The Grammar of Complex and Intelligent Events

June 28, 2008

Folks defining CEP, and now this new term IEP, have been very passionate over the past few years that “Complex Event Processing” means the Processing of “Complex Events” not the “Complex Processing” of Events.   

Grammatically speaking, it follows that Complex is an adjective describing a noun, Event; and Processing is a verb. 

Complex events are defined by the same community as composite events, or events that are composed of two or more “contributing” events.

To be consistent, I think we should follow the same logic and grammar in the discussion of “Intelligent Event Processing”. 

It follows that Intelligent should be an adjective describing a noun, Event; and Processing is a verb.  It also follows that “Intelligent Event Processing” means the Processing of “Intelligent Events” not the “Intelligent Processing” of Events.   

This is precisely the problem that folks are creating a new CEP term, “Intelligent Event Processing” to describe processing capabilitities that are missing from the current suite of self-described CEP software products.   What people really mean to describe is the Intelligent Processing of Complex Events.   However, based on the same grammer used in defining CEP, they have created the Processing of Intelligent Events.

The use of inconsistent grammar and logic is not good for the CEP community, in my opinion.   Just because the current generation of self-described CEP vendors do not rise to the capability required by the vast majority of business event applications, we should not create new terms just to make marketing folks happy.

I think I am in a good position to speak about this, because some of my best friends work for software companies selling self-described CEP software and they have seemingly lost patience  because I refuse to support inconsistent illogical positioning and repositioning of the CEP market.

Why is the grammar between the terms “Complex Event Processing” and “Intelligent Event Processing” inconsistent?.   Folks can only spin and reposition CEP so much before all the spin, hype, and repositioning begins to catch up with the community.   

Dr. David Luckham’s original papers and single book on CEP was clear enough about CEP; and CEP covers the entire space that Opher Etzion would like to reposition as IEP.    The Grammar of Complex and Intelligent Events are, at best, misleading and inconsistent.

I think the main problem is that what Opher has been describing is the Intelligent Processing of Complex Events – however, to say this would affirm what I have been evangelizing for over two years.

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. 

The Predictive Battlespace

June 11, 2008

Friend and colleague Don Adams, CTO World Wide Public Sector, TIBCO Software, explains how CEP can be used to sense, adapt and respond to complex situations in The “Predictive” Battlespace: Leveraging the Power of Event-Driven Architecture in Defense

Probabilistic Complex Event Triggering

June 8, 2008

Here is an interesting paper, Probabilistic Complex Event Triggering, Daisy Zhe Wang, Eirinaios Michelakis, and Liviu Tancau, Computer Science Division, University of California at Berkeley, circa 2005.

One of the first things I noticed about the paper was the discussion of probability in the content of complex event processing, including Hidden Markov processes, Bayesian Belief Networks, and inference models.  

The second thing I noticed was that David Luckham’s work on CEP at Stanford was not referenced anywhere in the Berkeley paper.


Epilogue on CEP Maturity

June 4, 2008

In On the Maturity of Complex Event Processing, the author concludes:

“I think [… the. …] comment at the end of [… the. …] post “we shouldn’t feel compelled to thwart that growth with a claim that the products are not ‘mature’ when they actually are in a lot of ways” is quite revealing. The fact that such a level of debate about CEP’s maturity is taking place, and the fact that [… someone …] is concerned that the debate might stifle growth, is itself indicative of an immature market segment in my opinion.”

This quote is compelling.  When vendors disagree with the direction and tone a debate is going and they call to end the debate, labelling the discussion “a distraction” – it tends to prove the premise of the original post Deciphering the Myths Around Complex Event Processing  by Ivy Schmerken;  the CEP market, both exciting and promising, is today, mostly immature and brittle. 

For more conclusive evidence, I turn our readers attention to this post, An Overture to the 2007 CEP Blog Awards,  That analysis was based, in part, on CEP/EP Reference Customers 2005-2007 where we documented 18 public “CEP reference clients” in 2007 (25 for the entire period 2005 – 2007).

Twenty five public reference clients over a three year period with 18 last year (2007) do not demonstrate a mature market or technology domain.



Here were the results of the CEP/EP Reference Customers Survey for 2005-2007:

Apama 5
StreamBase   4
AptSoft  (purchased by IBM)   4
Coral8   2
Aleri   2
Agent Logic   1
BEA   1
Total CEP/EP Reference Customers (2005-2007)   25
Looking only at 2007, the total CEP/EP reference customers available in the public domain were as follows:
Apama 4
StreamBase   4
AptSoft (purchased by IBM)   2
Coral8   2
Aleri   2
Agent Logic   1
BEA   1
Total CEP/EP Reference Customers (2007)  18