In-Depth

Real-time light, real-time anywhere

“The height of skepticism has been reached in IT” when it comes to the subject of large-scale integration, traditionally the underpinning of efforts to breathe life into visions of the real-time enterprise (RTE), according to Jnan Dash, chief technology officer at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based KnowNow. Dash believes that efforts have been built around “heavy” and complex technology that consumes money and resources and, ultimately, creates as many problems as it solves.

By contrast, he said, KnowNow’s entry point is low, and comparatively inexpensive, publish-and-subscribe messaging across the Internet that automatically delivers information between distributed applications, services and desktops.

Dash, a consultant to several Silicon Valley firms, was previously a group vice president at Oracle Corp. and a key member of the original DB2 development team at IBM. He joined KnowNow as consulting CTO in May.

Dash said the term real-time enterprise -- joined by two other coinages that came originally from Gartner Inc., zero latency and straight-through processing (STP) -- means different things to different people. At their core, though, RTE schemes focus on the Holy Grail of providing information when and where it is needed as quickly and as efficiently as possible. While in his view the concept is right on the mark, Dash asserts that RTE’s potential has been hurt by vendor hype in recent years -- particularly from those vendors selling massive middleware solutions requiring months of integration work and expensive consulting engagements. He dismisses cheaper approaches, such as “integration via a portal,” as nothing more than “putting lipstick on a pig.”

KnowNow’s approach aims to let organizations monitor frequently changing information wherever it resides, deliver updates and synchronize with Web browsers, desktop applications, enterprise systems and mobile devices. KnowNow’s publish-and-subscribe approach is supposed to let customers easily and cost-effectively connect their internal systems, employees, partners and customers, removing the traditional boundaries of operations and, in particular, ensuring the availability of up-to-date information.

In an example cited repeatedly by Dash, end users with Excel spreadsheets can have a specific cell continuously updated with new data without having to take any specific action themselves. The key to this ability, he explained, is lightweight, client-side code embedded into browsers and applications that enables client/server-like communication, holding open persistent HTTP/HTTPS connections between the KnowNow Event Router and the application.

The KnowNow LiveData platform includes both server and connector software components. KnowNow LiveServer provides topic and content-based information routing over the Web to a variety of desktop applications and devices. The KnowNow Application Connectors for Web browsers, Excel spreadsheets, corporate databases and PDAs are small software libraries that enable commercial applications to receive real-time information updates from KnowNow LiveServers.

KnowNow Data Connectors allow developers to connect their own custom applications -- written in C++, Java, ActiveX, .NET and other languages -- to KnowNow LiveServers so that these programs can easily send and receive information over the Web.

With some organizations spending as much as 70% to 80% of their budget on integration tasks, Dash said he sees KnowNow’s role as helping companies to integrate and extend their existing infrastructure without modifications. “This is a way to integrate without ripping out everything you are already using,” he said.

KnowNow’s current customers include Wachovia Securities, Fujitsu and PeopleSoft.


Please see the following related stories:

BI: real time or right time?” by Jack Vaughan

What to look for in a BI architecture” by Wayne Eckerson

What’s real at Fleet?” by Jack Vaughan

About the Author

Alan R. Earls is a technology and business writer based near Boston.

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