Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beyond Application Virtualization

If one has observed, Microsoft has really been aggressive in terms of venturing into Cloud computing and Hosted Services offerings recently. One of the latest additions to its Hosted Services portfolio is the release of ‘Application Virtualization’ products. With Application virtualization, windows applications can be streamed to the Desktop from the Intranet/Web, cached locally and stored with end-user specific preferences. This solution will eliminate the installation requirements of thick client applications.
Ok. What does this mean to the Enterprises?
For me, it looked like another way of delivering services to the end-users (applications-as-services??). Users who are tired of click-and-walk HTML applications have already migrated to Rich-Internet-Applications. Large product vendors like SAP have embraced RIA significantly in their product roadmap. I am not surprised, given the limited choice available in the RIA technologies and the ‘cool’ effects bought by Adobe Flex/Java Fx. However, these RIAs are predominantly built on top of scripting technology platforms such as JavaScript and ActionScript. These technologies have their own strengths and weaknesses. But, in my view, they don’t come closer to traditional and mature programming platforms such as VC++, especially when considering aspects such as Security. RIA platforms themselves are maturing and they have a long way to go.
My intent is not to say ‘Streaming’ applications will replace ‘RIAs’ or vice versa. They will co-exist. But, I foresee Streaming applications will be much more powerful compared to RIA in terms of bringing enterprise features and rich user experience. Some of the considerations which I can think of when evaluating Streaming applications are:
- Intranet deployments, Native applications, Maximum usage of local processor, Feature/Functionality Rich, Composite applications (Intranet/Web), Binary streaming resulting in improved performance of apps
I also believe ‘Streaming’ applications can be the door-opener for developing ‘Composite applications’ over Services. I have always thought, like Services in SOA world, which are composable, reusable and discovered, we should have a way to find, compose and reuse ‘Service Client applications’. Do you agree? And ‘Application Virtualization’ & RIA together can serve this purpose.
Today, we have marketplaces for Web Services. We have app stores for Smart phones. But, Pls note these apps available for iPhones are tightly integrated to their back-end Services (Service Providers). So, you get to download the entire application as ‘one capsule’. But, Is it possible to download just the client module/service consumer and talk to different service providers?. And ‘app virtualization’ and ‘RIA’ can lead to that possibility.
In future, we may be able to all the following in the ‘Cloud’
- Find services
- Find Aggregators / Composite services
- Find ‘application clients’ of different types (virtualized, web, mobile)
- Find Infrastructure services for clients (security modules, preferences, caching)
- Compose all these diversified services and make a personalized cocktail out of it J
- And finally, install this composite app as a simple Shortcut in our desktop.
- And this combination can be dismantled and remixed based on the end-user preferences and business needs on an ongoing basis.
Read this interesting prediction on ‘Hardware virualization’. I was inspired by this story to think about the possibilities in ‘Software world’.
In this story, I am not just fascinated by the technology/platform’s technical strengths. But I am truly excited about the kind of choices and valuable features these technologies can bring to the end-users.
To start with, I would be interested to see ‘SAP’ client available as a virtualized client app!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top 10 IT Trends for 2009

While Gartner has published the Top 10 technologies for 2009, I wanted to take a closer look at the trends and identify what would be important from CIO office perspective. I give significant focus to CIO office because the spending from his office is going to have a ripple effect on the whole ecosystem of Enterprise IT – be it hardware vendors or software product vendors or outsourcing/offshoring vendors.
Given the current climate of economic conditions, if one would need to describe today’s state of CIO office, it would be ‘frugal’. Everyone in the industry will know this open secret. However, the dollars spent on these gloomy days are expected to generate more value when compared to spending on cheerful days!. The key challenge for the CIO would be ‘How to act creatively when being stingy? & How do I generate more value for the money?’.
I have always believed technologies that bring real&tangible economic value will outshine the technologies that are darlings of soft benefits/tall promises. I believe the following 10 Trends will help the CIO to find the answers:
1. Data Center Rationalization
Like the fragmented spaces in the computer memory gets compressed and made available for applications, the under-utilized data centers across regions will be rationalized / consolidated
2. Virtualization
Within the Data center, the under-utilized servers will again be consolidated and virtualized to save cost and space.
3. Open-Source Migration
The companies that have always endorsed licensed products will embark on the iniatives to evaluate everything from Open –source community – right from OS to application frameworks. Every COTS product in the company will be evaluated for their necessity and alternatives.
4. Custom applications rationalization
The application portfolio will be under manifying glass to see the alignment and value. Poor performing apps will be evaluated for layoff!
5. SaaS Adoption
The high-expensive on-premise software apps will be questioned and SaaS offerings will be tried out in pilot mode. This will be a perfect opportunity for SaaS vendors to prove and get their new clients!
6. IT Security
As the IT ecosystem welcomes new entrants like Virtualization, Open-Source and SaaS, there will be re-newed focus on existing IT security practices. However, this activity will not be a choice, but a mandatory activity!. If any enterprise chooses to skip this step are putting themselves into danger!. We may see new set of enterprise IT security products emerging in this area!.
In fact, these factors will also lead to re-look of licensing models of products within the enterprise!.
7. Innovation in Offshoring/Outsourcing contracts
OK, How do we get money to do all this?. Who is going to pay for it?. That’s where the innovation lies. No vendor will do it for free. Neither the CIO would wish to pay for it. Here comes the testing time for the relationship maturity of CIO office and IT outsourcing/offshoring vendors. There will be a call for new contracting models where the vendors will be required to innovate and come out with options for rolling out these cost-conserving initiatives in a multi-year roadmap. Whichever vendor gives a helping hand to the CIO will go a long way!.
8. Metrics based IT Management
CIO would question his own management on the way the IT is being managed for efficiency and effectiveness. New way of demonstrating the business value of IT needs to be in place to get funding for new development projects. Which means, get ready to be number-savvy!. This will have implications on PMO-centric organizations as well as Enterprise architecture centric organizations.
9. License negotiations
Product license newels/upgrades will be challenged and asked for alternatives. If a cost-effective alternative is feasible and can be developed, the IT will not hesitate to say good bye to those products!
10. Enterprise Architecture
Really smart CIOs will do serious introspection on their IT strategy and they may realize the need for an Enterprise Architecture! And certainly they will not implement all the above 9 steps in bits and piences but within the framework of their rejuvenated IT strategy!.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Beginning of the End of ATM cards?

Can you draw money from ATM without using ATM card? Sounds innovative?. Our conventional thinking says thats not possible!. And thats where lies the potential for innovation. Business case - In US, there are 106 million people who do not have bank accounts. If there is no bank account, there is no card. But how do they transact?. Can banks ignore that customer segment?. In fact, the banks have to help them to transact.
And here is the solution - A new vendor - Privier has comeup with an innovative solution where an existing account holder can transfer funds to another person, who is in immediate need of cash and does not have a bank account. The fund transfer can happen from ATM to ATM, Web to ATM or Mobile to ATM. Note, the fund transfer doesnot happen from one account holder to another. Instead, it happens from one person to the bank. Along with the transfer, a 10 digit code is sent to the recipient. The recipient can then walk-in to an ATM, key-in the 10 digit code and withdraw the money.
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Cards in Banking?

'IT matters' for Google

I would recommend you to check out what Google.org does. In short, Google.org aims to use the power of IT to address the global challenges of our age. First, I should say, the aim itslef is so high, that it positions Google as a special company that cares for the world.

Today, I came across an interesting initiative by Google.org - To track Flu Trends in United States. It could look like Google Trends, that projects the patterns and trends in search of specific keywords. However, the key distinguishing factor in Google.Org initiative is that Google is trying to accurately model real-world phenomena using patterns in search queries. In simpler terms, if there are more searches for Flu symptoms, there is a possibility that there is a flu breakout in that specific state/region. It gives a state-wise graphical representation of Flu Trends in US based on the aggregation of related search queries.

Now, if the tool can help predict the outbreak, it would certainly help a lot in preventing too. And early detection of the outbreak can reduce the number of actual people who get affected. Instead of constanly debating whether IT matters or not, I think we should appreciate companies like Google that really does something about and makes us believe that IT can help in solving real-world problems

High Performance Computing - Return of Mainframes?

On this Monday, I attended a conference on High Performance Computing sponsored by Microsoft. The keynote was delivered by Microsoft HPC Division General Manager. It was good to see that HPC is slowing transitioning from Research use to commercial use. Of late, there has been lot of interest in Manufacturing companies to explore HPC capabilities for Engineering and Simulation. I see lot of possibilities in Global Datawarehousing and Fraud Detection in Financial services too.

But, we have miles to go before we those apps in mainstream. As we have witenessed in the industry for quite sometime, the progress in Hardware space always outperforms the progress in software product industry. Today, we are capable of talking about HPC, Grid and Large scale computing. However, we dont have intelligent software products or applications that can leverage the full power of those powerful systems. There are couple of reasons - 1. The fundamental way of programming software applications has so far been single threaded. We dont have an out-of-the-box programming model or a product infrastructure that would seamlessly enable today's developers to write applications that can execute in parallel within themselves. Of course, Intel and Microsoft are working hard in bringing advancements in those areas. 2. Only when the foundational infrastructure software becomes available, the toppings or so-called end-user applications will start to emerge (for example, engineering applications or animation applications) including Developer tools.

On the same conference, I asked the Microsoft GM about the possibilities of running MS SQL Server on Windows 2008 HPC server and the answer was 'Not Yet'. Of course, the SQL Server product has to be re-architected to run on the HPC platform. The same applies to rest of the commercial products like analytics services or integration services.

It sounded to me that we are returning to Mainframes era with Open standards! :-). Here too, Windows HPC has the concept of Job Schedulers which the old mainframes used to have. But this time, You can execute WCF compliant services too as part of Job. So, the HPC platform is 'Service-Oriented'.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Doing Business with Social Applications

Sometime back, I was discussing with my fellow architect – ‘I am reading a lot of books on the topics of my interest & am also part of lot of special interest groups online. It would be interesting to know what the revered members of those groups are reading and if I find them too valuable, I may eventually buy those books as well’. Sounds very natural. Isn’t it?
Last week, I see LinkedIn launching a social application platform with 10 different applications. And one of them is Amazon Reader, which enables sharing the reading list with one’s network. On seeing the application snippet in LinkedIn home page, I said to myself ‘Wow!!’. There are two reasons behind the Wow factor – One, my idea was kind of realized J and another on the true platform potential of LinkedIn that can open up whole new set of opportunities. But I do feel LinkedIn is slow in innovating and it could have rolled-out these applications much faster to the market earlier.
The surprise does not end there. There is much more exciting partnership announced between SalesForce.com and Facebook. Now, people can develop ‘business’ applications using Force.com platform and host it on Force.com site. However, they can integrate those apps with Facebook using Facebook provided toolkit.
Yes, I said ‘Business applications’. They are not just ‘Social applications’. If you want to just develop ‘Social Applications’, you can just go ahead and use Facebook’s F8 platform. However, the intent here is to merge the business/Enterprise world with Social world. And I see this partnership as the first step towards that trend.
The business applications developed using Force.com can easily leverage the social graph and network of Facebook. It really meshes the two different worlds. As an example, can I mesh the Sales leads with Social Graph or Recruitment Ads with my network? The possibilities are endless.
When the Big product vendors are taking years of time to deliver incremental innovation, Here we are Social /Web 2.0 companies showing the way with radical innovation! Kudos!
Am looking forward to see exciting new business apps within the social network!.