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.

Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly rememberehttp://zagg-blog.s3.amazonaws.com/community/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12581.jpgd! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

Why enterprise mobile applications need an mBroker – part 2

mobile marketingThis is the second in a series of posts about the mBroker, an essential component of enterprise mobile application deployments.

The previous post discussed the general need for broking services to handle differences in mobile and corporate application environments. In this post we will look more closely at the security issues that mBrokers address.

Mobile applications are often written in the REST style using JSON as a format, because these mechanisms are simple, lightweight and perfect for the limited resources available to mobile devices. However, when these applications need to use corporate applications and APIs it can open a number of security holes. For starters, in the corporate SOA world integration is usually addressed through SOAP-based messages and web services. SOAP messages are usually encrypted, and there are extensive security protocols built into the web services standards specifications such as WS-Security. But the REST style of programming has little in the way of security protection; after all, REST is basically calling up URLs in a similar fashion to when you are surfing the net. This means that data may be ‘in the open’ and therefore exposed to prying eyes, and also intercepting the data and injecting malicious content is relatively easy.

The mBroker security services address these issues. For example, policies can be put in place so that sensitive information can be detected and secured, and the traffic can be scrutinized on entry to the corporate network for any injected threats or attacks. For example, content might be restricted to a small set of QueryString parameters, headers may be inspected to identify the type of data expected, and so on.

The other tricky aspect of securing enterprise mobile applications is the authentication and identity management area. As touched on in Part 1, OAuth is a loose standard providing a mechanism for delivering a level of authorization in the mobile world. In essence, resource owners authorize other services to use only that set of resources required for the task. The idea is that instead of having to log in everywhere, exposing your userid and password to different third party systems, the OAuth mechanism enables you to share a token with the service providers that restricts access. However, OAuth is quite new. OAuth was a typical web-based user-driven project which has now been developed, with OAuth 2.0, into a wider reaching standard specification. Not all of the web community are in favour of this wider direction, and the fact that OAuth 2.0 is not backward compatible with OAuth has not helped the situation at all. As a result different third party environments may not support OAuth at all or may support different levels.

Again, this is ideal territory for the mBroker. The mBroker can provide consistent OAuth implementation across all services, as well as bridging between OAuth and non-OAuth forms of authentication as required.

So mBrokers provide the mechanism to ensure that mobile enterprise applications do not compromise your corporate security goals.

Why enterprise mobile computing needs an mBroker – part 1

mobilephonesMobile computing is all the rage, with employees, consumers and customers all wanting to use their mobile devices to transact business. But how should an enterprise approach mobile computing without getting into a world of trouble? How can the enterprise future-proof itself so that as mobile enterprise access explodes the risks are mitigated?

mBrokers are emerging as the preferred method of building a sustainable, governable and effective enterprise mobile computing architecture. The mBroker brings together ESB, integration broker, service gateway, API management and mobile access technology to provide the glue necessary to bring the mobile and corporate worlds together effectively and efficiently; for a summary of mBroker functionality see this free Lustratus report. In this first post in a series looking at mBrokers, we will look at the fundamental drivers for the basic broking functionality offered by mBrokers.

Integration brokers have been around for many years now. The principle is that when trying to integrate different applications or computing environments, some form of ‘universal translator’ is needed. One application may expect data in one format while another expects a different format for example. A trivial example might be an intenrational application where some components expect mm/dd/yy while others want dd/mm/yy. The broker handles these transformation needs. But it plays another very important role apart from translating between different applications; it provides a logical separation between application components, so that requestors can request services and suppliers can supply services without either knowing anything about each other’s location/environment/technology. In order to achieve this, it provides other functionality such as intelligent routing to find the right service and execution location, once again without the service requestor having to know anything about it.

Enterprise mobile applications face a lot of the same challenges. When crossing from the mobile device end to the corporate business services end, the same problems must be addressed. For example, mobile applications often rely on JSON for format notation and use RESTful invocation mechanisms to drive services. But many corporate networks employ an SOA model based around XML data and SOAP-based invocations of services.  In addition, the same sort of abstraction layer offered by integration brokers is beneficial to avoid the mobile device needing to know about locations of back end applications. It is therefore not surprising to find that integration broker technology is one source for mBroker technology.

 

New Lustratus Research Report – A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances

Just a short note to say that I’ve uploaded a new report to our web store at lustratus.com.

The report, entitled A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances focuses on Intel’s SOA Expressway, IBM’s DataPower range and Layer7’s SecureSpan SOA Appliance. In the report I compare and contrast the technical and strategic approaches each vendor takes to addressing the task of creating, managing, accelerating and securing a service oriented architecture using appliances.

The report can be found here.

Steve Craggs

IBM acquires Cast Iron

castironI am currently at IBM’s IMPACT show in¬†Las Vegas, where the WebSphere brand gets to flaunt its wares, and of course one of the big stories was IBM’s announcement that is has acquired Cast Iron.

While Cast Iron may only be a small company, the acquisition has major implications. Over the past few years, Cast Iron has established itself as the prime provider of Cloud to Cloud and Cloud to on-premise integration, with a strong position in the growing Cloud ecosystem of suppliers. Cast Iron has partnerships with a huge number of players in the Cloud and application packages spaces, including companies such as  Salesforce.com, SAP and Microsoft, and so IBM is not just getting powerful technology but also in one move it is taking control of the linkage between Cloud and anything else.

On the product front, the killer feature of Cast Iron’s offering is its extensive range of pre-built integration templates covering many of the major Cloud and on-premise environments.¬†So, for example, if an organization wants to link invoice information¬†in its SAP system with the¬†Salesforce.com¬†sales force environment,¬† then the¬†Cast Iron offering includes prepared templates for¬†the required definitions and configurations. The result is that the integration can be set up in a matter of hours rather than weeks.

So why is this so important? Well, for one, most people have already realized that Cloud usage must work hand-in-hand with on-premise applications, based on such things as security needs and prior investments. On top of this, different clouds will serve different needs. So integration between clouds and applications is going to be a fact of life. IBM’s acquisition leaps it into the forefront of this area, in both technology and partner terms. But there is a more strategic impact of this acquisition too. Noone knows what the future holds, and how the Cloud market will develop. Think of the situation of mainframes and distributed solutions. As the attractions of distributed systems grew, doomsayers were quick to predict the end of the mainframe. However, IBM developed a powerful range of integration solutions in order to allow organizations to leverage the advantages of both worlds WITHOUT having to choose one from the other. This situation almost feels like a repeat – Cloud has a lot of advantages, and some misguided ‘experts’ think that Cloud is the start of the end for on-premise systems. However, whether you believe this or not, IBM has once again ensured that it has got a running start in providing integration options to ensure that users can continue to gain value from both cloud and on-premise investments.

Steve

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

SOA success, and what causes it

I was recently pointed to an article in Mainframe Executive magazine written by David Linthicum on the subject of “Mainframe SOA: When SOA Works/When SOA fails”.

I think the friend who suggested I read it was making mischief, knowing my views on the subject of SOA and guessing (correctly) that this article would wind me up.

In summary, the article says that SOA is a large and complex change to your core architecture and working practices and procedures, and that the success or failure is dictated by questions such as executive buy-in/resourcing/funding/skills, and not technology selection.

The truth about success with SOA is that it has little to do with the technology you want to drag into the enterprise to make SOA work, and more to do with the commitment to the architectural changes that need to occur

I have two problems with the opinions stated in this article. The first is to do with changing attitudes to SOA, and the second with the technology comments.

Let me first state that I am well aware that if a company wants to adopt an enterprise-wide SOA strategy designed to take maximum long-term benefit from this new way of leveraging IT investments, then this requires all ofthe areas brought up in the article to be addressed Рskills, management buy-in, political will, funding and a strategic vision coupled with a tactical roadmap. I have no beef with any of this.

But I would contend that the world has changed from two years ago. The financial constraints all companies are experiencing have more or less forced the long-term strategic play onto the back burner for many. Some analysts actually like to claim that SOA is dead, a statement designed to be controversial enough to gain attention but to some extent grounded in the fact that a lot of companies are pulling back from the popular SOA-based business transformation strategies of the past. In fact, SOA is absolutely not dead, but it has changed. Companies are using SOA principles to implement more tactical projects designed to deliver immediate benefits, with the vague thought of one day pulling these projects together under a wider strategic, enterprise-wide SOA banner.

So, as an example, today a company might look at a particular business service¬†such as ‘Create Customer’, or ‘Generate Invoice’, and decide to replace the 27 versions¬†of the service that exist¬†in its silos today with a single shared service. The company might decide to use SOA principles¬†and tools to achieve this, but the planning horizon is definitely on the short term – deliver¬†a new level of functionality that will benefit all users, and help to reduce ongoing cost of ownership. While it would have¬†been valid a¬†few years ago to counsel this company to deliver this as part of an overarching shift to an SOA-oriented style of operations, today most companies will say that¬†although this sounds sensible, current circumstances dictate that focus must remain on the near term.

The other issue I have with this article is the suggestion that¬†SOA success is¬†little¬†to do with the technology choice. Given that the topic here was not just¬†SOA but mainframe SOA, I take particular exception to this. There are a wide range of SOA tools¬†available, but¬†in the mainframe arena¬†the quality and coverage of the tools vary widely. For example, although many¬†SOA tools claim mainframe¬†support, this may in actuality simply be anMQ adapter ‘for getting at the mainframe’. Anyone taking this route¬†is more than likely to fail with¬†SOA, regardless of how well it has taken on the¬†non-technical issues of SOA.¬†Even for those SOA tools¬†with specific mainframe support, some of these offer¬†environments alien to mainframe developers,¬†thereby causing¬†considerable problems in terms of skills utilization. It is critical that whatever technology IS chosen,¬†itcan be used by CICS or IMS-knowledgable folk as well as just disributed specialists.¬†Then there is the question of¬†how intuitive¬†the tools are. Retraining¬†costs can destroy an SOA project before it even gets¬†going.

For anyone interested,¬†there is a free Lustratus report on selecting¬†mainframe SOA tools available¬†from the Lustratus store. However, I can assure companies that, particularly¬†for mainframe SOA, technology selection absolutely IS a key factor¬†for success, and that while all the other transformational¬†aspects of SOA are indeed¬†key to longer term, enterprise-wide SOA there are still benefits to be gained with a more short-term¬†view that is more appropriate in today’s¬†economic climate.

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