On Elephants and Analytics

June 26, 2008

In On EP and Analytics, good friend and respected colleague Opher Etzion applies the well known metaphor of the big elephant to describe how, if you are observing certain specific domains of a subject, like fraud detection, then your view of the whole elephant is biased by your lack of perspective of the entire big elephant.

I am pleased that dear Opher continues to use this metaphor in counterpoint because the same metaphor can be used to describe the carefully selected group of vendors that have banded together to called themselves CEP Vendors.  This group, many founding members of the EPTS, have formed a merry band of well-intended event processing “specialists” and the same lovely elephant causes this group of bonded colleagues to make elephant-blinded statements, as Opher has made in his quoted post:

“Currently most CEP applications do not require analytics.” 

The reason, I believe, that Opher makes the statement above is because the group of software vendors calling themselves “CEP vendors” represent a very small part of the overall event processing elephant;  and hence, since these self-described CEP applications appear to require very little or no analytics, then, by the same logic, CEP requires no analytics. 

(I should outline the boolean logic in a future post!)

For example, one friend and colleague in Thailand is the CTO of True Internet, a leading telecommunications, voice, Video and Internet service provider in Thailand.   True processes myriad events on their network using a dynamic, self-learning neural networking technology.    The US company providing this very clever and highly recommended event processing application does not call themselves a “CEP vendor”; however, they process complex events better and more interesting than the band of merry self-described “CEP players”.

Again,  visualize the gentle giant elephant metaphor that Opher likes to use as a basis for his comments in CEP counterpoint.

When folks define the term “complex event processing” to match a technology marketing campaign that is primarily driven by software running rules against time-series data streaming in a sliding-time windows, and then go on to take the same software capabilities and apply these capabilities to problems that are suitable for that domain, then you match Opher’s elegant description of “a small view of the overall elephant”.

The fact of the matter is that the overall domain of event processing is at least two orders of magnitude larger (maybe more) than the combined annual revenue of the self-described companies marketing what they call “CEP engines.”  The very large “rest of the big elephant” is doing what is also “complex event processing” in everyday operations that are somehow overlooked in “other” analysis and counterplay.

Therefore,  I kindly remain unmoved from my view  that the self-described CEP community, as currently organized, is not immune to counterpoint using the same gentle giant elephant metaphor.  I like this metaphor and hope well-respected colleagues will continue to use this metaphor; because we can easily apply this elegant manner of discussion to explain why the current group of self-described CEP vendors are, in a manner of speaking, selling Capital Market Snake Oil because they are making outrageous claims about the capabilities of their products, as if they can solve the entire “elephant” of event processing problems.   Recently, in this article, CEP was positioned as a technology to mitigate against corporate megadisasters like the subprime meltdown.

Advice:  Tone down the hype.

Furthermore, the noise in the counter arguments marginalize most of the real event processing challenges faced by customers.

In consistant and well respected rebuttal, Opher likes to use the “glass half-full, half-empty” metaphor.   Opher’s point is a valid attempt to paint my operational realism as “half empty” negativism; while at the same time positioning the promotion of the (narrow) event processing capabilities of the self-described CEP rules community as “half-full” thinking. 

For the record, I do see my worldview as “half full” or “half empty”; but an unbiased pragmatic view based on day-to-day interaction with customers with what they would call “complex event processing” problems. 

These same customers would fall over laughing if we tried to bolt one of these rule-based, time-series streaming data processing engines on their network and told them they can detect anything other than trival business events, business opportunities and threats, in near real-time. 

Is it “half empty” thinking to caution people that a “glass” of software that is being touted as the answer to a wide range of complex (even going so far in a recent news article to imply CEP would have magically stopped the subprime crisis!) tangible business problems is not really as that it is hyped to be?  

If so, then I plead guilty to honesty and realism, with the added offense of a sense of fiscal responsibility to customers and end users.

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