Welcome!

SOA & WOA Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Sergio Varga, Andrew Phillips, Lori MacVittie

Related Topics: SOA & WOA

SOA & WOA: Article

Moving Toward the Zero Latency Enterprise

Moving Toward the Zero Latency Enterprise

The Internet makes it possible to deliver information almost instantaneously - anytime, anywhere - and is redefining the traditional boundaries around organizations and their IT systems. The Internet has turned buyers into sellers, sellers into buyers, and set new expectations for how services should be delivered. These expectations raise the bar for applications in terms of their need for interconnectivity and responsiveness. For businesses to remain competitive in this environment - or in the case of government agencies, responsive - they must embrace the idea that speed not only matters, but that it is now a key discriminator. Enterprises able to leverage the Internet's real-time nature and its technologies create competitive advantages that let them reap the benefits of greater efficiency, responsiveness, market share, and profitability. This promise has led businesses to look to interconnect their enterprise resource management (ERM), supply chain management (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, both internally and externally; and government agencies to look for better ways to connect their systems with the public, their suppliers, and each other.

The Gartner Group coined the term "zero latency enterprise (ZLE)" to describe organizations that can exchange information with employees, trading partners and customers in near real time). The original focus was on internal systems, but much of what Gartner said applies equally to eliminating latency between internal and external systems. Figure 1 illustrates many of the concepts underpinning ZLE. In a ZLE organization, business events trigger system events that post actions and send responses throughout the enterprise. Bill Gates calls this level of interconnectivity a "digital nervous system." Like the human nervous system, the applications in a ZLE organization interconnect in such a way that they eliminate latency, which is the time gap between when the system receives information at one point and uses it, wherever needed, at others.

 

Becoming a ZLE
Transforming your organization into a ZLE is a three-phase process. You must understand where latency exists within your current processes and systems and your options for reducing or eliminating it. You must then create an architecture that focuses on minimizing latency along the critical path of as many business processes as possible. Finally, you must translate the architecture into an implementation plan that provides the roadmap for yours becoming a ZLE organization.

The first step in becoming a ZLE organization is identifying the major business processes within your organization that the ZLE architecture must support. One goal at this stage is to establish the architectural boundaries of the effort; will it deal with internal systems, external systems, or both? Another goal is to understand the dynamics of each business process: its tempo, meter, natural pauses and breaks. Understanding these dynamics is critical to recognizing latency and bounding the parameters for fixing it. It is important to remember that what constitutes latency in one process may be completely acceptable in another, even for the same application.

The next step is to decompose each business process into its applications and identify any latency points that exist. You should ask: What applications make up this process? Is latency a problem in either the overall process or one or more of its supporting applications? If so, how much of a problem? How much does its timing need to change? The result of asking and answering these questions is a list of business processes and applications that have latency problems.

Next you need to learn as much as possible about each latency point so that you can later devise techniques for removing, or at least minimizing, the latency. For internal systems, latency stems from several root causes (see Figure 2). Legacy systems are often stovepiped applications that were developed independently, over time, using different technologies. These applications create islands of information and functionality that are by their very nature difficult to integrate and share.

 

The same data belonging to different applications may be in different formats, follow different data validation and business rules, or be updated through completely different business processes. Interfaces within these older applications tend to be synchronous, tightly coupled, and driven more by the underlying technologies than the business needs they serve. Proprietary drivers, proprietary APIs, and proprietary formats represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tying these systems together. One question you should ask is: What are each application's processing characteristics: batch, on-demand, or continuously running? Some may be batch oriented where you need them to be real time, others may have availability and reliability problems in cases where you need them to be 24x7. These issues frequently reflect age and technology differences that increase the difficulties in creating a coherent architecture.

Latency's causes multiply when you look at connecting internal and external systems. Each external system potentially represents a different set of technology, security, reliability, and manageability characteristics that your architecture must address.

The Architecture
At the end of the first phase, you should have a good understanding of your organization's internal and external business processes and the latency points you need to address within each. You're now ready to lay out the major business processes and applications and begin developing an overall ZLE architecture. It's important that your architecture address four key elements: business process management, data communications and routing, data transformation and formatting, and applications connectivity.

Business process management is, in my opinion, the most important part of the architecture; it's the glue that ties applications together. It should reflect the enterprise's business processes: assembling, sequencing, and orchestrating applications to align them with the business's natural processes and work flows. A workflow manager, a rules engine, and collaborative tools can be critical components at this level. Employees, business partners, and customers should find easy-to-use, intuitive interfaces supporting your core business processes.

Data communications and routing in conjunction with business process management create the central nervous system for the ZLE architecture. Two fundamental architectures, shown in Figure 3, have evolved in this area: hub-and-spoke; and data, or information, bus. The hub-and-spoke architecture uses a central integration engine and message queuing products, such as MQSeries and MSMQ, to integrate across applications. In this architecture, applications deal with one another through the central hub; this is responsible for extracting, transforming, and routing data and coordinating activities throughout the overall system.

 

The information bus architecture takes a decentralized approach. This architecture implements a common messaging framework, frequently using a publish and subscribe model, for intercommunication. Applications connect to this bus through application adapters and pass messages to one another by placing them onto the bus. The information bus may use either a messaging or workflow manager to assist in routing messages. You can use either architecture internally; the information bus is clearly superior when connecting between internal and external systems.

XML has become the lingua franca for solving the data transformation and formatting problem. It provides a flexible, extensible syntax for expressing both information and its structure in a meaningful format. Legacy applications can apply Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLTs) to XML documents to convert information within those documents into whatever format they need. Data transfer and replication tools are also available for extracting, transforming, cleansing, and loading data for those wanting to make minimum modifications to existing applications.

Application integration can occur at many different levels (see Figure 4). A key question is whether there is overlap in the data the applications process or the business rules they enforce. User interface integration integrates applications at the presentation layer. This level of integration is valuable for connecting independent applications into common business processes. Data integration integrates applications at the database level by copying, transferring, or replicating information from one data source to another. This is a good strategy when transfers are timely and business rules are sufficiently compatible. Business logic integration integrates applications' middle tiers, allowing each application to retain its original business rules and logic. This level of integration works best for tying existing, interdependent applications together into more streamlined processes. Component integration integrates applications through their application programming interfaces (APIs), common components, or function calls. Integration at this level may require you to write proxy interfaces for some components; change call interfaces from direct to RPC for others; or adopt a distributed object model such as DCOM, CORBA, or Web services. This integration form is most useful for creating components several applications or processes can share.

 

A critical part of the application integration analysis is looking closely at each latency point to determine both the level of integration and corrections needed. The first step is to identify the appropriate integration level for each application: presentation, business logic, or data. Simply changing the application's invocation characteristics may be enough to also change its latency characteristics for some applications.

In situations where that is not the case, the next step is to drill down into the application and its interfaces with an eye towards improving the application's performance characteristics. The first, and simplest, corrective measure is to identify and remove any inefficiencies or chokepoints within the application. A second option is to look at overlapping the application's processing with that of others by making it an asynchronous process. Making an application asynchronous is straight-forward; you simply need to add a queue and alerting and rendezvous mechanisms. This can also be a good approach for dealing with reliability and availability problems caused by older systems. A third, and sometimes only, option is to redesign and rewrite the application.

You may need to make several passes through each of the four architectural elements to finalize the ZLE architecture. That isn't unusual. It's important that you come away with an overall architectural strategy, a list of integration points, and an idea of the integration strategies you'll need to address as part of the implementation process, which is the next step. Before proceeding to the implementation phase, it's a good idea to create a set of guiding principles to help in making architectural tradeoffs and selecting products. Questions you should answer include: Are the number or types of products you use of concern? How about the amount of code you write? Is it important to use the same solution for solving the latency problem between both internal and external applications? Is it important to use the same integration solution for integration points at the same level? Do you have large investments in ERM, SCM, or CRM solutions that will drive the implementation? With the answers to these questions in hand, you're now ready to look at options for implementing the architecture.

Implementation
Web services provides a lightweight, standards-based solution for implementing a ZLE architecture. Web services offers an integration model that brings applications together as loosely coupled components within a larger architectural framework. This standards-based framework closely aligns to the four elements in the ZLE architecture (see Figure 5). Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS) and WS-Choreography are standards proposals for modeling, defining, orchestrating, and implementing business processes. WS-Transaction and WS-Security supply protocols for implementing atomic and business transactions, and security features such as authentication and encryption that are necessary for tying applications together into new business processes. The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), HTTP, and TCP/IP create the backbone for data communications. WS-Routing, and WS-Referral address the data routing problem.

 

XML, which is the heart of Web services, provides a standard for data representation. XSLT adds a language for data transformation and formatting. SOAP-RPC contributes a lightweight, standards-based, platform-independent component model for implementing distributed components. In short, Web services provides all the elements necessary to implement whatever ZLE architecture you ultimately develop. With several of the standards still evolving, the issue is that products lag behind standards; that means you have to write more code.

If that is a concern, off-the-shelf enterprise application integration (EAI) products offer a good foundation for moving towards a ZLE organization. EAI products provide message broker and adapter technologies that quickly integrate applications to exchange and share information at the data, business logic, or presentation layers. Most EAI solutions implement either a message broker or bus concept corresponding to the hub-and-spoke and information bus architectures. If you decide this is the best approach for you, choose a product that fits into your overall integration strategy by providing the greatest number of integration adapters corresponding to the integration levels, points, and products you identified as part of your analysis.

EAI and Web services are extremely powerful together - EAI for fine-grained interfaces, Web services for coarse-grained interfaces. Many EAI vendors, such as SeeBeyond, TIBCO, webMethods, and IBM, recognize this synergy and offer products that are in fact a marriage between traditional EAI technologies and Web services. These products give you a best of both worlds option. Ultimately, the question boils down to which strategy works best with your architecture within your organization.

Summary
The costs of not becoming a ZLE organization are high; they translate to frustrated customers, disappointed partners, and missed opportunities. The challenges are in understanding critical business processes and developing an architecture that removes the problems creating latency both in the enterprise's internal systems and in their connections to systems be-longing to trading partners and customers. Web services standards, which EAI products are rapidly adapting, lay out the framework you need for implementing this architecture. As more companies adopt them, low cost, standards-based solutions for implementing ZLE applications may finally become a reality.

More Stories By Rickland Hollar

Rickland Hollar is a senior applications architect with the Central Intelligence Agency with over 30 years of experience in the industry. The views expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the Agency. Prior to joining the CIA, he was president of a Virginia-based software development firm.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Wil Marshman 09/08/03 05:17:13 PM EDT

We [HP's NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), aka Tandem] picked up on ZLE several years ago and have produced a framework [as a product/solution] to facilitate customers doing what Holler describes. The Real Time Enterprise is an idea whose time has come [I assert that certain data needs to be accessible in real time for an enterprise to function effectively and many of our IT systems are not amenable to the changes required, mostly due to the silos that enterprises have built].

My point is that there are companies who can make the journey that Mr. Hollar describes easier. HP's ZLE implementation is ahead of the game.

Wil

@ThingsExpo Stories
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...