Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Internal Cloud – Another SOA in the making?

In the CIO blog article titled Economic Recession: Good or Bad for Cloud Computing?, Bernard Golden points to a few important questions on how fruitful will be an exercise to build an internal(private) cloud. I think he has some good points here that anybody attempting to build such environments should consider before jumping into the conclusion that it will improve the efficiency of their enterprise I.T environments without having to compromise on security and ownership issues.

The most important pitfall he points out is that the exercise needs investment, to build a ‘cloud’ layer over the existing (mostly legacy) systems, nobody is going to invest in such a thing. The second point he is raising is that whether there are ‘unused equipments’ lying in your data centers that can be used for building the cloud? Most of the time the answer will be ‘NO’ in my opinion too, simply because application owners are always short of systems, unless of course they have plenty of ‘center of excellence’s within the company who most of the time are ‘center of expenses’.

Also, we have the ‘almost failed’ example of SOA that it’s not easy to shift the I.T structure that is built over the years by multiple teams with multiple needs and priorities into a new umbrella, no matter how much future benefits you can show there, nobody is going to invest there, though all of us like the word ‘innovation’ more than earlier these days. No matter what skills you have in your enterprise I.T, you simply cannot build something that matches the external cloud providers in terms of capabilities and robustness, so you might as well leverage them than competing.

Having supported these arguments, I must say that I’m no a naysayer for internal clouds; my take is that, you sure need it, but don’t attempt building each and every layer of cloud computing within physically. Leverage the existing capabilities of external clouds such as processing power, networks, fault tolerance, dynamic provisioning and even storage for not so critical data backups etc, and build/host your business systems and services over it and form some sort of virtual internal cloud. As a first step, start using existing external clouds for computing needs where you don’t have to worry too much about data security. (Some of my thoughts on this model here).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Business services – an essential cloud capability

People who talk about cloud computing often divide the environment as a three layered structure - an infrastructure layer, an operating platform layer and an application layer. But in my opinion, this is not the cloud layers I would subscribe to in future, I would say the most important of them is going to be a – a services layer, comprising business services that aggregates capabilities from all the three underlying layers. This is what should be utilized by enterprise users, to take full advantage of the platform. Services and even process automation systems should be part of clouds.

Now you might ask isn’t it a little too much to imaging that companies will leverage externally defined and hosted business processes? I say they should, as long as they are definable, configurable, automate-able, service aggregations to make full use of cloud environments. Now I’m no technology expert on cloud computing to advice on how it can be achieved etc, all I would say is this is how I envisage a true shared services model to work. I would also say that utilizing the same infrastructure, same applications and storage doesn’t mean the services should give exactly the same output to every customer as well, they should be agile too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

IPL Highlithighs

Any large landscape where everyone is part of some or other – religious/linguistic/original/gender-al/habitual/regional/occupational/ cultural – minority or majority is a mine of subjects for a news analyst; in terms of abundance as well as explosiveness, something can get her/him into losing a vital organ or two too, no matter how many pages of the constitution are set aside for guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression. So an analyst has to be very careful not to hurt any types of sentiments of any of the above mentioned swarms while at work. That’s why in this space I always act as Courage the cowardly dog and restrict myself to things that generally doesn’t emotionally itch any beefy mafia - that is, things such as recession, common men and women, dogs, cats, cockroaches, research findings, cricket and things like that.

Today, I was forced to write a non-weekender column on The change of IPL venue from India because of the sheer weight of the subject(as well as it’s sponsors') plus its socio-economic/political implications. Though I’m neither a cricket fan nor a an exhaust fan in any political restrooms, I decided to comment on the subject because we analysts(of any size and shape) think anything that is pomp, bollywoody etc is more important than your that mean grocery bill and jolty job. United we stand in supporting the IPL stakeholders decision to move it all - including it’s flesh and boolood cheer leading – elsewhere. I must remind you all naysayers that cricket is a colonial game after all, we believe in exploiting the raw materials available here, building products elsewhere and selling it back here and earning huge profits.

I as a person believing in Export Led Industrialization bet Indians abroad would be ready to pay ten times more than that of an average local(country) Indian for a cricket ticket and the countries anyway can be satisfied by showing them the ‘high-li-thighs’ through the omnipresent idiot box - in typical bollywood style. So my advice to all cricket fans is, don’t get disappointed, de-motivated, emotional, commotional or subside for any other types of motions that originates in your body, keep watching the match highlithighs, it’s the economy we are talking about you foo ladies and gentlemen!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Building Enterprise Services Network

In a recent blog post titled “SOA without service-enabled applications?”, Joe McKendrick points to a big misconception in the I.T circles about achieving an enterprise-wide service oriented environment - that every providing system has to be ‘service enabled’ to achieve SOA. He is right, services that are built from the functions of the underlying applications need not be part of the applications themselves, in fact in many cases it should not be too, in my opinion.

Everybody (including those saying SOA is a dead cow; no more milk-able that is) accepts the importance of building a ‘business services network’ in enterprise I.T these days, and such a layer can be built as an isolated layer above the business applications, though I wouldn’t say we would need a ‘ commercial SOA stack’ to achieve the same. Taking this approach has many advantages, including composing coarse grained business services from multiple underlying system functions as well as achieving better loose coupling levels.

Another advantage that I see is that, as enterprise environments are consuming more and more externally hosted services(yes, I mean the SaaS, Cloud stuff), the business services layer will help provisioning these services to the enterprise consumers easily because all we have to do is to connect it through the business services layer. This kind of an approach I would say make one of the key enterprise I.T concerns today - how to replace internal systems with Cloud/SaaS services - addressed better as well because now there is a clear abstraction between the consuming systems and the providers, the consumers just have to point to the same end-point in the business services layer no matter whether that service is provided by an internal system or an external one.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Confusio Linguarum – Hyperspeech protocols

…And the news continues…so is this self-syndicated column that looks into the various socio-economic aspects of news that breaks into our drawing rooms every day via the various modern day communication channels like TV, internet, SMS etc as well as through the more traditional channels such as newspapers, bais, auntijis etc. Starting this week, I’ve decided to give a permanent name to my column - ‘Confusio Linguarum’ (roughly translates to Verbal Gastroenteritis in medical terms). Here is an analysis of few important(according to me) events that happened last week which could potentially change your life forever; even if you are not married.

The biggest news for me last week was that IBM’s research scientists in India have developed something called HSTP - stands for Hyperspeech Transfer Protocol and not High Speed Traffic Problems as you thought wrongly. For me the term ‘Hyperspeech’ sounded very interesting, especially because my online dictionary says ‘hyper’ means “behaving in an overexcited or hyperactive way”, ”easily excited, or having a high-strung temperament” etc. I thought it has something to do with the upcoming Parliament elections and started digging more into it – to see whether there are going to be protocols put in place that stops our politicians from spreading the medical condition mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, it’s not about that, an IBM paper defines “Hyperspeech” as “a voice fragment in a voice application that is a hyperlink to a voice fragment in another voice application.”. Now whatever that means, I think it has far reaching consequences, especially because you and I don’t understand it at the moment, exactly the same situation we were in when we first heard - Hypertext Transfer Protocol, Kyoto protocol etc.

The second biggest news of course is the security concern that looms over IPL like Billy Bowden’s crooked finger. But I’ll skip that since it’s an issue of national security(that bollywood-barbies are controlling cricket these days) and move on to another important news that came out last week - an insurance company’s research shows that “Mothers work 40 percent harder than fathers”. Now that is news with far reaching consequences. At last one company is accepting watching TV, reading newspaper etc are essential domestic duties. That 40 percent sure will be a huge morale booster for existing fathers to perform more on those lines and aspirants to become one as well.

Last but not the least - news on the impact of recession on various industries. I would say this sure needs attention of more expert syndicated columnists who can recommend how to save the affected industry, a not so knowledgeable ones like myself can only recommend a government bailout plan because I know such measures sure won’t help. Another important news item for the week was that we now have somebody officially titled “Mrs. India”. Congratulations to the winner. My only request to the organizers of this show is that, though we all understand what you actually meant by that title, I recommend you change it to…say something like “Married Indian woman of the year” etc so that it sounds a little less offensive?

Open source and utility computing

Though I’m not a big fan of having open source software in enterprise environments, I follow the movements because of my personal interests (ultimately we are all ‘freedom’ guys, aren’t we) in the area. I was wondering whats the future of open source computing, in the wake of the upcoming utility computing models. Especially because till now most of the open source success stories are in the personal/experimental/collaborative computing space, with that landscape changing, I wonder what will be the next generation of open source look like.

There sure are a lot of indicators currently itself how ‘openness’ will be in the future environments, in terms of need for interoperability standards, open APIs, open platforms to build custom applications on top (Google Maps) etc.

Tim O’Reilly has this great article on the future of open source movements in the wake of increased attention on cloud computing these days.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Domesticating Cloud for enterprise use

For the past couple of years, I’ve been pursuing trends in enterprise computing firstly because it’s my bread, butter and cheese(cheesy stuff..hmm..). Secondly because it’s a trait of primates of all types to follow things that excite them. Frank(synatra)ly speaking, that’s the reason why I started pursuing the cloud computing bandwagon, even before it wasn’t this cloudy and we were calling it utility computing, ASP, SaaS etc. Now that we are all blind men and women trying to understand this mammoth, I was wondering what could be the best fit jobs that we can assign to it so that we can be familiar with the beast, and once it become a more domesticated, predictable, mature and usable one we can confidently ride on it.

Here are few things I feel we(enterprise I.T) can do even today with existing clouds

  1. As I mentioned in another post here, testing sure is an area that we can look into, since no production data goes in there.

  2. Outward facing shared I.T services – Say B2B connectivity environments etc. One reason they are anyway externally facing, and a cloud hosted system can act as the gateway, plus give you all the benefits of cloud.

  3. High computing power required internal systems such as

    • Systems with occasional very high payload, such as reconciliation systems, payroll calculators etc can hire on-demand processing power of cloud rather than investing in ten servers for a ten minute job in ten months?

    • Desktop applications like word processors etc – Now here there could be issues of data confidentiality etc, but if being found secure enough, these mass consumed applications can be moved to cloud.

    • E-mail systems – we have some of the most successful e-mail systems in the world on cloud already, I think corporate e-mails can also move there, security sure is a concern, but e-mails are pretty much secure these days, aren’t they?

  4. Data archival – Store all your 19th century operational data in cloud data stores.

  5. Communication, collaboration apps - if e-mails can, then why not all your other white/black boarding etc moved there as well? Why not even your online meeting stuff?

I'm bored..what else?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Innovation & Indian software outsourcing industry

Is it a good thing when everyone else also agrees with you on something? I would say no, especially if everybody agrees, have a drink and depart. I think that’s what happens when comes to talking about the need of innovation in Indian I.T industry these days. Other than low cost services, what have we done in providing better software applications to customers? Agree there are areas where we excelled in the past few years like semi-conductors, hardware devices etc, but when comes to innovations in business software applications and enterprise systems, we are kind of comfortable being disciples and clap around than being gurus.

Good thing is people are realizing it, bad thing is many(including this blagger of course) don’t know how exactly to transform from being outsources to true innovators as these two are not butterfly life cycle stages - to change naturally from one to another. What required here I would say is to consider software engineering as an engineering domain and encourage people to ideate and construct solutions and products rather than moving only in the path of resourcing.

A key area to be addressed is collaboration. Most of the time engineers in Indian outsourcing firms work at multiple client locations, on multiple domains and technology areas and the parent companies fail to effectively tap into the acquired knowledge which can help them build and offer better solutions to the customers. Foster internal technical groups, knowledge repositories etc is one way to ensemble and enrich this scattered knowledge-base. However, if the middle-level leadership doesn’t have a charter in place to do all these, and are forced to focus only on resourcing, then the journey will not be smooth, no matter what the CxOs try and how much ever skilled the engineering workforce is.

I would say our outsourcing companies are in a much better position than even product vendors to understand the pulse of customers with the kind of reach they have not only into the customers I.T departments but also into other key business units as well. Especially with the kind of economic turmoil we are in currently, customers I’m sure are in need of better, cost effective and efficient solutions more than earlier. And with technologies such as the utility computing models, web2, advanced mobile technology etc, I think the opportunities are immense, to come up with innovative ideas and solution offerings - only if we have the right vision, leadership, plan and risk-taking, experimenting mindset. The raw material – brainware – is in no short supply I think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vice versa of Business-IT alignment

When people talk about the business-I.T alignment issue(Is there an issue here first of all?), I always notice most of the time they point out the need for I.T to ‘respond’ to business needs or rather I.T not being able to keep pace with business’ changing needs. Agree; if there is such a problem, we got to address that. But I was wondering what about aligning business to I.T? Isn’t that important too? Even after I.T becoming an integral part of business, not many have adopted I.T as a mainstream business ‘enabler’ (I’m no MBA, not sure what is the correct word here) I think.

For example, the web 2.0 stuff(I hate to address it that way though), SaaS & cloud computing etc are still finding it difficult to get business adoption. I think this is also an ‘alignment’ issue. Now the question is why? Is it because business is not knowing how to keep up with the rapid changes happening in I.T? Or is it because I.T is not able to show business ‘the money’ or rather not being able to educate business on these changes? Or these technologies are not mature enough for business to adopt them? Or is it all of the above and something else?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cloud, virtualization and wine tasting

The other day a colleague asked me a question – “What is the difference between virtualization and cloud computing”. Though I almost started with ‘old wine...’, suddenly realized alcohol of any kind is prohibited in the office, changed it this way – “Virtualization is a about utilizing computing resources in the most optimized manner by employing techniques that can run multiple separate operating environments in the same hardware which helps in realizing cloud computing, a paradigm with a much larger scope of having computing functions provisioned from an externally hosted, on-demand environment that charges on a pay-as-you-go basis and helps business to leverage best of the breed software applications and tools at much lesser cost by not having to invest in purchasing, hosting and maintaining these software applications in-house” … and with that I fell flat. For those who wonder what the title means, that's a cheap technique bloggers employ to drive attention, nothing else.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Confusio Linguarum

I think innovation is the mantra of the hour for newsmakers all over the world. They just keep coming(I mean the innovations in news making), no matter whether the rest of the world is inside a recession or a black hole or both. That’s why I thought a news analyst is also a dog whose time has come and entered that arena with this blog(For animal lovers, no dog was hurt during the cook-up of that statement). So here I am, back again to analyze the breaking news that happened in our country, outside of all sorts of idiot boxes I mean, one blog and one human cannot summarize breaking news in Indian television we all know.

The news with the farthest reaching consequence last week that I heard was this – “Second wife also has right to maintenance: Peoples' court”. Now if I say anything against the said ruling, I sure will go to jail, plus the Association of Second-Spouses(They can never abbreviate it btw, again thanks to animal rights activists) all around the world will further make life miserable for my only wife and child I’m sure. Moreover, there is no need for me to oppose it, as it’s a very good decision the court has taken. Also, anything that has to be ‘maintained’ has to be done so is my experience too, not with second wives as you thought wrongly, but with numerous other things such as cars, computers, electric heaters, bicycles and stuff like that.

Another thing that has consequences beyond the week that I heard last week was that – “196 Indian languages may die out soon”. While you sit there and wonder whether we are living in a place with that many languages, my thoughts are on how to avoid such a catastrophe. Because the moment we say something is disappearing from the face of this earth, the environmentalist in me wakes up and urges me to do something which mostly will be to utter ‘ooh, aah, ouch’ as in an old balm ad(commercial). But since people with no language to communicate with the rest of the world has to be avoided at any cost, I’ll go a step ahead and suggest here the only way I know how languages can be protected from extinction - declare them all ‘classical’. On a second thought, maybe we are getting out of the ancient curse of confusio linguarum, who knows?

Since I’m a self-disciplined person when comes to things like news analysis, I’ll wind up before you lose patience, with one more news item that has driven my attention last week – “Tantrik arrested in Noida for cheating journalist”. The said tantrick promised his customers “Better prospects in life and guaranteed them lifetime solutions for all problems in life”. Now if this was the promise and the man failed to deliver the same, I totally agree with the said journalist in going to court against him, consumer rights has to be protected at any cost too, like in the case of endangered languages. What makes me happy more here is that in a single week, two of our women have come out to expose men who took them for a ride, that’s what I call true empowerment! We sure are on the way to prosperity, no matter what sadistic-naysayer mo*ons out there write in their malicious social networking sites.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lotus Domino

No matter what the rest of the world think(or not think), I still consider Lotus Domino as the best documents and workflow based applications development platform, even after I haven't got a chance to work on it for 3 years now. Another thing I learned from working with domino is that no matter how much ever naysayers try, some good things always survive in this world.

Recently I happened to hear something that any programmer would love to hear from his customers – that a domino application we deployed for managing few of their HR workflows is running for more than 3 years without breaking down even once during production hours, that too even after the number of users doubled. The biggest incentive (non-monetary I mean) for doing something I think is when your customers talk passionately about what you did for them…

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum

Today (Am I always late?) I came across the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum group, working towards addressing one of the (or 'the'?) most important challenges in this technology domain - Interoperability. I will have to dig deep into the resources they have to comment on anything further, but this sure is addressing something very critical for the success of the cloud paradigm, I'll keep an eye on this forum for sure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First step of cloud adoption – don’t move there

From what I read or hear from people who are in this business of talking to CTOs, CIOs etc(which unfortunately I don’t get to do) I think one of the worry that people have about cloud computing is that they lose ownership of their data, applications etc. Then my question is why don’t they use them for things that don’t need storing their data in clouds? One such case is testing – especially things like performance, load testing of applications.

The other day I was talking to somebody who badly needed to do performance testing for a web application. He could easily hire servers from Amazon for couple of hours and do it and could go back to his customer with the confidence that the application is ready to go live. He runs a small company, and I’m sure if it was not for the cloud environments, there was no way he could do that. So rather than sitting and worrying about how/ why/when etc about ‘moving’ the I.T environment to clouds, start using them for non-production work is what I say.

Then once your enterprise I.T become familiar, comfortable etc start thinking about the move part.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Things you can do while riding on hot air balloons

I prefer reading news on Sundays. Mainly because I’m not interested in knowing ‘developing’ news, I like it fully ‘developed’. Now, you might be wondering what do I mean by a ‘fully developed news’. It’s a point where the media hype on that news reaches its culmination and starts declining – typically with a media discussion on the role of media in messing things up. Also mostly on Sundays there won't be much breaking news happening, when politicians, terrorists, law enforcement, mother nature, entertainers and anybody else with a potential of breaking a news or two take rest. So this column is a weekly analysis of news that I never wanted to come across, but did so because they happened.

Last week, the news that mattered the most (for me at least) came from the U.S National academy of sciences – “Female rats learn trace memories better than male rats and consequently retain a greater proportion of new neurons in their hippocampi”. Now I would love to write a full page analysis supporting this new revolutionary finding, but unable to do so currently because of two reasons – one –What’s ‘news’ here? Secondly I’m busy searching where exactly is this hippocampi and how can we reach there. May be once I find that out, we will have no such thing as ‘domestic violence’ in future.

Another news item last week was that “Obama wants to watch Slumdog Millionaire”. I suspect whether it has something to do with the ‘millionaire’ word than the Oscars, especially because I hear that he is after them these days. In a related but separate incident, a child star from the said movie was slapped and kicked by his father – for “refusing an interview”. I wish our political class too get such caring fathers. Also, it will be a good learning for Mr.Obama as well, to deal with his millionaire businessmen who messed up the economy and made our lives more miserable.

The next important event that happened last week with potential far reaching consequences is “Lucknow couple tie the knot in hot air balloon” – Now we all have the same level of sense of humour, but hope you haven’t overlooked the symbolism here - of starting a marital relationship hanging from a hot air balloon. What else can be more romantic?

Here is another one(And again from Lucknow, pure coincidence) before I wind up, one more windy than the above ones. “Class 10 Student Shoots at Teacher”. Now I’m not venturing into the socio-psychological(is there such a thing?) aspects of this heinous attack, but after reading a bit more about this, I’ve two things to point out so that such things won’t repeat in this country – One that the authorities consider ‘having male offspring’ as a major minus point for those applying for gun licenses. Secondly, think twice before naming your school. I agree it’s a lucrative business, but certain things still has to be conducted within the boundary of social ethics.