IBM LinuxONE; what’s in a name?

So the new IBM LinuxONE has now been officially launched. And not to put too fine a point on it, the Lustratus opinion is that it is pretty much the best Linux server around. In fact, to really stiEmperor_300x230ck my neck out, the LinuxONE could become the premier Linux server of choice in the next 5 years. As long as IBM doesn’t trip over its own feet to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on what IBM’s got. The LinuxONE currently comes in two sizes, the full-scale enterprise Linux server (Emperor) and an entry level server (Rockhopper). Cunning use of penguins to stress the link to Linux ūüėČ . LinuxONE offers a range (if two is a range) of Linux servers with outstanding reliability, security and non-disruptive scalability coupled with probably the best data and transaction handling facilities in the world. Bold words, but there is proof (see later).

But the LinuxONE also offers the openness and productivity support expected in the Linux world. Customers can choose between Red Hat, SuSE and Ubuntu environments, a range of hypervisors such as KVM and PR/SM, familiar languages such as Python, Perl, Ruby, Rails and Node.js, various databases like Oracle, DB2, MongoDB, MariaDB. In addition, LinuxONE adopts open technologies extensively, including Openstack, Docker, Chef and Puppet.  Even the financiang for the LinuxONE is more aligned with Linux and Cloud expectations, with a usage-based fixed monthly charge or even a rental option being offered. The LinuxONE is even the basis of an IBM community cloud being rolled out now.

So how can anything go wrong? And anyway, how can I make those claims about reliability, security and so on? Well of course, the secret is that the IBM LinuxONE is based on the IBM mainframe, arguably the most proven server the world has ever known for reliability, availability, data and I/O handling, transaction processing and enterprise serving. To this base, IBM has been able to build on its extensive experience over the last few years of running Linux workloads and serving Linux needs with z/Linux, providing the ideal launchpad for delivering the ultimate Linux servers. Fortunately IBM has not tried to resist the march of open technologies, taking the opportunity to bring open, non-IBM and IBM offerings together with the aim of delivering the premier Linux server environment.

The ‘but’ is that IBM cannot manage to tear itself away from its pride in the mainframe. Rightly, IBM is very proud of its mainframe technology and its long history of success under the most demanding environments. Perfectly understandable. And so I suppose it is only natural that IBM would want to refer in all its marketing literature to the fact that the LinuxONE is an enterprise Linux mainframe, and to stress that it IS a mainframe, albeit with significant Linux and open technology support added. But from the outside, this makes no sense. let’s split the world up into three camps; mainframe fans, those who do not know about mainframes and the mainframe ‘haters’. Perhaps ‘haters’ is a bit strong, but there is absolutely no doubt that there are a significant number of companies across the world who for various reasons see ‘mainframe’ as almost a derogatory word; old-fashioned, expensive, etc.. So how will the three markets react to the LinuxONE? IBM mainframe fans don’t need to be told it is a mainframe; they know, and they will also usually have an IBM rep who will be pointing it out with great frequency! The uninitiated who know nothing of mainframes would not see any plus or minus from being told the LinuxONE is a mainframe; they will simply want to look at what the LinuxONE can do for them, what tools and environments it supports etc.. But the third category can only see the ‘mainframe’ word as negative.

I can almost hear some people pointing out that this is a silly argument. That anyone who starts to look at the LinuxONE and who knows anything will quickly work out it is essentially an IBM mainframe. But I would submit that is not the point. Reaction to the mainframe word is to put the third group off from taking a closer look. Once they do look, as long as the server has the tools and offers the capabilities they need, and they can carry it forwards in their company without overtly exposing the ‘mainframe’ word, the strength of the LinuxONE offering will carry it through.

So I make this plea to IBM. Please, please, remove ‘mainframe’ from all the literature. Replace it with ‘server’ or ‘Linux server’ or enterprise Linux server’ or whatever. LinuxONE should be associated with being the best, most reliable, most productive, most scalable, most effective and safest range of Linux servers in the world, not with being a Linux-enabled mainframe.

Software AG sitting pretty?

Software AG seems to be defying predictions and surprising the market at every turn.

Once seen as a sleepy European software house based largely around legacy system technologies, it has taken major strides to transform itself into a major global software industry player. Its acquisition of webMethods a few years ago surprised the market, with many analysts unconvinced that it could make a go of the move into integration / SOA middleware, but it has done a fair job of building some momentum by tying the webMethods portfolio up with its own CentraSite governance technology, providing service-oriented architecture (SOA) with integrated governance.

Then it once again shocked the market¬†by snatching IDS Scheer, the well-known supplier¬†of modelling tools, from under SAP’s nose. Given that the IDS Scheer technology is used by most of the major SOA suppliers across the world for modelling, and in particular is a key part of the SAP portfolio, this would appear to give Software AG lots of¬†cross-sell opportunities across the two customer bases and throughout the SAP world.

Now it has announced its 2Q09 results, and they make pretty good reading ont he surface. A 9% increase in product revenues is particularly noteworthy give that so many companies are struggling to show any year-on-year growth in product sales. However, before getting too carried away it is worth delving a little deeper into the numbers. The product revenue numbers include maintenance as well as license sales. Licensesales actually fell, as with most other companies. Maintenance revenues jumped by 20% Рdoes this mean that the company has built a much larger maintenance base, or is it actually a reflection of a more aggressive pricing policy? Then there is the split between the legacy business (ETS) and the SOA/BPM business(webMethods). License revenues in this segment were down 15% Рnot very encouraging since this is the strategic business unit. Also, it is noticeable that maintenance revenue in each segment increased by about 20%, suggesting that this rise does indeed reflect a price hike.

However, taking all this into consideration, Software AG is still looking to have moved forward substantially from a few years ago, and assuming the IDS Scheer acquisition goes through OK there should be lots of opportunities for the company. Of course, a cynic might point out that by adding IDS Scheer to the webMethods portfolio, the company has made itself a highly attractive acquisition target to someone Рperhaps SAP?!

Steve

Pragmatism is the theme for 2009

I have just returned from a couple of weeks around and about, culminating in presenting at the Integration Consortium’s Global Integration Summit (GIS), where I presented the Lustratus ‘BPM Sweet Spots’ paper.

One message seemed to come out loud and clear from the conference – pragmatism is the watchword for 2009.

There were two other analyst presentations apart from the Lustratus one, and I was surprised to see that both presenters pitched a message along the lines of ‘you will never succeed with SOA/Integration/BPM unless you get all the strategic planning and modelling for your enterprise done first’, combined with a suggestion that the presenter was just the resource to ask for help! This contrasted sharply with my own presentation of choosing tactical targets for BPM rather than going for a strategic, enterprise-wide, fully modelled approach.

I was wondering if I had read the mood wrong in the marketplace, but then the eight or so user case studies all proved to be tactical strikes for specific business benefits rather than the more extensive strategic approach more common a year or so ago. It was nice to be vindicated – it looks like 2009 really IS the year of pragmatism and short-term practical considerations.

Steve

Don’t get handcuffed by EA

I have to confess up front that I have never been desperately comfortable with Enterprise Architecture (EA) frameworks and disciplines, and therefore the opinions I am about to express should be taken in that light.

However, I do worry that EA may be handcuffing some companies to the point where potential benefits are strangled at birth.

I was recently reading an interesting article by¬†Nagesh Anipindi, entitled “Enterprise Architecture: Hope¬†or Hype?”, which discusses the lengthy presence of EA as an innovation and considers the reasons for its failure to move into the mainstream of acceptance.¬†As Nagesh writes,

For 2009, Greta has predicted that more than half the existing EA programs are at risk and will be discontinued in the near future. Remaining ones that survive this economy, per Greta, will struggle with framework and information management problems.

Nagesh goes on to postulate that the current pressures on IT budgets will result in a lot of EA efforts being abandoned, not because they are unworthy but because they fall below other more critical areas such as Operations and development of new business solutions. He then goes on to say that once the industry realizes the massive benefits that EA can deliver, he believes this situation will turn around and EA will become an essential part of every corporate IT organization.

I think Nagesh may have missed the point slightly, although I agree with a lot of what he says. Look at one of the many definitions of Enterprise Architecture, as Nagesh records it –

Gartner defines EA as: “Enterprise Architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key requirements, principles and models that describe the enterprise’s future state and enable its evolution.

This definition epitomizes the problem as far as I am concerned. The basic purpose of EA is there, but clouded with the sort of mumbo-jumbo that frightens off potential decision-makers. What is EA REALLY about? It is about¬†tying the IT architecture and implementation to the business vision and needs, both now and in the future. It is about making sure IT really serves the business. Does this¬†require communication? Of¬†course. Does it require principles and practices – yes. But the complex phrasing of this definition is typical of ‘EA Experts’. These people talk of EA Frameworks, of EA Models, and of rigid¬†procedures. From an intellectual point of view, this is all absolutely fine.¬†If you were writing a thesis on how to¬†architect an enterprise¬†IT system to match business needs and to be able to continue to do so, it might be perfectly¬†acceptable to introduce loads of models, a single tool-driven interface, definition language and frameworks.

However, this is the real world. The danger I see is that this over-enthusiastic approach can tie the hands of professionals and organizations so tightly that they cannot achieve anything. There is also the danger that when this approach is considered over time, it introduces a real skills problem, with the need to train new people on all these tools and methods which do not actually contribute to delivering new business value. In effect, the mechanisms to deliver the effective enterprise architecture develop a life of their own and start to consume development resources for their own purposes as opposed to business needs.

A small example may illustrate my point. In the old days,¬†when I worked with IBM,¬†a purist movement pointed out that because we¬†wrote our design¬†documentation in English, we were impacting quality and accuracy by introducing the potential for misunderstandings as to what a passage of English might actually mean. As a result, IBM worked with Oxford University¬†to develop a¬†mathematically-based specification language to eliminate the problem. This made complete sense at an intellectual level. However, although this language was adopted for a time, there were always new people coming onto the team who didn’t¬†understand it, and¬†training began to be a real overhead. Eventually, the language was dropped. Although it made intellectual sense to use it, it¬†did not work at a practical level.

I am all for Enterprise Architecture – at least in spirit. I believe the role of an Enterprise Architect is exactly to ensure that the technology correctly delivers on the business needs, and is architected in such a way to enable new business changes to be implemented quickly and effectively. But I don’t think this requires a complex framework of models and requirements tools and so on. In fact, I think a strong EA edicts the minimum, but offers a loose framework that allows departmental innovation. In truth, there is nothing new about EA – it is all about doing things sensibly and remembering that IT is there purely to serve the business and not itself. All the rest of the formal EA clutter is a set of handcuffs that can hold organizations back.

Steve

Message-driven SOA – what goes around?

Starting from when I was running IBM’s MQSeries business, in the 1990s, I learnt a big lesson about seeing things from the user point of view.

We had a great messaging product, and it started the EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) market rolling. Soon, vendors were pitching the wonders of business integration through an all-encompassing EAI framework….and users started moaning about it being complicated and too hard. Vendors brushed off these concerns and just shouted louder, and I was an evangelist in this….and then I started actually listening to users. I remember pitching for all I was worth on the strategic value of EAI, and then a user saying to me, “Steve, we believe you. But we can’t get there in one jump – at the moment, what we really need is to hook this application up with that one, that’s all”.

For a moment my strategic eye was offended. How could you take this wonderful, clever, strategic software and then just hook two applications together? What a waste! But of course, I then learnt the practicalities of life, and the imperative to focus on the business need. If the business needs Application A to talk to Application B, then that is what it will fund, and that is what it wants to achieve. Sweeping frameworks are all very well, but for most companies practical considerations come first.

Now I am having deja vu, all over again. I believe in SOA – I am an evangelist. I can see the huge benefits it promises as a strategic platform for business agility, business visibility and cost-efficiency. And yet, talking to users it has finally sunk in that while some of the more lucky companies have the funding and resources to go the whole hog with SOA, there are a large number of users who ‘just want to link A to B’, but want to do so in a way that is consistent with a goal of enterprise-wide SOA some time in the future.

The new Lustratus report, free from the Lustratus web store, discusses a more tactical approach to SOA – “message-driven SOA”. It points out that even for those companies who are terrified by the prospect of having to work out their process implementations and flows, change the way they work and deal with business transformation issues, there is a way to leverage SOA ideas in a tactical, simple way that is at least a step on the road to overall SOA adoption. Message-driven SOA is almost a reprise of the tactical use of messaging in the 1990s, but with an SOA spin on it. So, message-based flows loosely couple applications and programs together, delivering the benefits of business integration without necessarily having to get tangled up in full-scale process re-engineering and modelling. And yet, the reuse concept of SOA is also leveraged, together with the ability to expose these message-based integrations as SOA services.

Message-driven SOA may not be the answer to every problem. As a rule of thumb, it will be most attractive for integrations that are primarily of the application-to-application kind, where human interaction is limited and tasks are of short duration. But it is well worth a look to see if this simpler approach to getting tactical SOA benefits might be useful.

Steve

Will Intel’s attack on appliances work?

At the recent Gartner SOA show in London, I was surprised to see a stand from Intel.

Turns out Intel are striking back at the burgeoning SOA Appliances market. The Intel claim is that its ‘software appliance’ performs at least as well as Appliances, and is therefore a better option.

The Intel argument is based on the fact that when you buy an appliance, you are locked in to the platform eg the box. So, as time passes, your appliance misses out on latest hardware or chip developments since it is hard-wired. In contrast, if the same performance can be obtained in pure software, then this has the advantage that it can be moved onto a platform with more power if needed, or as platforms are upgraded it can benefit. And Intel claims that its sexy software can match or exceed appliance speeds because it is so highly optimized.This optimization is apparently all around the XML parser. This makes sense in the SOA Appliance space because most SOA Appliances are seployed to deal with high volumes of XML conversions. The Intel claim is that it has a super-slick parser and that is how it can beat the Appliance.

This certainly throws up a new consideration when looking at the case for appliances, but of course it should be remembered that performance is not the only reason people buy them. Off-loading from the production platforms is another reason, and not having to worry about the platform management is another (install, config, etc). However, the Intel argument is a good one. Perhaps the biggest worry I have, however, is that whatever one company has done in software, someone else can do too, and unless it is patent protected, there would be nothing to stop an appliance maker coming up with a super-fast parser, and then putting it into microcode. It seems to me that in the end hardware will always be faster than software.

Steve

Can Enterprise Architects ever be “stratactical”?

I was introduced today to yet another new term – “stratactical”, in a rather good ComputerWorld article.

The definition is given as follows:

Stratactical is the word the enterprise architects at San Mateo, Calif.-based Con-way Inc. created to describe their work. ‚ÄúWe use it all the time,‚ÄĚ says Maja Tibbling, lead enterprise architect at the freight transportation and logistics company. ‚ÄúOur team takes into account both the strategic and the tactical.

I confess I found the idea quite attractive – to reinforce the importance of building IT systems and related business and IT processes and procedures that take into account strategic goals while at the same time satisfying immediate needs. Indeed, I have long been an advocate of ‘incremental strategies’ where long-term vision and goals are set, and then day-to-day activities and tactical projects are put in place that at least do not exclude the longer term picture, and hopefully go another step in the desired direction.

However, I am not sure I can extend this to the idea of having individual architects who are charged with being ‘stratactical’. This may sound like heresy, and I can imagine my good friends at IASA, the spiritual home of enterprise architects, having a fit over my assertion, but let me explain.

I absolutely think that architects can have the wherewithall to understand tactical and strategic issues. The question is whether it is practical to charge an architect with both duties. My own view is that the pressures brought to bear through tactical, often urgent, time-conscious, possibly localised projects is overpowering, and the danger is that no matter how well-meaning an architect might be, the need to design a solution fast is hard to withstand. Almost inevitably, short-term decisions will be taken that may actually go counter to the longer-term strategy.

Although confrontational, I prefer a split approach where there is a policing authority driven by architects charged with achieving the long-term benefits of the selected ‘grand design’ as well as other architects working to help tactical teams build solutions. Yes, it is irritating and time-consuming when the corporate architects raise an issue over some short-term solution, and indeed the agreed decision might be to ignore the long-term issues and go for the quick gain, but at least it will be a conscious decision achieved through some management-driven procedure. The alternative is to ask architects to make these sorts of calls in their own heads, with no ‘protection’ as can be afforded through the more formal approach – I think this is unfair on the poor architect.

So,my vote is for an architectural community that is ‘stratactical’, but a separate, management-backed body of architects charged with keeping the vision alive to balance others who are trying to address the demands of the tactical project and its drivers.

Steve