The real-time enterprise
- By Jack Vaughan
Much is made of middleware and
application integration. In fact, the hyperbole is not unwarranted -- architects
of corporate information are beginning to use these and other new technologies
in truly new ways. The result may be an organization that is more highly
automated and better able to respond to changes in the business environment.
The end of autonomous stovepipe applications, and the
beginning of integrated applications, has been discussed for a number of years.
However, a confluence of maturing technologies may make it a reality this time.
Some people are even calling this new organization the real-time enterprise.
Of course, what is seen as real-time varies. If you push
a button on an elevator and it lights up within a second, that is real-time
response. If an Exocet missile is coming at your battle cruiser, only a
millisecond response may qualify as real-time. Many organizations that have cut
application response time from weeks to hours would call their results
'real-time.' But highly integrated and streamlined financial services, telecom
and transportation app builders may have a truer claim on the real-time handle.
Recent ADT user stories chronicle the move to real-time enterprise systems:
- Investment banker D.E. Shaw & Co. used Talarian
publish-and-subscribe middleware to provide a global backbone for statistical
arbitrage systems that exploit slight price movements in capital markets.
- U.K.-based National Power is now trading electricity
on line. STC DataGate middleware is used to quickly reconcile 170 different
- Dow Jones Interactive is using the Cloudscape DB and
an XML application server to integrate varied news feeds for deployment on
- A performance and operations management system for the
Toronto Works and Emergency Services Dept. provides hourly data to shop floor
crews, where monthly data had been provided before.
- At Sigma Games Inc. in Las Vegas, slot machines are
being linked to a Raima (now part of Centura) embedded database system that
tracks activity, including the status of the machines' predefined payoff
The list goes on. For example, what happened to all of the empty seats on 'red-eye'
flights? Industry leaders like United Airlines have improved aircraft scheduling
by deploying analysis software -- in United's case, from Broadbase Information
Systems Inc. -- as part of new aircraft scheduling automation projects. Such
mixing of operations systems with 'online' analytical systems may
soon become the hallmark of many real-time enterprises.
Meanwhile, at United-competitor Delta Airlines, the IT force has employed the
skills of New Hampshire consulting firm SCG Partners and used IBM MQSeries software
to create a real-time information delivery system. As filtering is performed
on a server, data is pushed to Delta workers
in multiple forms based on specific operational staff needs. See 'Message
engine drives Delta data: A case study,' March 1999.
Surely, the technologies employed in real-time enterprise systems vary. The
most fully featured of these systems would tend to use all or some of key middleware
technologies, such as data transform software, message brokering, message queuing
or publish-and-subscribe software. As stated, online analytical capabilities
may be part of the parcel.
Thus, many in the Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) movement have a
role in the new real-time enterprise. The response time involved is what makes
it real-time. If one system event is programmed to automatically kick off other
application events, we are at least nearing the realm of the real-time enterprise.
The main competitive benefits the information mix-master seeks in these exotic
technology cocktails are fast reaction time to market forces and improved operations
through leveraged information handling across groups.
As has been said, the movement has many names -- zero-latency enterprise, event-driven
computing, just-in-time computing and straight-through processing are a few
examples. Distributed object technology, business process reengineering, enterprise
resource planning and
supply-chain management systems, to some extent or another, all share some lineage
with the real-time enterprise.
It came from Wall Street
Trading has been a technology driver throughout history. Much of what we now
call middleware began its life in Wall Street stock trading. Much as space and
defense technology once came to be used in broader commercial apps, the technologies
of Wall Street now provide the lead for others.
As Gartner Group analyst Ross Altman pointed out at the group's recent Symposium/ITexpo
event in San Diego, key financial service applications such as foreign exchange,
trading and back-office systems generate event notifications whenever they execute
financial transactions that affect a bank's position. This has been going on
for some time.
An area that has also been quick to adopt near-real-time methods has been the
transportation business. While Altman rightly notes that the major air carriers
have been heavily automated for 30 years, it is fair to say that the sector
is expanding its use of event-driven architectures every day.
Among the host of Wall Street middleware specialists that hope to transfer
real-time methods to wider markets, publish-and-subscribe giant Tibco Software
is very prominent. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company -- known as Teknekron
Software Systems before its 1994 purchase by Reuters Group PLC -- has recently
spun itself into two businesses: one targeted at Wall Street, the other targeted
at emerging commercial middleware markets.
Gartner Group analyst Roy Schulte has been particularly vocal in promoting
the idea of the real-time enterprise, for which he has coined the term 'zero-latency
'The zero-latency enterprise is one of the most important things that
you'll be seeing over the next five to 10 years,' said Schulte. Last fall
he went public with the concept. At the time, he said, he had detected an emerging
pattern while looking at leading-edge enterprises that worked to tie packaged
applications to home-brewed systems.
According to Schulte, there is a movement underway to integrate multiple processes,
not just multiple systems and departments. 'It is integrating in real-time,
[which means] sending individual transactions as they occur between cooperating
application systems,' he noted.
He added: 'Zero-latency starts where traditional BPR leaves off. You are
looking at accelerating the pace at which the entire business enterprise is
running.' In Schulte's view of the new enterprise, push technology will
come more widely into play.
Schulte said we have not been able to do this before for a number of reasons.
Vast improvements in corporate networks and increased accessibility of the desktop
PC are among the factors driving change. Just as important have been advances
in middleware, particularly publish-and-subscribe and push messaging systems.
One or more of the following services support the type of fast program-to-program
communication Schulte envisions:
- Message warehousing,
- Flow control or work flow,
- Message dictionary,
- Administration and monitoring, and
Schulte has numbered Tibco, Talarian, Datachannel, Vitria, Active Software,
IBM and others among the players in this and related spaces.
While the term zero-latency has an engineering aura to it, it confronts real
business issues. In fact, engineers probably
bridle at the term zero-latency. By definition, there must be some (no matter
how small) time between distinct events. That is why some may choose the term
'real-time enterprise' to denote something similar to what Gartner's
Thomas Laffey, co-founder and CTO at Talarian Corp., Los Altos, Calif., is
also a champion of the zero-latency concept. 'At first we were about five
years ahead of the market,' said Laffey. 'Now the whole world is coming
over to real-time. It is very natural.'
Phil Hyatt, a systems engineer at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, has used
Talarian's SmartSockets publish-and-subscribe software as part of his company's
in-flight tracking system. As in most airlines, varied data streams carry pertinent
operations data that departments of dispatchers must be prepared to act on.
'We put Talarian in the middle in order to push out data to clients,'
said Hyatt. Alerts on fuel needs, flight times and aircraft assignments are
part of the mix. Another Southwest department is relying on database replication
methods to support clients on the 'pull' side of the equation.
'I am amazed at the Talarian suite,' said Hyatt. 'Basically,
we went with it because we saw the complexity involved in sending the information.
In reality [prior to the use of Talarian], we were building the messaging system
'There were multiple paths we could take [to integration],' said
James Wagner, another SmartSockets user. Wagner is a senior software designer
at MCI Worldcom in Colorado Springs, Colo. The system he refers to is a fraud-detection
system that processes tens of millions of events per
day. These paths include transfer through a database, transfer through CORBA
or DCE, or transfer via a 4GL environment such as that from Forté Software.
'We chose the Talarian publish-and-subscribe offering because it was lightweight,
fast and it offered an easy-to-understand abstraction [of the system],'
In May, Talarian enhanced its SmartSockets publish-and-subscribe middleware
offering with a complementary message queuing product known as MQexpress. This
seems to be a variation on a move made by IBM in January to add a publish-and-subscribe
capability to a potent MQ-Series product line that already included MQIntegrator
process management skills.
Another knowledgeable source on the real-time enterprise
is JoMei Chang, former Tibco hand and now president and CEO of Mountain View,
Calif.-based Vitria Technology. In May, her company released Vitria BusinessWare
2.0, a product said to enable companies to integrate packaged, custom and legacy
applications. 'Business value comes from integrating at the business level,'
said Chang. 'This [new product] enables companies to automate and analyze their
business processes across disparate applications.' Both Talarian's Laffey and
Chang took part in a recent Application Development Trends 'virtual forum' on middleware. See 'A talk with the experts,' ADT,
We spoke with Vitria software user Tim Hilgenberg, delivery group manager at
Hewitt Associates, a Lincolnshire, Ill.-based provider of benefits outsourcing
services. 'With Vitria's Automator tool we can automate business processes
that bridge several systems,' he said.
'A lot of infrastructure [building] can be taken care of by these tools,'
he suggested. Moreover, 'routing information around just isn't good enough.'
Modern corporations need something intelligent that sits above it all, he added.
Hilgenberg sees these capabilities in software such as Vitria's.
Driving latency out
The value of the emergent publish-and-subscribe middleware is that it works
independently. 'You are not clogging things up,' remarks Ed Acly,
analyst, International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, Mass. 'Now you can
take this stuff in between [layers] and teach it to do all kinds of things.
There are all kinds of things you can do here -- all kinds of operations based
on an event that you want to [associate with] follow-up processing,' said
Acly looks at the evolution of the so-called real-time enterprise as a threefold
process. At the first level is the idea that EAI software can pass along business
events. Then there is an event-driven level at which you are concerned not just
with passing information but with optimizing in order to 'drive the latency
out.' At the third level, is business process automation where, in effect,
you are building business rules and policies in, he said.
Again, Acly states the that real-time is relative. 'It might take 10 to
15 seconds, that's a helluva lot better than something that once took overnight
or a couple of days,' he said. Acly sees 'the database companies beginning
to build some of these capabilities into their engines.'
In fact, hooking up the real-time enterprise with rules systems and company
knowledge bases may be the next frontier in the real-time space. Some viewers
indicate emerging companies like Broadbase Information Systems Inc., Menlo Park,
Calif., WhiteLight Systems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., and Cohera Corp., Hayward,
Calif., may be among those uniquely positioned here.
'It's up to the designer's imagination,' said Acly. 'We can
now teach the computer system that when certain events happen, its job is to
kick off subsequent events. It's this correlation of the places where things
happen [Ed Note: In the middleware architect's parlance, the 'producers'
or the 'publishers.'] and those who have to take the next step --
the subscribers -- when something happens.'
He added, 'You may have to communicate with a data warehouse, maybe a
developer's screen or report, or even communicate with a person's pager or send
message to a terminal. The idea is that you have this real-time feedback.'
Long ago, business processes of an organization began to resemble factory floors.
Some people may be skeptical when they view what others say is 'really real-time.'
It is not that much different than the accounts receivable system they wrote
when Eisenhower was president, they may assert. That's okay, they are not all
wrong. No one aspect of real-time enterprise technology is entirely new. But
taken together, the effect is considerable. Big corporations, the ones that
have the requisite money to devote to this big-ticket item, are betting on it
big time. Those that stand on the sidelines are placed at some risk.