Mergers and acquisitions – Don’t be like Salesforce

The success of a merger or acquisition depends quite a bit on the integration of the IT systems of both companies.

In a recent article published by Data Center Dynamics, I offer some perspective on four major acquisitions from 2020:

— Actifio by Google

— Slack by Salesforce

–Kustomer by Facebook

–Wondery by Amazon

Of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Salesforce, only Salesforce does not run on modern, commodity server infrastructure – meaning both hardware and software. This means the integration of their traditional CRM application with Slack’s stack will be much less straightforward.

This by itself doesn’t make or break an acquisition, but because Salesforce has its eye on competing with Microsoft among others offering integrated capabilities, it’s definitely going to present a challenge.

If you are considering an acquisition, or just looking to improve your chances of integrating with another IT environment, it will really help to build a foundation of abstract APIs and – if you can – migrate to cloud native infrastructure.

APIs and Alan Moore Characters

It was originally intended to be a straightforward conversation about APIs, but thanks to Ian Murphy of Enterprise Times several Alan Moore characters managed to enter the discussion. Magic is certainly something we can all use in organizing our APIs and automating our processes.

Failing that, it’s important to cut ties with the past and implement best practices for an API first design approach, to ensure the APIs provide the service the consumer needs and wants. Just wrapping existing code with an API is unlikely to cut it, although this is a tempting shortcut. Generally in this area however, you get what you pay for.

It’s also a lot better to take security into account from the start, rather than having to redo things and remediate potential vulnerabilities just as you are about to deploy to production.

And it’s very intersting that we are basing our APIs on REST now – understandable, of course, but interesting that the best practices for HTTP (which embodies RESTful principles) evolved from a completely different stream of technology development than WSDL-based Web services and traditional middleware.

As unexpected as it might seem, if you think about it, Alan Moore’s dr & Quinch characters are a good fit for the kind of chaos monkey style of resiliency testing helpful to improve the stability of APIs.

And – thanks for this one Ian – who initially thought of Mina Murray as the best one to impress upon independent minded developers the need to follow a common purpose, just as she did for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’m just as sure she would be capable as I am that some API dev teams would benefit from such leadership. This is a constant challenge with dev teams, of course. Just not sure everyone really needs a vampire to lend a hand.

Anyway , it was great fun to approach the topic this way, and I hope Ian won’t mind if I mention that he told me he has actually seen one of Alan’s spoken word performances. I’m sure that was really cool, and potentially disturbing.

Now, I only wish old Moore titles would increase in value the way DC and Marvel title recently have, since he is by far the best writer in the field today. Maybe this has something to do with movies…

It’s not just about the pizza

Before I begin this, let me note I’ve broken another rule of blogging, which is that I promised to write a new entry soon… Anyway here is a new entry. I will not say anything about the next one 😉

In the world of microservices, the term “two pizza team” has a specific meaning – i.e. the right size of a dev team is one you can feed with two pizzas. The group structure and responsibilities of development teams is, if anything, more important than the technology they use.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the influence of commodity server infrastructure on system software and application design, in particular how microservices evolved as the best way to design applications for deployment on modern IT infrastructure.

But the common misconceptions about microservices go beyond that. It’s not just about new technology and techniques. It’s also about changing the development culture. And of course the pizza that fuels it.

I couldn’t find Jeff Bezos’s original post anywhere, but I found this post that contains it, and describes a lot of the things the Amazon developers had to learn to implement SOA successfully. Of course Bezos’s 2002 memo is famous for mandating SOA or API-first development for the Amazon Web site, a course they have successfully followed in building a platform and creating a website that can be updated literally hundreds of times a day.

In Jeff Bezos’s world, the two-pizza team is a key principle of productivity. For the SOA and API first approach the two-pizza concept constrains the size of a development team. Larger teams are less productive. Marry this with the SOA and API first directive, and you end up with a lot of small teams building individual components of the application and deploying code without disturbing other teams, since everyone is adhering to the SOA principles of strongly governed interfaces (you don’t deploy incompatible changes to the interface, basically, without getting agreement from other teams dependent on those interfaces).

From talking with Amazon developers, I understand the dev teams take complete responsibility for the function (or functions) they deliver to the Website in the form of microservices. Including support – the dev team wears beepers in case a production problem occurs.

Part of this is because of the way the commodity computing works. It’s the “pets vs cattle” analogy, among other things. When you are dealing with servers as “cattle” you have to automate the system administration function. It’s simply not possible to manually administer hundreds of thousands of PC based computers. AWS has posted a good definition of DevOps as the merger of the dev and ops functions. This represents a significant culture change for traditional “scale up” IT environments, since there is no longer a separate Ops team and Dev has to provision all the infrastructure (data stores, messaging, networks, etc.) using APIs.

Even MORE APIs you say! Yes. So let’s conclude by revisiting a key part of this discussion – API governance. Why haven’t more companies followed Amazon’s lead? They have proven the API first SOA design approach to be very successful, if not essential in modern computing and digitization.

Mark Settle in Forbes argues it’s because of the governance, or lack thereof. Yes, it’s incredibly hard to change the development culture to two-pizza teams developing microservices with strongly managed interfaces. You need someone like Jeff Bezos to mandate it. Or at least have the organizational will to change the development culture.

The Amazon Web site Death Star from 2008! Showing the microservices landscape, essentially.

And back again

One of the first rules of blogging, which I have just broken, is to keep it fresh and blog often.

Right after I started again, we went on vacation for a week to Aruba. I told myself I could always update the blog from there, but somehow other things to do outdoors seemed to keep coming up ;-).

It was nice to get away, despite the additional pandemic related precautions and tests. Already we wish we were back there – the weather in NY has turned cold the past couple of days.

In another way it’s nice to be here this time of year to see all the decorations up and shining through the early night.

I hope you are all doing well, and staying safe during these crazy times. I will be back again soon with another update. I promise.

What everyone gets wrong about microservices

Martin Fowler has collected a lot of good information about microservices, but does not understand their origin as the “right size” unit of work for commodity data center infrastructure. This is apparent from his advice to start with a monolith and decompose it, as if the target deployment environment had no bearing on design.

I suppose that’s the way he and many others would naturally approach it, given the frame of reference is the traditional 3-tier application server model and the abstraction of Java from the hardware and operating system it runs on. This leads him and others to view of microservices as an evolution of development practices to facilitate rapid change, rather than a fundamental shift to design for appropriately sized units of work.

I give Martin a lot of credit for identifying and defining development best practices, including helping establish the agile method. But microservices did not originate as a development best practice in the 3-tier app server environment. Nor did it become popular because people were deconstructing monoliths. Microservices are a creature of the infrastructure they were designed for – the commodity data center.

I don’t think Martin and others viewing microservices as a development trend takes into account the strong relationship of the deployment infrastructure to the origin of the microservices design pattern. I give Martin a lot of credit for including Stephan Tiklov’s clear rebuttal to the monolith-first silliness though.

Google invented the commodity data center infrastructure about 20 years ago, and this has become the de facto infrastructure for IT since then. It is the most cost effective IT infrastructure ever built. Pretty much all Web companies use it, and most pre-Web companies are planning to adopt it. Their original servers are in the computer history museum for this reason (photos below).

Commodity data center infrastructure offers a compelling range of benefits in addition to cost-effectiveness, such as auto-scale, large data set capacity, and automatic resiliency, among others. In order to achieve those benefits, though, software has to be engineered specifically to run in this environment, which is basically where microservices come from. Some core design assumptions allow a very high tolerance for hardware and software failures, but these assumptions are very different from the assumptions on which the traditional IT infrastructure is based, and applications have to be broken into smaller units of work suitable for deployment on PCs and connected via network into larger units of work.

I can understand a view of development best practices unconnected to deployment infrastructure considerations – after all, the traditional IT industry has been on a path for years to “write once, run anywhere” and it’s easy to assume that language and operating system abstractions will take care of harware infrastructure mapping considerations.

But in the case of microservices, it is a big miss to ignore the target deployment infrastructure as the origin of the design pattern, since both the hardware and the software on which they are intended to run has such different characteristics.

Welcome back!

I’m very happy and excited to be joining WSO2. The company has great leadership, great technology, an enthusiastic collaborative culture, and tremendous potential.

After working in the financial industry for about 10 years, I’m also welcoming myself back to blogging. I first started in 2004, when I was CTO at IONA Technologies, and more or less stopped when I took the role of Chief Architect, Investment Banking at Credit Suisse. Blogging was not really part of the banking culture, at least not in 2009.

This month I started my new role as CTO at WSO2, and am going to get back to blogging again. I see from the stats I should have started a few days ago, before the public announcement of my new role. The site should have been updated in advance. Well, call it a slow restart I guess….

I will be back soon with some thoughts about the industry, some observations about where we seem to be going, and of course how I see WSO2 in that context.

On the occasion of Wm S. B’s 100th birthday

Below is the brief interview with William S. Burroughs I published in the May-June 1981 issue of Newcomers magazine.


I got him to agree to do it by giving him a photocopy of an Orgone Energy Bulletin (published by William Reich, whose work I discovered reading The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs).

The issue I gave him had an article about the Orgone Motor, which sounded a lot like a radiometer since it supposedly worked off of free atmospheric energy (“orgone” energy, or biological energy – the centerpiece of Reich’s later work).

The Orgone Energy Bulletin was a hard thing to get in those days, although now of course it’s all online.

I had obtained my photocopies through interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress by requesting them from the Antioch College Library (where I went to college and organized an independent study on Reich).

Anyway, I went up to Burroughs after his reading (he was in Chicago promoting “Cities of the Red Night“) and knowing of his interest in Orgone energy gave him one of the photocopies in return for a promise to respond to a brief set of interview questions for my magazine.

Unfortunately, the Orgone Energy Bulletin did not disclose the critical “factor Y” that made the Orgone motor actually work (and give free energy to the world). We were supposed to find out when Reich’s lab at Orono Maine was unsealed in 2007, 50 years after his death. But I don’t think we did.

I sent the questions off and the answers arrived a few days later, all typed on a single sheet of paper. Burroughs was living in Kansas City at the time. In the magazine I also reported on his book signing appearance at Barbara’s and his reading at Tuts, and reviewed Cities of the Red Night. I will post those articles another time.

The Interview

So here, in honor of William S. Burroughs’s 100th birthday, is the brief interview:

1. What do you say when someone asks you, “What is Cities of the Red Night about”?

It’s about a remake of history and a second chance. Sooner or later for every species time runs out. Mutate or die. This is not a religious or moral but a biologic imperative. The human species is not designed to remain in its present state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole.

2. What did you think about coming to Chicago on a publicity tour like a normal author?

I felt normal. All my reading tours have been publicity tours and I have given more than a hundred readings in the past six years. One thing authors have in common: they are in the business of writing and selling books.

3. What has been the reaction so far to Cities of the Red Night?

Critical reaction has been mixed, two good reviews to one bad. Word of mouth has been unanimously enthusiastic and positive.

4. Why is there no mention of the word love in Cities of the Red Night, though there is ample opportunity for it?

The word love has been so vulgarized and loaded with sentimental connotations that I prefer not to use it. In this book the characters are working for a common end which they take for granted. Many of them experience the mixture of liking and sexual attraction that is as close as I can come to a definition of love. It is not necessary to state the obvious.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr

I remember Martin Luther King Jr very clearly, although I do not remember meeting him, as I’m told I did. In the early ’60s my father worked at Brown University in the chaplain’s office. A protege of William Slone Coffin’s from Yale Divinity School, from which he received his Doctor of Divinity degree, my father was responsible in those days for inviting speakers to visit Brown. Many civil rights activists, MLK Jr and Malcolm X included, were among them.

Almost always after the events, speakers were invited to a reception at our house, or someone else’s house, close to the campus. I remember that time mostly as a time of a lot of people coming and going. I was 6 years old when MLK visited Brown University in November 1960. My father and MLK were the same age. 

The famous “I Have a Dream” speech occurred exactly on my 9th birthday – August 28, 1963. My father was in Washington DC to attend, along with a couple of bus loads he organized of residents of Middletown, CT and faculty from Wesleyan University, where he was by then chaplain. 
I watched the whole event, hoping to catch a glimpse of my father, and listening to all the speeches, hymns, and songs. I remember MLK Jr’s speech as an excellent one, but it was more or less expected in those days that he would give a great speech. He always seemed to. We (my mother and I) always watched his speeches, and very often my father was there. The “Dream” speech was considered as one of his best, to be sure, but at the time it did not have the stature it has today. 
I remember most clearly my father’s eulogy in Wesleyan Chapel after Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis five years later. He could barely get the words out between the tears. I was crying, too. The whole place was. 
When my father traveled to Mississippi and Alabama as a Freedom Rider in the mid 60s, marching from Selma to Montgomery, organizing food and clothing drives for Belzoni, we of course worried that he might not come back. My mother put a brave face on it for us but several Northerners had been murdered in cold blood in those days for trying to intervene in segregated society, including clergymen. The Middletown Press ran an article at the time that recounted my father’s squaring off with a Mississippi policeman trying to close down a march. A witness in the party was quoted as saying he came dangerously close to getting beaten with a nightstick and arrested, as so many were. But he continued to go, and we were proud of him, especially after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to end segregation. 
It is hard to believe how bad things were in the late 50s and early 60s for black people in the South. How many brave black and white people gave their lives, and were injured, which was always a threat in the air, for equality. Because of Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, there were many, many others, including my father, who did their part and took their chances. But he was indisputably the leader, not only in speeches but also in nonviolent action. 
I remember the big struggle to get MLK Jr day declared a national holiday. I still see the nasty, ignorant, and hateful comments on Facebook and other Web pages about him and the day. Back then, it was literally a matter of life and death, and of serious injury, jail time, and financial loss to stand up for equal rights. 
He should never have had to do what he did. Equal rights for black people should never have been an issue. But it was, and he fixed it, along with my father and thousands of other brave souls. Let’s celebrate them all today, and clearly remember what inspired us all to act in the name of justice for all. 

Vertical Epic tasting results, full set, Dec 28

Results from the Stone Vertical Epic tasting Dec. 28.

Overall Stone Brewing pulled it off. All the beers were drinkable. And most were exceptionally good. Each was a different style, which was by design. So it was not a true vertical in the sense of it being the same beer produced each year, and tasted as it aged, as might be the case with Orval for example. But it was something no other brewer has done, and you have to hand it to them.

We had a great time with the event, tasting from oldest to newest, and comparing one to another, using the homebrew recipes for detailed information about the brews. One of these days I need to try making one, probably the ’02. The first and best (at least in our scoring)…

On a scale of 1 to 5 mugs, completely subjective, in order from top to bottom (best to worst) here is the average of scores from Kirk Searle, Brian Kelly, Helen Grembowicz, and myself:

4.3    2002
4.2    2006
4.175  2005
4.175  2009
3.725  2003
3.55   2008
3.5    2007
3.375  2004
3.2    2012
2.3    2011
1.375  2010

We had print outs of the home brew recipes for each (excepting 2012, which hasn’t been published) and checked the list of ingredients for spices, hops, sugars, malt mixtures etc. The 2010 suffered most from being unusual I suppose, with Muscat grape juice and chamomile unexpectedly cloying.

Some other comments:

2002: Like honey mead
Doesn’t taste like a wheat beer (40% wheat)
Like angels dancing on my tongue

2003: More alcoholic than the 2002, more malt forward

2004: Starting to taste what I don’t like about Belgians

2005: Like Ommegang (dubble)

2006: This is more of a thirst quencher. Could drink a bottle of this [not sure of the earlier beers in other words]

2007: Peachy nose

2008: Getting towards tasting like the bottom of the stale vegetable crisper

2009: Like a porter

Little bit of a burnt nose

2010: [Muscat and chamomile detected by astute tasters]
This is everything I detest in a Belgian beer, all rolled into one

2012: Pretty good example of the Christmas spicy beer thing

I worked in Santa Clara from early 2000-mid 2002 and looking through the local beer selections discovered Stone’s Arrogant Bastard, which soon became a staple of the fridge and parties at the apartment complex where we lived (we being employees of IONA, where I worked at the time, sent out to assist the transition of the Netfish acquisition).

When I moved back to MA, I looked for Stone brews and found the 03-03-03 Vertical Epic. Following the instructions on the label I bought one of them to keep every year after that, waiting for the release of the 12-12-12.

Because I did not have an ’02, after a couple of years of indecision following the prices on eBay, I finally decided to go for it, and was lucky enough to get a good bottle. As it turned out, it was the star of the event. What a great event!

Homebrew recipes (see bottom of blog for complete list)

The 11 bottles and tasting glasses laid out on the kitchen table below Santa say it all.

The 11 bottles and tasting glasses laid out on the kitchen table below Santa say it all.

Letterman looks like he's grabbing for the remainder of the VE tasting glasses.

Letterman looks like he’s grabbing for the remainder of the VE tasting glasses as the evening comes to a happy close.

Kirk, Helen, and Nataly (who wasn't drinking)

Kirk, Helen, and Nataly (who wasn’t drinking)

Nataly, Jane (who  wasn't drinking beer), and Brian

Nataly, Jane (who wasn’t drinking beer), and Brian

Spectrum Road

Cindy Blackman killed it all night. On the two Cream tunes (Politician and Sunshine of Your Love) I did not miss Ginger Baker. Vernon Reid seemed a bit shy about the Eric Clapton parts. Not that he couldn’t play them. He can pay anything. But he seemed uncomfortable about it. Cyndy just kept on hammering the kit, as she did all night long. I think she’s my new favorite drummer. Great show!