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Previously on the hit game show, "What's a Cloud?"

Over on RedMonk, I heard a very intriguing quote from James Governor that was buried in video:

"If you think of the post-SOA term, from Nick Gall... Web Oriented Architecture, clearly this is somewhat different from SOA, although there are some patterns common to both of them..... Is the cloud Web-Oriented Operations, or WOO? (We have WOA and WOO)... and what IBM is saying is definitely not WOO, it's business as usual, it's just about flexible delivery of application -- all the stuff that is goodness, all the stuff that Tivoli has been talking about since 1995. That stuff all has value, but it's not Cloud. Cloud involves difference. Business as usual, that's just provisioning service, and automation and virtualization, which is all good, but... if I hear a another person tell me that CLOUD = SOA + VIRTUALIZATION + AUTOMATION, I'm going to ignore them and rubbish the idea as much as I can."

Preaching to the choir here; I left BEA almost a year ago to build out a WOA platform for clouds.

But I'm curious -- as far as I can tell, most clouds really ARE some combination of:

  1. Service Interface (e.g. Amazon Web Services aren't really WOA up close)
  2. Provisioning and Automation of some sort (e.g. images, web applications, multi-tier designs)
  3. Virtualization is admittedly optional, though increasingly common

So, if cloud is different, is the difference really a trend towards WOA, or is this really going to happen? I see two patterns:

One pattern is emerging from the IBM and HPs of the world that have collected a number of shiny baubles in their ERP4IT stacks (Tivoli and OpenView) and invested heavily in SOA and WS-* to painstakingly integrate them (and the pile of IT that has been built on this technology over the past 5+ years)> This pattern indicates that the IT world is cleaving in two, with web architecture on one side, to build the new class of end-user services, and boring old SOA+VIRTUALIZATION+PROVISIONING for the back end.

The other pattern is that the cloud is about Web Architecture end-to-end, using WOA to enable linked data and mashups for the development lifecycle, architecture & operations lifecycle , and end-user-services.

I wouldn't bet on the latter being a fait accompli, as most haven't wrapped their heads around how to make this work. And of course, there's a lot of inertia. There are bright spots: notice one of those links comes from IBM Rational's Jazz / OSLC initiative - they seem to "get the Web" for enabling interoperable software delivery lifecycle tools. But the problem is end-to-end. At some point the industry has to recognize that IT is becoming complicated enough that planning for product-line-style reuse is of isolated value, and designing for serendipity and applying knowledge representation principles at global scale are legitimate ways out of this mess.

A lot will depend how this changes the cost and user experience of the ball-of-IT-mud (and whether that can be effectively communicated to those who don't follow the latest architecture acronyms).

The Twilight of an Empire

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With great sadness, I see that Ted Rogers has passed away.

I worked for Rogers Communications from 2002 through 2004 in a somewhat senior position (2 levels away from Ted). That company was inspirational in some ways, chaotic in other ways, but it all seemed to hold together, mostly out of Ted's ability to express a vision and dive into the grittiest of details to make it happen.

RIP, Ted.

Black Swan: 5, Investment Banks: 0

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No more investment banks.

This is f'd up, f'd up, indeed. I used to work as an architect & developer on Lehman Brothers' Whole Loan Trading system around 7 years ago. This is all a bit close to home.

(video courtesy my buddy Rob @ Openwave)

Given the news lately, there's a lot of speculation of what went wrong with the economy.

"Greed" is often cited as the reason for our economic failures. I disagree. It might have been a motivation, sure, but firstly, most motivations are mixed. Secondly, since the market system arguably is designed to channel greed and self interest to fulfill needs, it doesn't tell us as to how the system failed in this case, nor does it give us guidance on how to fix things, as people aren't just going to "stop being greedy". Greed isn't illegal, and not everyone believes it is a sin.

I think the failure basically comes down to "Hubris". The market system certainly IS designed to, in the long run, destroy those that exhibit it.

It's really painful, unfortunately, when an almost an entire society has bought into bad ideas pushed by hubris, to the point that the government has to halt portions of the market system to ensure some level of stability.

Corporate welfare is a dangerous path, one that sacrifices the long run for the short term. I don't doubt we need it for the current crisis, but I fear that this has not been a short term trend but something that's occurred for decades, going back to the Chrysler bailout in the 1980's, numerous airline bailouts, etc. It may be that the U.S. government is not willing to let a major corporation fail -- that they let Lehman Brothers fall is almost a token gesture that we haven't completely abandoned the market's ability to correct hubris.

There at least are five levels that hubris should be considered:

a) belief in managerial and economic principles that are obsolete
b) the primacy of shareholder value over true productivity
c) risk management / faith in statistics
d) technocracy
e) education, particularly in what it means to teach leaders

None of these authors are whack jobs; if anything, they're mainstream iconoclasts; Henry Mintzberg is a common Havard Business Review contributer (even though he is a critic of the school), Peter Drucker is the management guru of the 20th century, John Ralston Saul was the husband of Canada's former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, and Nicholas Taleb is the author of the NYTimes best seller, the Black Swan.

"I would hope that American managers--indeed, managers worldwide--continue to appreciate what I have been saying almost from day one: that management is so much more than exercising rank and privilege, that it is about so much more than "making deals." Management affects people and their lives."
-Peter Drucker

Dave Rosenberg, CEO of MuleSource, doesn't like Elastra's recent announcement.

I like Mule. I've met Ross before. I think they have a great product. But I think this post says more about the author than it does about the actual press release. Here's what I wrote in response on the CNet entry (which has not passed moderation yet):


I think you misunderstood the point of the press release. If you had waited for me to return your phone call before writing this rant, we could have discussed this, but I suppose a little blog drama is fun on a Tuesday morning.

We were announcing that we've enabled the Elastra Cloud Server to _interoperate_ with the Eucalyptus project and are opening up a limited beta program for those who have deployed a test Eucalyptus environment and would like to use our cloud server to provision and manage their MySQL or PgCluster database.

We haven't announced commercial support for the Eucalyptus project. I don't see how you could even interpret this from the press release unless you were an open source vendors afraid someone was going to eat away at your revenue stream (Oh, wait.) It would be very presumptuous for us to offer support considering how early the project is in its life! It primarily is still a UCSB project that has only recently opened up its code base and the project is not really set up for widespread contributions quite yet. What we're saying is, "this is a good idea, and for those interested in using Eucalyptus, we'll work with you".

We really have no interest in monetizing Eucalyptus. We are working to enable interoperability between our software and a variety of virtualization management platforms. Just like when we demonstrate "VMware Support" in the coming weeks, it doesn't mean we're commercially supporting VMware, it means that we have build a service to interoperate with them.

That's what I meant by "ecosystem": there will be many vendors supporting cloud computing, some open source, some SaaS (like us, currently), some closed source. The important thing is that that in the face of a market that has different platforms, APIs, and licensing models, how we foster interoperability.

Elastra is hiring

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Two notes

1. I've recently been promoted - my new title at Elastra is "Chief Software Architect", and I'm now reporting to the CEO, Kirill Sheynkman. I am responsible for Elastra's technology direction across its product lines.

2. Elastra is hiring! If you want to change the world of enterprise service management and provisioning, can contribute to a world-class team, and are located in (or want to relocate to) the San Francisco Bay Area -- send me an email.

An Ode to BEA

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This ode is bittersweet.

BEA hq

I've worked for a number of companies over the past 11 years, but I didn't love a company the way I loved BEA. Perhaps it was the Orfali , Harkey & Edwards Blue Book, which convinced me to abandon data management & become a programmer back in 1997 (Jeri Edwards was a VP at BEA at the time), or it was the talk about unifying OLTP with CORBA, or the acquisition of WebLogic, I *wanted* to work for that company since I got out of college. There was something about the lure of middleware that I liked -- the idea of integrating, communicating, and enabling people to work faster. My best friend, Greg Peres (now a lead software presales architect at Sun Microsystems in Canada) took a photo of myself outside of BEA's new HQ when I first moved to the SF Bay Area, back in 1998 ... which I will post here if I could find it in my boxes of stuff!


In 2004, I got the chance to work for BEA in Toronto, Canada, as part of their Strategic Consulting Services practice, then under Fabrice Leb├ęgue (now at Boston Consulting Group). Mark Janzen, one of their top consulting architects, (now at IBM) brought me in while we worked together at Rogers. The idea was to bring executive-level consulting to the software pre & post sales process, which was deemed necessary for SOA initiatives. The group would try its best to do work independent of BEA products, though obviously the goal was to drive demand for BEA software through developing relationships. For a variety of reasons, the group was disbanded in 2005, and I wound up as something of a one-man department in Canada, the "technical lead" for the region - something of a hybrid SE, Consultant, and PR Representative, and continued in that capacity through 2007. It was a great ride. I learned a tremendous amount about the software business, consulting business, and vendor politics. I helped many organizations in Canada and forged great relationships across many sectors, and got to visit all of Canada's five time zones.

BEA WWC team

But, by late-2006 I felt BEA was losing its way. The initial AquaLogic push was good, but it spread our engineering resources thin. BEA's SOA vision, which started well, became something of an empty marketing slogan, like how '.NET' was destroyed within Microsoft. I tried to make changes from within, and joined Cliff Booth's Worldwide Enterprise Architecture group, setting consulting and SOA policy for the global consulting organization. We worked quite a bit on a modeling approach for service architectures. While I learned a lot about modeling, and architecture, the kind of work and style of long-distance collaboration was just not suited to me. I was the Data Management & REST advocate on the team, and often felt I had to spend an inordinate amount of energy to get my points across. Oracle's acquisition attempt in October didn't help matters. I was emotionally and mentally drained early into the job and found it difficult to stay motivated or productive, since I couldn't see how our efforts would save this company that I once loved.

It also didn't help that I had stopped believing that SOA would make anyone's life any easier, and reading some of the ITIL v2 material that was guiding our efforts also really just seemed to reinforce that we were following in the grand tradition of "smart people building skyscrapers to nowhere". I don't begrudge the team -- Cliff, Stephen Bennett, Wayne Boland, Mark Wilkins, Dave Chappelle, Bob Hensle, are some of the brightest guys I've had the pleasure of working and arguing with. Cliff is one of the best executives I've seen at fostering a creative, but accountable, environment. I'm sad to have let them down. But our team was just a microcosm of the larger problem with BEA: while we were doing many things right, we just weren't doing the right things, in my opinion. I announced my departure in early February, for the end of the month.

BEA's Canadian Offices

One could see Oracle's acquisition as the culmination of BEA's failure to emerge from the dot-com bubble burst. I don't entirely buy it -- Alfred managed to grow the company to $1.5b from $950m in 2001 when Coleman, then CEO, left. That's quite an accomplishment, if short of expectations. BEA was still performing, people were still buying its products, and a lot of the b.s. about JBoss or other competitors eating its lunch are rather exaggerated, in my opinion. I claim no real insider information, and am speaking for myself when I say, there is one primary, clear, reason for BEA's failure, in my opinion, and anyone "on the ground" in the company would likely agree with it: after the early-2000's recession, finance & legal -- the bean counters -- became the kings of the company. In other words, I believe BEA's wounds were self-inflicted.

Once the goal ceased being innovation & great software, it was about a pristine balance sheet, milking the support organization, and onerous following of extremely conservative accounting guidelines. There were still leaders -- Alfred Chuang still had fire in him, some product executives like Guy Churchward were bright spots, Paul Patrick in the architecture organization was also a great source of ideas (but given power far too late). Many in the sales organization knew how to make customers feel valued, and were rewarded righly. But all of them were beholden to the bean counters. Oh yeah, and there was an options scandal that one hoped would shake the power of the finance department. (It didn't.)

BEA has some great products that decayed under the product executive leadership over the past 2+ years. I don't know the complete reasons for this, I just know the results. WebLogic Server continues to be, in my opinion, the gold standard of J2EE application servers (and I've used most of them). Yet it's maddening that something as important as their management console -- arguably the defining feature of the product vs. open source alternatives! -- became dog slow. WebLogic Workshop was productive for specific products but made the transition to Eclipse years later than it should have. AquaLogic Service Bus was a visionary product, and has some great understated features for validating the dependencies amount service artifacts. But it's lack of support for RESTful services is also maddening, considering how little work would need to be done (for starters, just enable PUT and DELETE, folks!). AquaLogic DSP was another visionary product, but way too programmer-centric in a world where programmers don't give a crap about data. They needed to target the DBA or the RESTful crowd, but the small & dedicated team was too busy trying to improve the core engine with the resources they had. BEA WebLogic Integration v8.1 SP2+ was the swiss army knife of integration tools, and probably the best game in town circa 2003-2006. WLI could smoke Oracle BPEL on performance, usability, and complex transformations. But v9 was disastrous. WebLogic Portal had one of the most ambitious set of goals, and an extraordinarily bright team. But they too were plagued with quality issues, arguably due to a lack of bandwidth, and a need to compete with Plumtree internally. The Plumtree team got off to a great start with the PEP products, but I doubt if we'll ever see the fruition of that idea.

As of today, May 9, 2008, the BEA I loved is dead. A surprising number of people I knew there in Canada, and in San Jose, have either left over the past 2 months, or were sacked this week, as part of the transition. Some great products will be put out to pasture. In Oracle's defense, many of the "leaders" who oversaw the decay of this once great company were also a part of this culling. The field organization and deal support teams in particular were in dire need of a shakeup (expect Oracle to reap great benefits by -- finally! -- cutting BEA's cost of sales to reasonable levels!)

One could say that it's "the day that middleware died". Perhaps that's a good thing, in the long run. In many respects, we have a new approach to middleware that surrounds us, if only we'd take advantage of it.

I leave you with this photo stream, of some memories, and of my last operations meeting at BEA, held at Great Cooks in downtown Toronto, where we made our last meal together....

In Memory of BEA

The new music biz model rears its head again

I recall since the Napster days that the effective way to monetize music production (and maybe software production) in the future will be a capital market, where the dividends are "more software or music from this artist". This eliminates the need to monetize every single copy, something nearly impossible given how prevalent digital copying is (and should be).

Now, Radiohead is saying the price of their new album, digital or disc box, "is up to you"

Of course, this is only for the next few months, before traditional distribution kicks in. But it is telling.

What will be interesting here is how the whole free rider issue plays out. There's the traditional free riders, those who copy off of Torrents, Newsgroups, or a P2P network. The question is whether a new class of free riders will emerge to pay very little for a legitimate copy.

What's missing here, I think, are market indicators -- how much are other people paying? What's the bid spread? Prices will tend to converge, then.

Breaking the software industry

From Vinnie Mirchandani's blog on the side of the enterprise software industry that many in the technology trenches don't see: "rules" that need to be broken, such as the revenue recongition noose, or the spending model of SG&A vs. R&D (which, while needing reform, is often exagerrated by the larger open source companies who seem to be following a similar model).

Anyhow, lots of insight to read there.

Sales culture

The culture of sales organizations and salespeople is a fascinating thing. I started getting into sales around 10 years ago (the I Hate Selling book was useful to me), but only recently have I witnessed sales management culture, the relentless pressure, and the personalities.

Sales people have such a unique role and set of responsibilities that few can handle. Examples include:

  • accountability to make committed sales projections,
  • pressure from customers,
  • dealing with support for products that don't always work,
  • choosing pre-sales engineers that don't always fit the situation,
  • dealing with screaming, crying, scheming, and outbursts of emotions both inside and outside the company,
  • handling pipeline pressure from management (who typically manage pipelines statistically via spreadsheet, even though sales is a very empirical, situational process),
  • and , in the end -- deal closing, which involves fighting with finance and legal to insist that you're not trying to bring down your own company or the customer's company, you really just want to sell some software and/or services.

There's also three fabulous movies to see to understand the culture. Wall Street, Glengarry Glen Ross, and more recently, Boiler Room. They're dramaticised into moral fables about greed & corruption, but the pressures and personalities of different types of sales superstars and managers are spot on.

Some wonder if sales is even necessary -- if marketing can make products "sell themselves", or if the world will become dispassionate logical evaluators of purchases, or that legal & financial negotiations will become manageable by small companies. Somehow, I doubt it.

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