Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Pat Romanski, Karthick Viswanathan, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Automic Blog

Related Topics: Microservices Expo

Microservices Expo: 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

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
"DivvyCloud as a company set out to help customers automate solutions to the most common cloud problems," noted Jeremy Snyder, VP of Business Development at DivvyCloud, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"At the keynote this morning we spoke about the value proposition of Nutanix, of having a DevOps culture and a mindset, and the business outcomes of achieving agility and scale, which everybody here is trying to accomplish," noted Mark Lavi, DevOps Solution Architect at Nutanix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
From manual human effort the world is slowly paving its way to a new space where most process are getting replaced with tools and systems to improve efficiency and bring down operational costs. Automation is the next big thing and low code platforms are fueling it in a significant way. The Automation era is here. We are in the fast pace of replacing manual human efforts with machines and processes. In the world of Information Technology too, we are linking disparate systems, softwares and tool...
"We focus on SAP workloads because they are among the most powerful but somewhat challenging workloads out there to take into public cloud," explained Swen Conrad, CEO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"As we've gone out into the public cloud we've seen that over time we may have lost a few things - we've lost control, we've given up cost to a certain extent, and then security, flexibility," explained Steve Conner, VP of Sales at Cloudistics,in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Your homes and cars can be automated and self-serviced. Why can't your storage? From simply asking questions to analyze and troubleshoot your infrastructure, to provisioning storage with snapshots, recovery and replication, your wildest sci-fi dream has come true. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, provided a ChatOps demo where you can talk to your storage and manage it from anywhere, through Slack and similar services with...
"I think DevOps is now a rambunctious teenager – it’s starting to get a mind of its own, wanting to get its own things but it still needs some adult supervision," explained Thomas Hooker, VP of marketing at CollabNet, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"Peak 10 is a hybrid infrastructure provider across the nation. We are in the thick of things when it comes to hybrid IT," explained , Chief Technology Officer at Peak 10, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"I will be talking about ChatOps and ChatOps as a way to solve some problems in the DevOps space," explained Himanshu Chhetri, CTO of Addteq, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
With continuous delivery (CD) almost always in the spotlight, continuous integration (CI) is often left out in the cold. Indeed, it's been in use for so long and so widely, we often take the model for granted. So what is CI and how can you make the most of it? This blog is intended to answer those questions. Before we step into examining CI, we need to look back. Software developers often work in small teams and modularity, and need to integrate their changes with the rest of the project code b...
If you are thinking about moving applications off a mainframe and over to open systems and the cloud, consider these guidelines to prioritize what to move and what to eliminate. On the surface, mainframe architecture seems relatively simple: A centrally located computer processes data through an input/output subsystem and stores its computations in memory. At the other end of the mainframe are printers and terminals that communicate with the mainframe through protocols. For all of its apparen...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo is an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalized support service from its globally located cloud platfor...
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Mike Johnston, an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io, discussed how to use Kubernetes to set up a SaaS infrastructure for your business. Mike Johnston is an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io with over 12 years of experience designing, deploying, and maintaining server and workstation infrastructure at all scales. He has experience with brick and mortar data centers as well as cloud providers like Digital Ocean, Amazon Web Services, and Rackspace. H...
All organizations that did not originate this moment have a pre-existing culture as well as legacy technology and processes that can be more or less amenable to DevOps implementation. That organizational culture is influenced by the personalities and management styles of Executive Management, the wider culture in which the organization is situated, and the personalities of key team members at all levels of the organization. This culture and entrenched interests usually throw a wrench in the work...
DevOps is good for organizations. According to the soon to be released State of DevOps Report high-performing IT organizations are 2X more likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals. But how do they do it? How do they use DevOps to drive value and differentiate their companies? We recently sat down with Nicole Forsgren, CEO and Chief Scientist at DORA (DevOps Research and Assessment) and lead investigator for the State of DevOps Report, to discuss the role of measure...
DevOps sees the coming together of practices, philosophies, and tools that allow you to create services and applications very quickly. This means that you can improve on your apps and evolve them at a much faster rate than those developers who are using traditional software development processes. We’ve talked about DevOps, in general, a great deal, but today, we’re going to dig a little deeper and take a look at Java DevOps specifically.
Many organizations are now looking to DevOps maturity models to gauge their DevOps adoption and compare their maturity to their peers. However, as enterprise organizations rush to adopt DevOps, moving past experimentation to embrace it at scale, they are in danger of falling into the trap that they have fallen into time and time again. Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before, and we know how it ends: badly.
"Outscale was founded in 2010, is based in France, is a strategic partner to Dassault Systémes and has done quite a bit of work with divisions of Dassault," explained Jackie Funk, Digital Marketing exec at Outscale, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
From personal care products to groceries and movies on demand, cloud-based subscriptions are fulfilling the needs of consumers across an array of market sectors. Nowhere is this shift to subscription services more evident than in the technology sector. By adopting an Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) delivery model, companies are able to tailor their computing environments to shape the experiences they want for customers as well as their workforce.