The Infant, the Elephant and the Intelligent Event

June 27, 2008

Fellow blogger Opher Etzion, replies to  On Elephants and Analytics with On Unicorn, Professor and Infant.   Opher is kindly giving us another metaphor to consider, the Infant and the Profession, since we are both big fans of big gentle elephants, babies and our universities.  

Opher and I agree that Infants are not Professors, and we also agree that CEP is in its Infancy and there is overhype by folks often implying CEP is a Professor.     So it seems we all have a huge elephant in the room with an Infant Professor hanging on the end of a wildly swinging Elephant’s trunk!

To keep the blogopoints interesting, I should point out that with all this agreement and Kumbaya campfire singing, there are a couple of things I do disagree with in Opher’s amusing counterpoint. 

First of all, Opher uses the well know debate technique of falsely attributing some easily refutable discussion point and then offering a slam dunk counterpoint.   He does this in this clever, but completely inaccurate Opher quote,

 “I [Opher] respectfully disagree with Tim … in his claim that what has been done until today is just hype and hence totally worthless…”

Folks reading my blog know that I have never said “what has been done until today is … totally worthless.”    This is a misfortunate misquote.  Shame on you Opher!  

What I said, easily read in the blog, was that CEP is overhyped and that most of the self-described CEP software on the market today does not live up to the inflated claims we read and hear from CEP software vendors, the analysts and reporters they influence.

The second counterpoint that I find interesting is Opher’s consistent attempt to redress the dramatic lack of capability and analytics in current generation self-described CEP software by repositioning CEP as “intelligent event processing” (IEP) as he is continues in On Intelligent Event Processing.   

Perhaps Opher will be successful in repositioning the vast majority of the original CEP problem space as IEP.   This is a interesting slippery slope, in my opinion.   The new positioning that Opher is offering is that when “event processing” has advanced analytics, it is not CEP anymore, it becomes IEP because CEP is really “Simple Event Processing” (SEP) – event processing with little to no analytical capability.

I don’t know about most of our readers, but all this positioning and repositioning to match the capabilities, or lack of capabilities, in the current portfolio of self-described CEP software vendors is fascinating.

Here is the next logical question is:

What is the difference between a “Complex Event” and an “Intelligent Event” ?

This could get quite interesting, so stay tuned!

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.

TIBCO Leaps Ahead in CEP with Insightful Acquisition

June 24, 2008

TIBCO Software shows, yet again, why the team in Palo Alto far outpaces the rest of the field with their announced acquisition of Insightful.  

Everyone who follows The CEP Blog and my vision for the business use of CEP understands how much energy and passion I have put into explaining why the crude time-series analysis of streaming data cannot possibly solve the vast majority of complex business problems CEP must address. 

TIBCO’s acquisition of Insightful shows just how serious TIBCO is about working to make the vision of “Predictive Business” a reality.    TIBCO means business, and a large part of what that means is helping customers solve their most challenging business integration problems, which can be summarized in CEP-speak as detecting opportunities and threats, in near real-time, as a core corporate competency. 

If you spend a few moments on the Insightful web site, you will find a treasure of documentation that discusses a gold mine of advanced statistical analytics that can be used in a number of mission critical applications.

This is the class of analytics that form the backbone of complex event processing.  In fact, as I have often pointed out (to the dismay of some of my CEP colleagues), any software company that discusses CEP and does not support or advocate advanced analytics are selling snake oil.      TIBCO obviously understands the difference between snake oil, smoke-and-mirrors marketing, and the technology it takes to solve real operational problems.

My hats off and warm congratulations to the team in Palo Alto for demonstrating, yet again, why TIBCO is committed to solving real customer problems with realistic solutions.

Maybe TIBCO will evolve to mean “The Insightful Business Company”   versus the tired and stale “The Information Bus Company” of yesteryears?

Disclaimer:  I have not been an employee of TIBCO for over a year. 

On the Maturity of CEP

May 31, 2008

Deciphering the Myths Around Complex Event Processing  by Ivy Schmerken stimulated a recent flurry of blog posts about the maturity of CEP, including; Mark Palmer’s CEP Myths: Mature or Not? and Opher Etzion’s On Maturity.

I agree with Ivy.  CEP is not yet a mature technology by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I agree with all three of Ivy’s main points about CEP.

In 1998 David C. Luckham and Brian Frasca published a paper, Complex Event Processing in Distributed Systems on a new technology called complex event processing, or CEP (Postscript Version).  In that seminal paper on CEP, the authors said, precisely:

“Complex event processing is a new technology for extracting information from message-based systems.”

Ten years later there are niche players, mostly self-proclaimed CEP vendors,  whom do very little in the way of extracting critical, undiscovered, information from message-based, or event-based, systems.  

A handful of these niche players have informally redefined CEP as “performing low latency calculations across streaming market data.”  The calculations they perform are still relatively straight forward and they focus on how to promote white-box algo trading with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software.  In this domain, we might be better off not using the term CEP at all, as this appears to be simply a type of new-fangled COTS algo trading engine.

The real domain of CEP, we thought, was in detecting complex events, sometime referred to as situations, from your digital event-driven infrastructure – the “event soup” for a lack of a better term.    In this domain, CEP, as COTS software, is still relatively immature and the current self-styled COTS CEP software on the market today is not yet tooled to perform complex situational analysis.

This perspective naturally leads to more energy flowing in-and-around the blogosphere, as folks “dumb down” CEP to be redefined as it benefits their marketing strategy, causing more confusion with customers who want CEP capabilties that have zero to do with low latency, high throughput algo trading, streaming market data processing, which maybe we should call “Capital Market Event Stream Processing” or CESP – but wait we don’t really need more acronyms!

Hold on just a minute!  Wasn’t it just a short couple of years ago that folks were arguing that, in capital markets, it was really ESP, not CEP, remember?  Now folks are saying that it is really CEP and that CEP is mature?   

CEP is mature?  CEP is really not ESP?  CEP is really event-driven SOA?  CEP is really real-time BI?  CEP is really low latency, high throughput, white-box COTs algo trading?  CEP is really not a type of BPM?  CEP is not really for detecting complex events?   Complex does not really  mean complex? 

Come on guys, give us a break! 

(Anyway, no one is going to give us a break….  so stay tuned!)


Scheduling Agents with Rules Engines

April 5, 2008

Paul Vincent of TIBCO talks about agents in his post, CEP and Agents…

At the core, TIBCO’s BusinessEvents is RETE-based rules engine and rules engines are well suited for scheduling problems.  This makes perfect sense, since many of TIBCO’s customers deploy BusinessEvents in scheduling-oriented, not detection-oriented, solutions.

It begs to be pointed out, however, that scheduling is only one component of a CEP architecture. 

Normally, the scheduling component of a distributed event processing architecture manages the intelligent scheduling of the sharing of data between distributed agents that are running a variety of analytics.

Simply stated, all agents are not rules engines; however, rules engines are often used to schedule the cooperation between analytical agents in a distributed agent-based architecture.

A Page from Greg’s Diary: Nerwana Software

March 25, 2008

I started my career in IT many years ago and since that year have worked in enterprise IT for year and years.     Almost all of my odd career story evolves around working with end users, often advising, architecting and managing the complexity of large systems integration projects, from hands on implementation to strategic vision development.  My deep background is with Techrotech in network systems engineering.

A few years ago, years after I started my career at Techrotech, I grew a bit dismayed at enterprise software companies.   They would, for the most part, always come to us, the end users, and try to sell us large software packages.  Their sales and technical teams had very little domain knowledge of the problems they claimed they could solve – and they had little doubt that if we purchased their wares, our problems would be solved,

These software companies were keen on buzzwords and technology jargon but somewhat clueless on operational solutions or the challenges of implementation across a large federated organization with many powerful business units and “in name only” CIOs.  We often referred to these software sales guys, and their favorite systems integrators, as “drive by (or fly by) implementations” where they dump the software (and hardware) at your door and run like crazy!

So, I joined a very cool Silicon Valley company,  Nerwana Software, hoping to change all of that, or so I thought 🙂

Naturally, when I first came on board Nerwana , the entire organization, from executives to recent new hires out of school, heaped praise-upon-praise on my years of operational experience at Techrotech and elsewhere.   They cheered me on as I wrote papers and created slides on operational use cases and event processing solutions that the sales and solutions teams could take to market.   They sang my praises as I spoke to large audiences and evangelized their most innovative software and solutions.  They were pleased with the great reviews from customers.

As one would expect, I was destined to learn the face of the problems I experienced as an end-user “outsider,” now from an “insider’s” perspective. 

One of the interesting challenges that surfaced at Nerwana was the “let’s export our culture and business model to the world” mantra, maybe better referred to as “if it sells in New York, then we must sell it the same way in Tokyo or Bejing!”

Also, I really was surprised to find out how dependent Nerwana was on the opinion of analysts.   When I worked for the customers and end users, we rarely paid any special attention to the analyst’s opinions.   Sure, analysts provides a good data point, but that is all it was (or is), simply another data point.   

I soon found that software companies are often held hostage by “analyst chasing” which really was an eye opener for me, because we end-users, the people who actually buy the software, view analysts as mere mortals reading from the same foggy crystal ball as everyone else. 

Another one of the fasinating challenges I experienced at Nerwana was what some would call  “The Hero Culture.”  

I’ll elaborate on some these, hopefully interesting, observations and experiences in a future Page from Greg’s Diary.

Please Welcome Dr. Rainer von Ammon to The CEP Blog

February 12, 2008

Today is an especially joyful occasion on The CEP Blog.    I am pleased to announce that one of the world’s top experts on CEP, Dr. Rainer von Ammon, has joined the blog.

Dr. Rainer von Ammon is managing director of the Centrum für Informations-Technology Transfer (CITT) in Regensburg. Until October 2005 he was Professor for Software Engineering, specializing in E-Business infrastructures and distributed systems, at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria. Rainer is still teaching there and at the University of Applied Sciences of Regensburg. From 1998 to 2002, he worked as Principal Consultant and Manager for R+D Cooperations at BEA Systems (Central and Eastern Europe). Prior to this, he was Professor for Software Engineering in Dresden with a focus on development of applications with event driven object oriented user interfaces and component based application development. Before this Rainer was acting as manager of the field Basic Systems at the Mummert + Partner Unternehmensberatung, Hamburg. After finishing his studies of Information Sciences at the University of Regensburg, he started as project leader of Computer Based Office Systems (COBIS) from 1978 to 1983 and afterward founded a start up company with some of his colleagues.

Some of you may recall my recent musings, A Bitter Pill To Swallow: First Generation CEP Software Needs To Evolve.   When you read Rainer’s excellent reply, you will quickly see why we are very pleased to have his thought leadership here at The CEP Blog.  Dr. von Ammon and his team are leading experts in CEP and related business integration domains.  Not only does he provide thought leadership, his team  researches, develops, implements and tests CEP solutions.   

In another example of  his thought leadership, some of you might recall this post, Brandl and Guschakowski Deliver Excellent CEP/BAM Report, where Hans-Martin Brandl and David Guschakowski of the University of Applied Sciences Regensburg, Faculty of Information Technology/Mathematics, advised by Dr. von Ammon, completed an excellent CEP thesis, Complex Event Processing in the context of Business Activity Monitoring

Please join me in extending a warm welcome for Dr. Rainer von Ammon to The CEP Blog.