Category Archives: Software Evolution

Oracle/BEA – Industry change highlights need for better software

Consolidation is a sign of change.

The proposed BEA/Oracle merger — which by the way seems inevitable — is a clear sign that the IT industry is in the middle of significant change.

In the beginning it was all about creating applications, putting in place the automated systems needed to run businesses more efficiently than the manual processes and procedures that predated them.

Now that this is done, or nearly so, it’s time to improve the effeciency of those existing applications – some of which have been in place for 30 or 40 years. It’s not about new applications, or databases, or application servers for that matter. It’s about finding a better approach — SOA for example — and about designing and building better enterprise software to help get the most out of what’s already there.

Every industry goes through a maturity cycle. With software we are right in the middle of a big inflection point. The original business model – the one that produced 80% margins after you covered your cost – is rapidly fading as open source comes to the forefront. The bigger companies are hit hard by this, and start to merge and consolidate to increase sales volumes and streamline production.

But that’s not enough. What many of these big guys miss is the fact that the software itself also needs to change – as the industry changes the product designs have to change to keep pace. Nobody needs more of those big stacks of enterprise software; no one needs more of those big server hubs. This is of course very hard for the big guys – they are stuck in the cycle of responding to their current customers’ requirements for improvements and enhancements to their existing products. They are caught in a classic “innovator’s dilemma.” And instead of innovating, or facing the pain of major change, they keep busy merging and consolidating.

It should be clear by now that customers have enough of the old expensive middleware. What they need now are lightweight, less expensive products that will help them extend applications into the modern world (e.g. RIA) at an appropriate price point. It should not cost as much to improve an application as it did to create it in the first place. A different approach to software is needed.

Following the initial automation push enterprises are left with stovepiped applications, heterogeneous environments, and outmoded approaches. In other words, we need tools and techniques to make what’s already there work better. And that is not what the Oracle/BEA merger is about.

We need software to unlock innovation and improve agility, not the same old product designs that were good 30 years ago just because someone’s stock price depends upon it. We need software suited to today’s challenges – a lightweight, configurable microkernal based approach to distributed SOA infrastructure. In both open source and commercial software flavors 😉

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Thinking about Jim Gray (again)

Yesterday I wrote “Thinking about Jim Gray” because I had been thinking about him on and off for most of the week. It looked like the search was over, and I wanted to say something.
Today I find myself unable to stop thinking about him. It’s partly because I’ve been working on updating the TP book, and that keeps him in my thoughts because of his relationship to the book, but it’s also because updating the book involves a lot of tedious work, and my mind tends to wander off.
So much is out there about him. I take breaks from the manuscript and search the news and the blogs. It’s unbelievable. Now the search is continuing through private efforts and searching photos on the Web.
I did go to the Amazon site, and I went through some of the photos. It seemed like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but I guess you never know what might help. Can you imagine if one of us finds him that way? It is already becoming a phenomenon.
A good place to find out what’s going on is the Tenacious search blog. It summarizes what everyone is doing — computer analysis, postering, analyzing cell phone records, shipping records, Web cams, reports from the family, etc.
You can also see some of the photos here in a different format from how they’re presented on Amazon.
Some folks suggest Jim might just have kept on sailing to Mexico or somewhere else across the Pacific…
If we knew what happened to him, that would be one thing. For example, I do not want to write in the past tense, not yet. Although the news isn’t good, there is still hope.
I guess what mainly strikes me is the huge amount of interest. Everyone who works with him says what a great guy he is, and it’s amazing how much he’s contributed to computer science. Everyone seems to feel about him the way I do — as a friend, but more — someone to really look up to.
As I work on the book I find myself thinking about him and the example he set.
Wherever you are, Jim, I hope you can sense some of what’s going on – and see how you have truly touched so many lives. So many of us thinking about you, and still hoping you are well.

This Year’s Java One Announcement?

Rumors are already starting about what Sun might be announcing at Java One this year — will they finally agree to open source Java?
Bill Roth is among those who think Sun will announce something about a “blended model” – i.e. an open source initiative at the core of their strategy, like what we’re doing with Artix and Celtix.
Darryl Taft, one of the industry’s best reporters, has already said he doesn’t care.
I have to admit I am not exactly holding my breath, either. Sun has been regularly and consistently challenged to make Java more relevant (e.g. to XML and Web services) and more open (i.e. release control of the JCP and/or open source Java) but so far what we have seen amount to half measures at best.
If you are attending, be sure to check out What’s Happening With SOA in Open Source? (TS-2002) which will include information about what we’re doing with ObjectWeb.
When the subject comes up I can’t help but remember how Java One once mattered enough to us that we hired Spinal Tap for our Java One Party. Maybe the best Java One party ever. Complete with pole dancing strippers (they did keep their lingerie on by the way). This was of course during the bubble, in 2000, when things like this could and often did happen in the software industry. Never again. Unfortunately 😉 (I mean I really liked Spinal Tap – Christoper Guest was hilarious…)
By the way Darryl is a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. Last night the Red Sox kicked their butts but we will see what happens tonight!

XML for RPG

I was surprised and amazed to see that RPG supports XML now, but perhaps I shouldn’t be.
At this point I will have to admit having used RPG more than 20 years ago but I believe it was RPG II (the article in the lastest issue of IBM Systems is about a new release of RPG IV). It was an interesting time because at the same time I was submitting RPG II and Mark IV (similar to RPG) programs to a remote mainframe to produce batch reports I was also programming a Sycor micro using TAL II (its assembly language) to capture and feed the data to the mainframe from cassette tapes… And no, the cassettes did not make what you would call musical noises when you put them in your home or car cassette player 😉
In those days we were not thinking about a language that would run across different hardware systems, and a hardware-neutral operating system was similarly not something that seemed to be in the cards. I learned RPG because that was how you got reports out of the mainframe, and I learned TAL II because that was how you programmed a Sycor to send data to the mainframe.
The news about RPG and XML seems like a significant milestone in the evolution of software. It is an indication of the growing adoption of XML and provides further evidence that existing programs don’t get replaced as much as they get extended, enhanced, or perhaps improved (if that isn’t too much of a leap in the characterization of what’s going on here).

Miracle on 34th Street

I was talking with someone about this yesterday. A real opportunity exists out there to become the Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. You know, the guy who recommends going to the competitor’s store to find the item on the child’s wishlist if Macy’s doesn’t have it?
Who is going to step up to that role for SOA? By definition an SOA is a style of design or architectural blueprint, not a technology. Therefore an SOA cannot be dependent upon any particular technology implementation, let alone a single vendor’s product.
Yet we still hear from SOA vendors statements like: “The first question to answer when thinking about an SOA is which vendor to select.” This is of course completely backwards. The first thing to think about is the design and only later about its implementation.
Furthermore, if I am a vendor working with customers on mapping technology to SOA designs, I almost certainly know that any single vendor cannot supply every bit of technology for every implementation requirement. Or that even if it can, the vendor does not always have the best product in its class, or the best fit for each and every requirement.
What we need isn’t more self-serving statements that customers have every right to distrust. What we need are honest assessments of vendor capabilities, and the ability to reference, without prejudice, the products of other vendors when they are a better fit than your own.
And I’d like this all in time for Christmas, please 😉

Legacy is just beautiful

Through the TechWatch news service comes this reference to a Computerworld article on the “beauty” of legacy systems.
Beauty as in the eye of the beholder, of course. Or as one of the founders of this company liked to say, “There are no ugly babies.”
It’s interesting in this article that the definition of legacy is pretty much something that works. In fact some people would say that “legacy” is a name any code earns immediately after it goes into production.
A few years ago we were discussing how to handle “legacy” systems in a standards meeting. The IBM representative said they preferred the word “heritage” (and even got a few people to go along with the idea that this is more polite somehow).
I thought why not take the next step? Call them “heirloom” systems…
But the serious point of the article highlights what is probably the most significant impact of Web services on the IT industry: the ability to recognize the value in existing systems and easily enable it for reuse. We are not talking about replacing COBOL with Java anymore; we are talking about adding a layer of XML to what’s already there and getting more out of existing investments, which is a very good thing.
We are not talking any more about replacing stuff that works just because a new technology came along. Legacy is definitely beautiful when it’s dressed up in XML and exposed using Web services.

Open Source ESB

It’s become clear the world needs an open source Enterprise Service Bus.
IONA is starting an open source ESB project together with the ObjectWeb consortium, best known for its Jonas application server.
The need for readily available SOA infrastructure is critical. An SOA approach solves the most pressing IT problems, and creates a foundation for agile and responsive business.
IT departments are constantly challenged to do more with less. With core ESB functionality available at commodity cost levels, this essential computing paradigm will more quickly achieve mass adoption and help address important industrial and economic issues.
We will be starting the project this summer, and intend to have the first product available by the end of the year.