Taming the SOA Tiger With CEP (Part II of II)

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(To read Part I of this article click here)

Correlation is The Key

Executives need a view across the enterprise, in order to discern properly the results of external or interdepartmental occurrences. The dashboard metaphor comes from an automobile. The driver mainly needs command of the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brakes. However, s/he also needs to be aware of what is going on outside the car (road conditions, traffic, weather), as well as under the hood (water, temperature, fuel, oil), and about the car (tire pressure and wipers). The console provides internal and external information to driver, just as it does to the corporate executive.

Information must not be delayed, no matter the source. Stovepipes, or islands of automation, prevent meaningful interpretation of activities across the entire scope of business. The isolation of information does not allow for automated action.

In order to use this information effectively, data on internal and external activities needs to be correlated with rules for automated action: stop trading if a certain condition demands, change interest rates of a certain customer if a business condition changes materially, add another server if page loading takes more than four seconds or if more than 12% of shopping carts are abandoned. A bevy of departmental systems that are not connected or correlated may be operating perfectly. However, without feeding each other essential information and displaying it on a console, these "stovepipes" prevent a true enterprise view. The lack of such a view inhibits an executive's ability to take proper action when required. It's like having the oil gauge under the hood, the fuel gauge near the gas cap, the light switch near the headlights, etc.

Stovepipes cannot make the necessary correlations to enable management to ascertain what's going on across the entire business scope. The good news is that CEP engines have the technical capabilities needed to deliver this kind of business value. They allow businesses to achieve their agreed service levels, whether it be transaction processing, information delivery or compliance reporting. The time element is impacted most severely (positively or negatively) by a system's ability to identify problems proactively.

For an internal IT shop, meeting a service level might mean performing a function on time, within a certain budget constraint. For a customer-facing application, it could mean accurately executing a stock trade within agreed limits, crediting transactions and compliance restrictions.

When things are running smoothly, little attention is paid to system elements, everything is assumed to be there. Identifying a problem and taking proactive action are what distinguish exceptional companies from the rest.

Rules Are Rules

In todayís complex SOA environment, the enterprises that employ a CEP engine to correlate all this information in time-independent manner go far beyond Wall Street. Imagine an online retailer that can't keep up with orders: the system may not just slow down, it could fall down or fail. Some of the largest retailers have faced this condition by employing monitors that allow them to proactively fire-up additional servers and adjust to deal with the extra business. The system knew what the volumes were, and triggered a process that started another set of web services to handle the load factor.

This notion of continuous load balancing and rules-based proactive action, can be applied in many industries, particularly those with heavy consumer or transaction traffic. However, it cannot be accomplished by simply watching one monitor. In a complex SOA environment things happen at cyberspeed, human reaction is simply to slow.

Besides real time information feeds, there is an additional important CEP function: the establishment of trends. A series of financial transactions can be monitored over time to discern patterns, which then serves to advise management about actions to consider. What happens to online traffic on Monday when Christmas occurs on a Thursday instead of Saturday? Temporal information: whatís going on over time? Another gauge for the console.

CEP helps companies achieve their service level agreements in todayís complex SOA or web service environments. They provide a correlation between various information technology layers: within the IT department itself, between IT and operations, and to those overseeing the line of business. Such technology can help management meet its own SLA with the Board of Directors and stakeholders.

As systems get more complex incidents of degradation and failure grow dramatically. Many IT experts and analysts are finding, that for varying reasons relating to complexity, the rate of application and transaction failures can double when converting to SOA environments.

Itís all about the Service

Service Oriented Architecture is on everybodyís mind these days, and SOA adoption on many enterprisesí budgets. The move towards creating new services from existing legacy resources defines complexity. And while the mantra of information processing has often been cited as "keep it simple, stupid" (one of the 1970s' favorite acronyms, KISS), thatís hardly todayís scenario. Todayís challenges require solutions that may be complex in concept, but must be simple to implement, deploy and manage.

While line of business and IT leaders are meeting those challenges within their own area of responsibility, attention is increasingly being paid at the corporate level to integrating processes and systems for improved competitiveness, better SLA performance.

Imagine the animal trainer who puts his/her head in a tigerís mouth, to demonstrate how even this most wild of beasts can be tamed. The tiger might be the information beast, something that needs care and attention from all quarters, lest it get out of control and really ruin the moment.

The tiger is getting its information from the trainer, who would like to eliminate the influence of the audience, the nearby animals, perhaps some interesting aromas, and music. What is it that allows the trainer to command its attention? Focus. The trainer has become the tiger's information dashboard, everything channeled to and through that one resource. S/he has filtered-out the extraneous and is managing the critical.

In this fantasy world of the circus, itís a matter of experience and training. In a systems world, the tiger may be any sort of data that must be properly channeled in order. The implications of disorderly data are fearsome. Conversely, the benefits of an enterprise information console (enabled by CEP) are equally impressive.