, and Oracle sitting here, and I’ll say virtually Linux. Other communities that are participating are coming to mutual agreements, and this is what we believe is best.

And you know what, it’s open to disagreement. We disagree all the time, but in the end what we deliver and execute is of mutual agreement, so it’s open, it’s deterministic, and we all agree on it.
We disagree all the time, but in the end what we deliver and execute is of mutual agreement, so it’s open, it’s deterministic, and we all agree on it.

If I were a customer, IT professional, or even a developer, I'd be going, "This foundation is something on which I want to innovate, because I can trust that it will be consistent." The Open Group is not going to go away any time soon, celebrating 20 years of supporting the standard. There's going to be another 20 years.

And the great thing is that there is lot of opportunity to innovate in computer science in general, but the standard is building that foundation, taking advantage of topics like security, virtualization, mobility, and the list goes on. We even have opportunity to in a open way build something that people can trust.

Gardner: Tom, openness and trust, a good model for the next 20 years?

Mathews: It is a good model. Darrin touched on it. If we need proof of it, we have 20 years in proof of it. The Open Group has brought together major competitors and, as Darrin said, it’s always been very open, and people have always -- even with disagreement -- come to a common consensus around stuff. So The Open Group has been very effective establishing that kind of environment, that kind of trust.

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