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.

BPM is flying off the shelves – at least at Pegasystems

It’s always nice to be proved right. At the end of 2008, when Lustratus published its 2009 predictions for the infrastructure market, we highlighted BPM and predicted that 2009 would (at last) be its year.

In March I discussed the impressive 2008 for Pegasystemsin a previous Litebytes post, and now the company has made its 1Q09 announcement of earnings.

Briefly, we are talking about revenue increasing¬†29% YOY to $62.4M for the quarter, and¬†license revenue up a storming 60% to $28M. Recession – what recession? Admittedly the results were skewed a little by a single large deal closing at around 12% of the total,¬†which may put Pega under pressure for the next quarter, but this cannot disguise the¬†point we made in our 2009 predictions –¬†tactical, targeted BPM can deliver the real savings and¬†flexibility to support broadening customer bases and types that¬†businesses are looking for in the current economic downturn, or can respond to specific business channels such as tracking and reducing fraud.

The other point that these results reaffirm is that companies are looking for solutions that are geared to their own industry vertical needs – Pegasystems has a strong industry framework philosophy that responds to this need very effectively.¬†The only possible ‘cloud’ on the horizon seems to be Peagsystems’ tentative move towards the dangerous ‘Platform-as-a-Service’ (PaaS)¬†market segment – this area is a¬†minefield at the moment and¬†it is to be hoped that Pega do not find themselves sucked into the abyss by getting to wedded to this idea. Just stick to what you do¬†best, guys!

In summary, for all those companies who have heard about BPM and then shied away, put off by the thought of the effort required to deployBPM across the enterprise for all processes, take another look with a tactical, laser-focused mind-set. BPM really can be selectively applied at a reasonable price, with rapid payback and an attractive ongoing benefit stream.


Why do so many SOA adopters moan about low reuse levels?

I was reading a recent post from Joe McKendrick the other day on measuring SOA success…

…and it reminded me of a related issue – that of measuring services reuse. SOA adopters often moan to me that despite having implemented SOA and deployed many services, reuse rates are down at the 1-1.2 level – in other words, virtually no reuse. They seem to want to pick a fight with me because as an advocate of SOA I have often pointed to reuse as one of the more measurable benefits. After all, achieving a high level of reuse is a clear indicator to business executives that efficiency is increasing, since the implication is less development is required to do new things.

I am starting to get pretty short now inthese conversations.¬†I wish, wish, wish that people would heed¬†my previous advice¬†– don’t think of SOA delivering reusable services, think of it¬†as a great tool for SHARED services. Obviously reuse will come¬†through services being shared –¬†so what point am I trying to make? The problem is people are choosing to build ‘reusable services’ with SOA and assuming that others will start reusing them. It is the old ‘Build and they will come’ philosophy. This rarely works – it is worse than a scatter-gun approach. If users instead think about what services would be good candidates for being shared first, and then develop these as SOA services, reuse levels will definitely improve.

So, when getting started with SOA, don’t encourage everyone to start building code into services and hope that reuse will come as if by magic. Start off by deciding on the logical services to build that will be shared – things like get customer history, or create new customer. Then go ahead and build these shared services candidates, and see reuse levels climb….hopefully making it easier to justify your SOA investments to the business.


Don’t be afraid to ask for SOA help

While the number of SOA success stories grow, there are a lot of companies that are finding SOA a struggle.

As often happens when something gets heavily hyped, managers are almost embarrassed to admit that they are having trouble. But the truth is that for many, getting outside help may be the best way forward and end up giving great returns.

There seem to be three common SOA ‘failure’ scenarios.

  • This SOA-based project is blowing its schedule/budget/SLAs
  • We are diligently implementing SOA, but we just aren’t getting the returns we expected
  • Everybody agreed SOA was a great idea, but now nothing is actually happening

It is easy to feel that these scenarios must reflect badly on management or technical efforts, since other companies seem to have succeeded with no problems. But in fact, it is perfectly natural to find SOA difficult. In essence, SOA is REALLY different – it is a different way of working, the tools are different, programming is different, design is different…..and so on. However, an important corollary of the success of SOA in other companies is that there is a growing pool of knowledge around SOA procedures and best practices. Already, there are some professional services organizations that have embraced all this accumulated knowledge and developed service offerings specifically designed to unblock the SOA logjam – getting projects moving again, finding why the SOA strategy is not delivering, and clearing up any organizational or procedural blockages.

Companies should not feel bad about asking for help. It really can be worth it, even if there is an initial investment hit. And fortunately, once IT and business professionals get the hang of SOA, they wont need the outside help, so the cost hit does not have to be an ongoing one. The key is to make sure companies choose the right partner. This is a subject that is discussed more in a recent Lustratus Report, “A little help goes a long way”, that can be downloaded for free from the Lustratus web store.


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.


Use a hot-house to get better productivity

I was keynoting at the DeutschePost SOA Days technical seminar held in Bonn, Germany last week, and while I was waiting to present I sat through a very informative presentation from a large telecoms company about its efforts with SOA.

However, one point that really caught my attention was the fact that the company has had some success with improving productivity through focusing on 90-day cycles. This extremely challenging timeframe is assisted greatly by the SOA approach used by the company, but a key element is that new projects start off life with a ‘hot-house’ activity.

The idea is to gather the core team of people involved in the project in one room, for however long is required, to spec out the project and select the implementation approach. This looks at the business and IT requirements and implications. What I love is that this ‘hot-house’ is carried out in a special room where there is only local networking available (no internet or email), and it even has mobile phone jammers to block calls. Results appear to have been extremely impressive. The hot-house sets the scene for a rapid development effort. Admittedly not every 90-day cycle completes the project – it can determine that another cycle is needed for additional research for example, but project delivery has definitely speeded up.

As for me, I just want one of those mobile phone jammers – I would love to take one on the train, and turn it on intermittently…..


Reuse still seen as top SOA benefit

I was interested to see, in a recent survey carried out by PMP Research, that the top-scoring benefit expected from SOA adoption was still reuse.

The research was documented in the September 2007 issue of Conspectus, and on 1 1-5 scale ‘Business process service re-use’ scored 4.1 on the benefit list, followed closely by ‘provides a more effective integration platform’.

Many SOA advocates talk about SOA being fundamental in terms of building a flexible and adaptable infrastructure while aligning IT and business requirements more closely, resulting in a more agile and effective platform for supporting business needs – so how come reuse still tops the list?

My own view is that reuse is simply the benefit that is the easiest to take in. The others I list above are very powerful, and can promise significantly more overall business value, but they require more than just a technology change. They require changes to working procedures and practices, and much better communications between business and technical communities. So, perhaps, in the eyes of the pragmatic respondents, reuse suggests itself as a reasonably obvious gain which even has a fairly clear and measurable monetary return attached. Reducing redundancy should have a direct correlation on application maintenance costs, for example. And on top of this, it can deliver value from a purely IT point of control (although the value will increase if business departments are involved too).


Don’t forget productivity when selecting SOA software

When I talk to vendors of SOA software about their offerings, I always focus on the tooling provided with the product ‚Äď from development tools to deployment tools to life cycle management tools.

Of course vendors will claim that their products are easy to use and highly productive. Unfortunately, these claims are often not properly challenged as products are being selected for SOA projects based primarily on functionality and ‚Äėenterprise‚Äô attributes. This is partly because it can be quite hard to establish just how productive the software will be when used outside the demo or pilot comfort zone. I said unfortunately above because anybody involved with integration projects (SOA or otherwise) will understand the high proportion of effort spent on dealing with the unexpected incompatibilities or consequential issues: Effort which can be significantly reduced with good tooling.

Another part of the problem is defining what we mean by easy to use and productive. In particular, whether a tool is easy to use or productive is closely coupled with who will be using it. A productive tool for an expert java developer is very different from a productive tool for a business analyst. Without unfairly blaming our marketing friends, there is a tendency in the industry to assume anything GUI based must be suitable for business analysts and so long as it works in Eclipse, java developers will be happy. (For instance, I remain to be convinced that the business process execution language, BPEL, is something any business analyst would use – pretty interfaces or not) Needless to say, reality is much more complex and when evaluating the tooling around your preferred product makes sure to match the capabilities against your developer base and not be fooled by the apparently pretty pictures (or lack of them).