Feeding the Information-Hungry Enterprise

Embedded Technology trends: an industry view



Industry analyst company The Gartner Group predicts that sensor technologies will be part of our everyday life by the year 2015. Sensors will be everywhere, as RFID tags on consumer products, devices monitoring tyre pressure, location-tracking tags carried by workers in sensitive or hazardous environments etc. In addition, most enterprise activities will be monitored by micro-controller based tools connected to the network - there is a general consensus that by 2010 embedded devices will represent 95% of all internet connected systems [2].

Gartner states that the widespread adoption of sensor technology will create the need for a new infrastructure to manage the unprecedented volumes of data generated [1,3].

Scalable grids of relatively cheap computational units, completely decoupled from the signal sources, will receive, modify, enrich and store data3. But to what purpose? Over the last 15 years we have become used to the idea that the main objective of business applications is to query stored data in order to gather meaningful insights. This is a manually instigated process, initiated by the particular need of an individual, but with real time sensor data this ‘pull’ approach provides very little business value.

Sensor technologies force us to rethink how we use data. We cannot possibly query databases to know the position or status of billions of items. Instead, each change in an item’s position or status, detected by sensors, must trigger specific, completely automated processes, such as updating a bus schedule, alerting a driver of the need to replace a tyre, or updating inventory level and raise a replenishment order.

Thus, the processing power provided by ever increasing capacity made available at lower costs by concepts such as grid-computing must be complemented by automated processing capabilities based around the sensor-generated events. Gartner has defined the software products capable of delivering both the ‘extreme’ transactional performance provided by grid-computing and the event-driven automated processing capabilities required to leverage the real time value of sensor information as Event Driven Application Platforms [4,5,8].

Satisfying the needs for event-driven performance with grid-based application platforms

By Year 2015 millions of signals generated by sensors and by network embedded devices will reach the enterprise every second. Obviously responding automatically to such tera-volumes of incoming events requires completely parallel process execution capabilities. However, parallel processing creates some specific technical requirements:

  • Business processes must modify core business data. Parallel processes trying to access and modify the same data object will create contention. This must be resolved to ensure determinism, so that data and transaction integrity is maintained.
  • A large number of computational resources need to access data stored in relational databases. If one single database, however powerful, is used, it will become a bottleneck. This issue must be addressed to provide scalability not only at the execution level, but also at the persistence layer.

In addition, any industrial strength business process execution platform must provide transaction management services, load balancing and high availability.

When evaluating an event driven application platform, enterprises have to ensure that all these issues are addressed. The ideal platform provides determinism, transaction management, persistence and scalability as built–in services. This means that the same process can be executed without modification on X computational units as well as Y databases, scaling up performance in line with the growing need for ‘extreme’ OLTP generated by increasing adoption of sensors technologies [7].

This is all very well, but sensors and the information they generate need to add value to existing IT investment. Few companies have the luxury of ripping out and replacing current systems with the IT architecture du jour. There are new architectural concepts, such as Service Oriented Architectures (SOA), which may be well suited to the new demands of interconnected networks of sensors, devices and services. But while many vendors are jumping on the SOA bandwagon, its adoption and even awareness in the wider world is still in its infancy. Event driven application platforms must therefore be capable of integrating with and working effectively within existing system architectures – whether service oriented or not.

The best approach for introducing event-driven processing within the enterprise is to look for the applications where it will have most impact. So use it to support new, sensor-driven business solutions that can provide a high ROI in a very short time-frame, but have minimal impact on mission critical systems and operations. This allows companies to take advantage of the information derived from sensors and previously disconnected or remote information, without disrupting existing operations.

There are several areas in most industries where information can automatically close a feedback loop or create a linkage between currently separate IT systems. These include solutions to automate the monitoring of financial transactions – eliminating the need for GUI based manual checks - using the signals emitted by ‘snifflets’ embedded in the network. For retailers, they include solutions to reduce in-store out-of-stocks by using each single point of sale reading to directly update on-shelf-availability, eliminating the need for manual counting or checking [6].

An Event Driven Application Platform that fulfils these requirements will permit an incremental and phased approach, delivering returns in step with investment. Early adopters will be able to minimise the risk inherent to the use of any emerging technology, gaining the ‘extreme’ competitive advantage provided by the capability of responding automatically to changes in the enterprise ecosystem detected by sensors and network devices.

Metcalfe’s law of networks, first formulated by Robert Metcalfe in regard to Ethernet, states that the value of a network increases in proportion to the square of the number of objects connected to it. For this value to be realised, the ability to make effective network transactions must keep in step with the number of connections, and not grow rapidly in cost. This is the promise of the extreme performance event driven application platforms can deliver for the highly connected world of sensors, RFID tags and embedded devices.

References

  1. M Raskino et al, ‘Extracting Value From the Massively Connected World of 2015’, Gartner Inc., 1 April 2005
  2. C Peacock, ‘IP and Ethernet Interfaces’, www.beyondlogic.org, 15 June 2005
  3. M Raskino, ‘The shape of things to come in AD 2015’, Computing 28 April 2005
  4. M Pezzini, ‘The Evolution of Transaction Processing in light of J2EE and .Net’, Business Integration Journal, November/December 2005, http://www.bijonline.com/index.cfm?section=article&aid=81
  5. M Pezzini, ‘Mission-Critical SOA and Events: Will CICS, J2EE and .NET Hold Up Under Pressure?’, Gartner Application Integration & Web Services Summit, Barcelona 12-13 June 2006
  6. E Pasquali et Al, ‘WareLite Real Time Shelf Replenishment – A Simple Solution to Retail Out-of-Stocks’, WareLite, http://www.wlboss.com/articles/WL_Real_Time_Demand_Chain_Management.pdf
  7. E Pasquali et Al, ‘Scaling IT for Event Intensive Business Processes’, WareLite, http://www.wlboss.com/articles/WLBOSS_Scalability.pdf
  8. Massimo Pezzini, Yefim V. Natis, ‘Cool Vendors in Platform Middleware, Event-Driven Application Servers, 2006’, Gartner, 14 March 2006, http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=138236
  9. D Grazioli et Al, ‘WareLite BOSS Performance & Scalability Benchmarks’, WareLite, http://www.wlboss.com/benchmarks/ROADMAP_A_19APR2006.pdf

About the Author

Rob Bamforth, Strategic Marketing Advisor, WareLite Limited With over twenty three years in IT, Rob is an innovative and sales-focused marketing and technology specialist with extensive experience in identifying and promoting emerging concepts, and managing diverse teams. Analytical ability, strong communication skills and a commitment to deliver have brought success in sales, business development and marketing roles. Rob was among the first to see the commercial potential of both the Internet and Java through his business development roles at Sun Microsystems in the mid 1990s. His experiences in sales and marketing have been driven by an understanding of the broader picture, and desire to arouse enthusiasm and bring comprehension to a business audience. He now also works as an industry analyst looking at service provision and mobility in the convergence of IT and telecommunications. Write to: rob.bamforth@warelite.net.

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About WareLite Limited

WareLite Limited is a UK Technology Company. WareLite has developed the Business Operating Support System (WL BOSS), a Software Platform for the Design & Execution of Event Driven Business Processes. WareLite collaborates with its Partners in the Design & Delivery of Real Time Business Solutions capable of co-ordinating legacy and external systems within flexible, event driven business processes.