The talk is scheduled for Monday, 22 September 2008 at 2 PM Pacific in Moscone Overlook II. BTW, I’ll probably be spending most of my time in the unconference track at OOW, because I’m just that kind of guy.
I’m sitting in my third Oracle Fusion Middleware briefing, this one at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. Thomas Kurian has been going through all the products in the Oracle stack in excruciating detail.
First let me say this: Thomas Kurian is a really smart guy. He holds an BS in EE from Princeton summa cum laude (that’s Latin for really fucking good). He holds an MBA from the Stanford GSB. He’s been working for Oracle forever and he even knows how to pronounce Fuego (FWAY-go). I’m dutifully impressed.
Unfortunately, all those academic credentials and 10+ years in the industry is barely the minimum requirement for getting your head around the middleware space. Either I don’t have enough (0) letters after my name, or I just don’t get it.
For starters, there are way too many products — the middleware space is filled with “ceremonious complexity” (to quote Neal Ford). App servers, data services layers, service buses, web service producers and consumers — even portals, content management and collaboration has been sucked into this space. Don’t get me wrong: the goals of the stack are admirable — middleware tries to glue together all the heterogeneous, fragmented systems in the enterprise. Everyone knows that most enterprises are a mess of disparate systems and they need this glue to provide unified user experiences that hide the complexity of these systems from the people who have to use them. That makes the world a better place for everybody.
That was also, not coincidentally, one of Plumtree’s founding principles and the concept — integrating enterprise systems to improve the user experience — has guided my career since I got my lowly undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Stanford in 1998.
So, it’s a good concept, however, if you’re considering middleware because you’re trying to clean up the mess that your enterprise has become, you need to ask yourself the following fundamental question:
Does middleware add to or subtract from the overall complexity of your enterprise?
Your enterprise is already insanely complicated. You’ve got Java, .NET, perhaps Sharepoint, maybe an enterprise ERP system like SAP and say, an enterprise open source CRM system like SugarCRM or a hosted service like SalesForce.com. The bleeding edge IT folks and even (god forbid) people outside of IT are installing wikis written in PHP (e.g. MediaWiki) along with collaborative software like Basecamp written in Ruby on Rails. I’m not even going to mention all the green-screen mainframe apps still lurking in the enterprise — wait, I just did. This veritable cornucopia of systems just scratches the surface of what exists at many large — and even some mid-to-small-sized companies — today.
So clearly there’s a widespread problem. But what’s the solution?
At the end of his impressive presentation, I asked Thomas the following question:
“How can middleware from Oracle/BEA help you make sense of the fragmented, heterogeneous enterprise when you have existing collaborative (web 2.0) technologies written in PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc. running rampant throughout IT and beyond?”
(Okay, so I wasn’t exactly that pithy, but it was something close to that.)
His Aladdin-esque answer came in the form of three choices:
“Take control of” and “centralize” your IT systems by replacing everything with Oracle Web Center spaces
Ditto by migrating everything to UCM (Stellant)
Build a services framework and aggregate everything in one of four ways:
Use a Java transaction layer (JSR 227)
Use a portlet spec like JSR 168 or WSRP
Build RESTful web services
Use the WebPart adapter for Sharepoint
I like to call answers one and two “The SAP Approach.” In other words, we’re SAP, we’re German, wir geben nicht einen Scheiße about your existing enterprise software, you’re now going to do it the SAP way (or the highway).
Will companies buy into that? Some companies may. Many will not. ERP is a well understood space, so this approach has worked for SAP. Enterprise 2.0 is not terribly well understood, so that means even more diversity in the enterprise software milieu.
So the only approach that I believe in is #3: integrate. Choose the right tool for the right problem, e.g. the WebPart adapter if you’re using Sharepoint. Use REST when appropriate, e.g. when you need a lightweight way to send some JSON or XML across the wire between nonstandard or homegrown apps. Use JSR 168/286 for your Java applications. Even use SOAP if the backend application already supports it.
Keep things loosely coupled so that you can plug different components in and out as needed.
This requires a lot of development — the glue — but, I don’t think there’s any way around that. (You should take that with a grain of salt, because my company has been supplying the government and the commercial world with exactly that kind of development expertise since 2002.)
As for the overarching, user facing “experience” or “interaction” product — that’s where I’ve always used Plumtree (or AquaLogic Interaction).
Will I start using Web Center Spaces? At this point, I’m still not sure.
If it can be used as the topmost bit of the architectural stack to absorb and surface all the enterprise 2.0 software that my customers are running, then perhaps. If it’s going to replace all the enterprise software that my customers are running, then no way José.
This conundrum really opens up a new market for enterprise software: I call it “Middleware for the REST of us” or MMM (not M&M, 3M or M3, because they’re already taken): “Mid-Market Middleware” — similar to the way 37signals approaches (with a great deal of hubris and a solid dose of arrogance) the “Fortune Five Million” by marketing their products toward the whole long-tail of small and medium-sized companies. Maybe the world needs a RESTful piece of hardware that just aggregates web services and spits out a nice UI, kind of like the “Plumtree in a Box” idea that Michael Young (former Plumtree Chief Architect, now Chief Architect at RedFin) had back in the last millennium.
Oracle Web Center Spaces might be the right choice for some very large enterprises, but what about the REST of us?
This is a 30-minute clip from the general session at BEA Participate from back in May. Jay Simons and I demo the social application that bdg built for the conference, known now as The Social Collective.
We’re very pleased to announce that, together with the organizers of RubyNation, we debuted our social application “The Social Collective” today as a means for RubyNation conference attendees and other Rubyists to meet and interact with their peers.
This is a very similar codebase to what we deployed at BEA Participate in May, but without ALI or ALBPM. These BEA (now Oracle) products provided a great, scalable and flexible architecture, but we didn’t feel it was a good use of our resources (i.e. $$$s) to continue to use these products and we didn’t want to pass this cost on to RubyNation, which, BTW, is only charging $175 for two jam-packed days of Ruby awesomeness.
So, for those of you who have been following all this social goodness coming from bdg, there are now two distinct versions of The Social Collective: one that uses BEA/Oracle products and one that does not. This affects pricing (obviously), so if you’re interested in either, please contact us to find out more.
And in the meantime, if you’re as gung ho about Ruby as we are, sign up for an account and help us grow the Ruby community here in DC and beyond!
You’ve heard the phrase “social applications” being kicked around by BEA and bdg. But what exactly does that mean?
In a nutshell, it means that your experience at BEA.Participate.08 will be like that of no other conference you’ve ever attended. In fact, it may change the entire way you feel about technology conferences.
After registration, you’ll be directed to a web site where you can help us kick off this grand social experiment. During registration, you’ll be asked to fill out a corporate profile by selecting or adding your company, your department, your title and some biographical information. You’ll be asked what products (from BEA or elsewhere) you’re currently using and what products interest you. You’ll be able to “pimp” your profile with an avatar or photo, links, and RSS feeds. Finally, you’ll be asked to take a stab at registering for different Participate.08 breakout sessions. (Don’t worry, you can always come back later and make changes to your breakout session agenda.)
At this point, you’ll be directed to a highly-customized installation of BEA ALI 6.5 backed by a host of bdg-designed and engineered Ruby on Rails applications which form the core of this groundbreaking social system. Log in and you’ll be presented with a simple, elegant UI for:
browsing and selecting tracks and sessions,
viewing other people’s company and personal profile pages and adding them to your “mob,”
sending “shout outs” other users (a playful way to get people’s attention),
sending private (mail) or public (podmob) messages to other people,
browsing and interacting with product pages,
asking questions at a breakout session (through the session rumble),
joining and leaving interest groups focused on industries, products or “whatever,”
updating your status (to let others know where you are, what your mood is, etc.),
browsing an aggregate feed (the observation deck) which allows you to see what others are doing prior to, at (and even after) the conference.
On top of all this social application goodness, everyone who attends Participate will receive an iPod Touch, with 802.11b/g wireless baked in. (Of course, the conference hotel will have lightening fast free wireless internet access.) In addition to a sleek full-sized browser experience, most of the applications will also be optimized for the iPod Touch (or iPhone) form factor. This means that wherever you are at the conference — sitting in a session, wandering the halls or the partner pavilion, even taking a bathroom break — you’ll be able to network, network, network with your fellow conference attendees.
Let’s face it: are you attending the conference to hear a talking head rattle off lists of features in ALUI or ALBPM? No! You’re going to Participate to learn from your peers. And not just in sessions, but in the halls, during the meals, at the evening events and of course, through these amazing social applications.
So, don’t waste any more time reading about this stuff — come on in and let’s get social!
Comments are listed in date ascending order (oldest first)
I heard some rumors that this event is going to demo some seriously killer app love that will blow people away. OK – they’re not rumors. It’s just common sense when you put this much brain power and off the wall creativity in one spot. I’m all for long fireside chats about protocols and geek plumbing (/swoon), but what really excites me about Participate is the ability to kick back with developers, product managers, and engineers and talk about business challenges and solutions – then arm you with the tools and tricks to get your business humming. Got a problem? Chances are these pros have a suggestion that will make your life easier and your business users that much more productive. Food, folks, fun, and forward thinking. You just can’t beat that.
Posted by: ewwhitley on April 29, 2008 at 5:16 PM
Tada! The triumphant return of Eric Whitley to dev2dev!
Here at bdg, we’re working tirelessly to bring you a revolutionary social networking application that will drive your interactions with BEA Participate 2008 conference attendees. Here’s a sneak preview of what we’ve been up to!
Thanks to Derek K. Miller and the Podsafe Music Network for his groovy instrumental “That’s No Dream” which we used as this video’s soundtrack.