SOA Talk

August 13, 2012  5:57 PM

APIs in the news as trawls for dollars

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

Summer is known for vacation and relaxation, as many TV commercials attest. It also can be a time of unrest and revolution, as U.S. and French history attest. Maybe the season explains the timing of some upheaval in the fledgling field of open APIs.

Recent weeks have seen clamor in the ranks of the OAuth API standardization effort, as well as a high-visibility launch of an alternative to Twitter APIs. In the first case, an OAuth originator took exception at changes proposed for Version 2.0. In the other case, a West Coast start-up took on Twitter, promising a non-ad-supported social media platform based on an open Web API. A sidebar to all this is the earlier craigslist mini-brouhaha surrounding its attempts to close up its data listing URLs that are being repurposed by Web API-wielding third parties.

Over the weekend, the potential Twitter alternative known as garnered considerable attention by enlisting developers at as much as $100 a pop to sign up for its paid mobile app service. The company had well exceeded its $500,000 seed goal as of August 13. On one level it can be seen as an effort to enter the void caused by Twitter’s recent back-tracking on some of its API openness. On another level can be seen as an affront to Twitter’s growing reliance on advertising for revenue.

It was in the wake of Twitter’s efforts to ensure that its APIs maintain a “consistent set of products and tools” that co-creator Dalton Caldwell blogged about what Twitter could have been. (He’d early attacked Facebook.) He saw the Twitter API originally as a real-time protocol, one that became tainted by Twitter’s advertising model. Subsequently, launched its online promotion,  which seemed somewhat akin to crowd-funding undertakings such as Kickstarter.

Dalton Caldwell, who began his career at SourceForge, has seen the upside and downside of technology. His present company, Mixed Media Labs has focused increasingly on its developer store, now pitched as a social platform, as backing has run out for its Picpiz picture sharing site, now shut down. In effect, he has ridden the swells of the open API trend, and found a way to get mobile app developers to pay to be part of the effort.

These doings – both Twitter’s and Mixed Media’s – don’t much clarify the trajectory of that recently born technology known as the open, Web or public API.

An era of an open,  programmable Web may come about if non-commercial standards can be agreed to. Oauth 2.0 will provide a testing ground for that. But, Caldwell’s does not forgo commerce altogether – his business plan merely pledges to forgo advertising commerce.

It is early for open APIs. Companies that use Web APIs as part of their business will no doubt take a one-step-forward/one-step-backward approach. They will be eyeing the open API effort but continuing to use Twitter APIs where appropriate. What do you think?

August 2, 2012  7:07 PM

Banking on ESBs for agility, more value added services

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

The once staid and steady field of banking is looking for greater agility in rolling out new software and services. As a result, Enterprise Service Buses (ESBs) are being deployed as part of efforts to streamline operations. By way of example there is Federal Bank of Bombay, India.

The large commercial bank will be using the Fiorano ESB in an attempt to modernize its operations, according to Fiorano. Before deploying the Fiorano ESB, Federal Bank was already using over 30 retail banking related applications from various vendors, including Infosys’ Core banking platform FINACLE, running on mixture of hardware including IBM AIX servers. The bank’s deployment of the Fiorano ESB is part of a further plan to expand the number of value added services available to its customers.

In a statement, K.P. Sunny, head of IT at Federal Bank, explained that the Fiorano ESB was chosen due to its “architectural simplicity which allows the Bank to put in place a flexible architecture that will scale linearly and allow business decisions to be speedily implemented at the IT level.”

The bank hopes the choice will result in savings in maintenance of their current integration code, as well as increased reliability and security.  The ESB is expected to power deployment of out a variety of value added services through multiple delivery channels. Those channels include ATMs, kiosks, hand-held devices, mobile and Web. -Stephanie Mann

July 26, 2012  5:12 PM

Using the Web as an application integration platform

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

While much discussion these day centers on APIs, some players suggest that the Web is all the API you really need. That could be said to be part of the thinking behind the Kapow Katalyst Application Integration Platform 9.0 from Kapow Software.

Be prepared to add another “as a” to the list of Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and so on. Kapow describes its latest edition as the first software platform of its kind to feature “Integration-as-a-Self-Service” through the introduction of lightweight end-user apps. These apps are dubbed ”Kapplets.”

Kapow was early to field a software type that was often described as the “enterprise mashup.” Using XML, it created a Web data extraction tool for getting catalog and other data from the Web, and performing useful transformations on that data. Kapow continues to add to its product base.

Customers such as car maker Audi are able to use the software to generate real-time feeds to an in-car multimedia system without creating dependencies on individual information providers’ custom APIs, according to Rick Kawamura, vice president, marketing, Kapow.

Big consultancies have a tendency to code to APIs, but this doesn’t scale in an era of ‘get it done quick,’ said Kawamura, who sees mobile, social, cloud and big data changing the workplace dynamic. However, IT still does have an important role, at least for now.

Kapow Kapplets are said to put big data more directly into the hands of business users, but the business leaders are required to describe what they need to their IT department, which then uses Kapow Katalyst 9.0 to integrate data and applications. IT then makes Kapplets – displayed as clickable icons – available to workers as part of automated workflow. This lets employees, customers and partners control and run “the automation and integration of disparate systems and data sources.”

Clearly we are in the era of the programmable Web. It may take many forms. Will it be so easily programmable that any interested business person someday could develop against it? What do you think?  – Jack Vaughan

July 11, 2012  9:52 PM

Rules, events and processes meet

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

Update – Integrated process, rules and event capabilities are something of a holy grail for today’s high-powered corporations. Such capabilities are being pursued in open source software. For example, over the years, Red Hat’s Middleware division has expanded its JBoss server line, adding software to enable these advanced efforts. Last month, Red Hat went live with JBoss Enterprise BRMS 5.3, supporting business process automation and intelligent decision and event processing for applications running on the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform 6 and JBoss Enterprise SOA Platform 5.3.

The new release, as discussed in Boston at Red Hat’s recent JBoss World event by Ken Johnson, director of product management,  also adds Apache Camel integration, improved data services and additional messaging support. Combining BPM software, rules and complex event processing is a worthwhile goal, indicated Maureen Fleming, vice president, BPM and middleware research programs, IDC, in a prepared statement.

For some time, research has indicated that making SOA, BPM and event processing work together is a challenge. [Ed. Note: See “State of SOA 2010” a downloadable PDF) Recently, we asked James Taylor how important connecting these disciplines was today. Taylor, an independent consultant specializing in decision making strategies, has been a long-time observer of business rules trends.

“Using business rules to automate decisions and integrating decisions with events and processes as decision services is essential for organizations trying to add agility to their systems,” Taylor said in an e-mail. “Bringing business rules management to the heart of the enterprise architecture stack is increasingly critical,” he continued.

Red Hat/JBoss has pulled a lot of tools together of late. Are there areas that need more attention still, we asked Taylor, who responded, “Decisions also involve analytics and it would be great to see some more options for bringing [in] analytic techniques.”

“RedHat has some interesting work going on with optimization and business rules, which is great, and I would like to see this extended to include data mining and predictive analytics,” said Taylor. – Stephanie Mann and Jack Vaughan

July 11, 2012  8:28 PM

Consumerization of IT and SOA integration

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

An odd phenomenon these days is the consumerization of IT, which WhatIs describes as the “blending of personal and business use of technology devices and applications.” Today’s armies of mobile device wielding business users are the most striking symbol of IT consumerization. But it is really not so new. People old enough to remember that Mork came from Ork can recall when the PC and the software spreadsheet were smuggled into the office to end the mainframe’s dominance of corporate computing.

Few application development managers are not affected by the mobile tsunami. They are now sorting through the costs and benefits of a new category known as mobile middleware, which has arisen to deal with mobile device diversity. As it turns out, mobile apps are a bigger problem for application development managers than was mobile email. They have to support every conceivable type of endpoint, and select between HTML5, native and hybrid programming schemes.  

The PC was a game changer. The same appears to be true of the smartphone, which recently crossed an inflection point, surpassing the desktop PC in unit sales. Equal as influences are social media, open APIs and app stores.

Social media applications that aggregate news and information have caused a big boost in use of integration middleware using “REST” and RSS-style services. SOA laid the foundation, but it is the simple REST version of SOA that is carrying integration development forward today, as seen in social media and mobile application development. Basically, REST underlies the big digital consumer success stories called Amazon, Google, Facebook and eBay, and their style of development is now penetrating the established enterprises, and software architects must understand how to build these modern style systems.

Now we are seeing a type of consumerization of IT integration that resembles the open APIs of the big e-commerce and social media sites. The idea is that you publish out APIs that let outsiders hook into your Web versions of your enterprise applications. Some SOA houses are building API management tool sets in response. They want their APIs for B2B to fly off the virtual shelves as the MP3s do at the iTunes store with which consumers are familiar.

Consumerization of SOA integration could be taken more broadly still. Seldom when you are calling, are operators actually standing by. The Web has enabled – some might say ‘condemned’ – the consumer to take over the role of key operator of yore. This requires teams to design and deliver much better applications and application interfaces than ever before. This is becoming more and more true as mobile devices flourish.

Again, aspects of the “new” consumerization of IT can sound like an old story. The notion that end users can, with the right tools, manage to meet the bulk of their programming own needs was heard in the days of the original Visual Basic, Lotus Notes and PowerBuilder. To a point it was true. We hear that now about open APIs. Is it more likely to be more true this time? What do you think? -Jack Vaughan

July 6, 2012  3:51 PM

At long last BaaS: Fix for enterprise app complexity?

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

As mobile middleware and the cloud take the fore, mobile Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) could be emerging as a way to effectively connect to varied backend systems and services, says at least one analyst. According to Chris Marsh, senior analyst at Yankee Group Enterprise Research, companies now looking to more complex use cases for mobile applications to liberate enterprise data face serious challenges.

Those challenges include ensuring that mobile applications can access confidential information securely through the cloud, and managing an increasingly complex landscape of enterprise apps. To address those issues, organizations look for integration tools that can adapt to deploy in public, private and hybrid clouds.

At the root of the BaaS approach is the ability to manage complex enterprise apps that also integrate with multiple backend systems and cloud services. When looking for mobile app solutions, companies also keep an eye on user experience and ease of integration as described in a recent white paper on the subject, authored by Marsh and sponsored by mobile app solution developer FeedHenry. – Stephanie Mann

June 26, 2012  7:31 PM

Caterpillar tackles transformation with portfolio tools

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

With well over $100 billion in revenues, Caterpillar, Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment. It has also been accumulating acquisitions at a frenzied pace in recent years, complicating an already complex IT environment.

It was that experience that convinced an enterprise architect at Caterpillar to implement portfolio management tooling – a decision he credits with greatly improving IT’s ability to respond to initiatives and a significant labor saving success. Continued »

June 21, 2012  5:51 PM

Red Hat unveils the JBoss Way, drives toward mobile, cloud and big data

James Denman James Denman Profile: James Denman

Yesterday, JBoss and RedHat made a few preliminary product announcements before the upcoming combination JBoss World / Red Hat Summit 2012 event scheduled for June 26-29. Their primary push was for the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP) 6, but there was also significant talk about the  open source JBoss Data Grid 6 and Red Hat’s recently announced infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering, CloudForms.

Continued »

June 20, 2012  5:03 PM

On courting discerning API developers

Jack Vaughan Jack Vaughan Profile: Jack Vaughan

The process of attracting independent developers to public APIs has gained importance as the app store marketplace proves increasingly relevant and lucrative. Unfortunately, many companies trying to woo developers with their APIs are using marketing techniques that have little impact on a discerning developer community. According to Apigee, a provider of API management and infrastructure products, the heart of the issue is simple: Developers hate marketing.

Why? Apigee’s recent report, aptly titled “Developers Hate Marketing: Attracting Developers to APIs,” puts it this way: “Developers live in the world of the tangible. They want to see their apps used by people. They have a keen eye for anything that sounds like vaporware or shelfware and are extremely cynical about marketing.”

That said, Apigee does outline an alternative API-promotion strategy for attracting developers. Three main points stand out:

1. Build a developer community. Instead of talking at developers, show them what they want to see. By building a developer community that speaks to the needs and ambitions of the type of developers you want to work with, you better your chances of attracting the right fit of developer for your project.

2. Know what developers want—and supply it. According to Apigee, developers want to build useful skills, raise their visibility among other developers, use effective tools and—unsurprisingly—to make money. Providing what developers want is an obvious necessity if your business wants to attract and retain ambitious developers to work on your API.

3. Make developers part of the team. Another big takeaway from the report deals with the way companies treat developers. Traditionally, outside developers have been viewed as consultants. Today, a landscape driven by open source trends is demanding developers be treated more like customers—or even partners. As the report puts it, “Developers become a channel for new types of business that you wouldn’t or couldn’t pursue yourself.” As such, they take on a vital role that brings them into the folds of an organization on many levels.

Clearly, the first part of building an API—figuring out how to expose a service or product—can actually be easier than the second part—that is, getting developers to actually use it. That has always been true to some extent. But, in the era of open APIs, the story has a new twist. – Stephanie Mann

June 13, 2012  7:49 PM

Alaska freight tracking made easier by open source messaging software

James Denman James Denman Profile: James Denman

Reliable messaging can be hard to achieve in difficult terrains. This was apparent as we met up recently with a lead developer of a major freight company that specializes in shipping to and from far flung facilities in Alaska.

Rob Terpilowski, lead Java developer, Lynden, Inc., explained how he and his team used Apache MQ messaging middleware and other open source messaging software to replace homegrown tracking software. He said the original tracking software was built to overcome immediate needs without consideration for later modernization or integration requirements. Continued »

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