October 2012 Archives

Inside an SAP cloud application integration

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Developers working across the Sybase and SAP product sets should take note of changes at the commercial end this month as the parent firm is setting out new pricing and a refreshed set of policies intended to bond (by which we mean "integrate") cloud-based and on-premise applications.
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Given the huge amount of changes going on within SAP as a whole, application integration in relation to its total product line has come into increasing focus this year.

At the firm's recent TechEd developer convention it became clear that executives were open about the amount of change that SAP has been through recently.

In the last two years the firm has become a developer company, a cloud company, a mobile company and more of an acquisitions specialist than previously.

Integration will also be especially important with regard to cloud development given the popularity of hybrid deployments, which use a combination of virtualised resources in tandem with existing on premise IT.

In the SAP world, a tidy hybrid deployment looks like this:

STEP 1: Firm X has already made a significant investment in ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software and doesn't want to "rip and replace" every single piece of IT asset already purchased.

STEP 2: Firm X also has HCM (Human Capital Management) software to work as a subset of ERP and provide managers with employee records so that each worker's value can be measured and then enhanced through investment in training.

STEP 3: Firm X identifies which elements of its incumbent stack it needs to keep on premise (areas of data holding sensitive information for example) and then works with SAP's new cloud-based integration service as part of the Customer OnDemand application.

While this service is now available through Customer OnDemand, the firm is said to now also be extending it to its Travel OnDemand and BizX Talent Management applications.

The cloud integration service itself will ultimately also be offered as a standalone product in its own right.

Windows 8 developers must not be WIMPs

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So Windows 8 has someone tentatively arrived with many challenges for both IT managers and... also, challenges for software application developers ahead.

One certainty that we can draw from Redmond's willingness to move to the new computing paradigms of touch, mobile-first and geo-location aware search-centric applications is that the old computing standards (at the consumer level at least) may now be dying off.

But what are the old standards?

Microsoft has called the eighth iteration of its operating system "Windows re-imagined"...

... and this means of course that it has been "radically altered" to make it more suitable for touch-screen devices including tablets and smartphones.

Research director for consumer mobile at IDC John Delaney suggests that now, Microsoft aims to ride an anticipated wave of demand for computers with touch screens.

"Two decades ago, Microsoft risked heading towards marginalisation in the PC OS market, with its belated and initially rather tentative response to the transition in the hardware market from keyboard/command-line driven machines, to those based on the WIMP (windows/icon/mouse/pointer) paradigm."

"This time it seems that Microsoft is moving to anticipate, rather than react to, what it expects to be the next major transition in the hardware market: a migration to machines with touch screens," said Delaney.

So is the WIMP model now dead?

Not really. But in terms of developer steer for the months and years ahead, a migration is underway that can not be ignored.

Where a decade (or even a couple of years ago) we might have said, I am a software developer; therefore I am a mobile developer... now perhaps we need to say: I am a software developer; therefore I am a touch-enabled mobile-centric developer.

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Big data without analysis is, well, just big data

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Big data is everywhere. Yes Gartner predicts that big data spending will grow from $27 billion in 2012 to $55 billion in 2016, but what is more interesting is what we are doing to be productive with this big data and it can (or at least it should) be summed up in one word...

... analysis.

Big data without analysis is, well, just big data. Big data with a layer of analytical insight on top (or inside if you prefer) is value. This is the challenge.

Interesting then that the IBM Information On Demand Forum this week is now called the IBM Information On Demand & Business Analytics Forum 2012.

An enormous stream of data

Big Blue justifies its latest software offerings in the big data space as a channel for accessing and gaining intelligence into the enormous stream of data generated from mobile, social and digital networks today.

IBM spells out some real world use cases for big data analytics:

• Enterprises across all industries are under increasing pressure to extract new insights from an explosion of available data.

• In communications, six billion global mobile phone subscribers are demanding unique and personalised offerings that match their individual lifestyles.

• In financial services, Wall Street firms generate five new research documents every minute. In addition, nearly $100 billion in total sales are missed each year because retailers don't have the right products in stock to meet customer demand.

In terms of product, IBM is rolling out its new IBM Digital Analytics Accelerator to help software developers supporting marketing applications to tap into consumer sentiment to create targeted advertising and promotions, avoid customer churn, and perform advanced web analytics that predict customer needs.

What big data can do you for

In the same vein (no pun intended) there is also an interesting piece of new analytics software called Patient Care and Insights. This helps healthcare organisations improve patient care and lower operational costs by considering the specific health history of each individual patient.

"The IBM solution provides the core capabilities for devising predictive models of various health conditions that can be used to identify early intervention opportunities to improve the patient's outlook by minimising or avoiding potential health problems," said the company, in a press statement.

Coming out of the IBM Research division as it does, IBM similarity analytics is a set of capabilities and algorithms designed to allow healthcare professionals to examine thousands of patient characteristics at once -- including demographic, social and financial factors along with unstructured data such as physicians' notes -- to generate personalised evidence and insights and then provide care according to personalised treatment plans.

So you think big data analytics isn't doing you any good personally? Think again maybe.

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SAP teaches in-memory, in user's memory

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In line with what is two years of corporate acquisition activity and product set expansion, SAP has upped its technical instruction offerings.

Newly launched this week is the HANA Academy, a free online resource with instructional videos and live and recorded webinars designed to teach "anyone" to learn how to operate the SAP HANA platform.

Videos are divided into two sections, "Projects" and "How-To's" -- projects are designed to help users learn SAP HANA by performing a task, while how-to videos teach a particular function or feature.

"SAP HANA, the industry-leading platform for real-time analytics and applications, is now available in 'real-time' on AWS," said Dr. Vishal Sikka, member of the SAP executive board, technology & innovation.

"With the introduction of SAP HANA One on AWS, the application and database services in SAP HANA and SAP HANA Academy for knowledge sharing, we have simplified the application development experience by collapsing the artificial layers between transactions, analytics and application servers."

The user interface is now the touch user interface

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Obviously most readers will know the importance of mobile technologies with their inherent use of "touch" technologies used to drive our interaction with modern applications.

How many times have you spent a while using your tablet and/or smartphone and then sat at your laptop as you instinctively touched the screen expecting to be able to perform an action?

We have reached a point then where the user interface has become the touch user interface.

Signs from the industry point to the fact that this may be so.

Infragistics is this month expanding its user interface (UI) development tools with the release of NetAdvantage Ultimate 2012 Volume 2 with new business intelligence capabilities and, as is now crucial for our modern application needs, touch support enhancements.

This release marks the inclusion of beta toolset NUCLiOS, the first commercial class and enterprise-supported UI toolkit for iPad development and an Android Community Pack, named Iguana for the Android developer community.

"For the first time in our history, we bring Apple iOS developers into the Infragistics ecosystem with our native NUCLiOS UI controls. Now, every developer can create exceptional applications that deliver modern functionality, substance and style, across any platform," said Dean Guida, CEO of Infragistics.

The era of touch is here and firms that work at the front line of UI development have embraced the fact.

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SAP eyes wider business window for 'big data'

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Big IT vendors often have a hard time telling us what they do.

Take a look at IBM's 'About Us' pages with all its Smarter Planet messages, it you had just landed from Mars you would be hard pressed to know that this is a firm that used to sell PCs and now makes a buck or two out of the software industry.

SAP is similarly challenged. The firm variously describes itself as a "technology leader in business management software and solutions" etc.

But what the firm really does is sell "systems of record" i.e. information-centric software systems with analytics and data processing/management capabilities.

Or in other words, software that runs businesses.

SAP is logically focused on its customers' IT departments, as this will be the primary target for the implementation of its software. But if systems of record are used right across the business, then surely SAP should be talking about the impact of data (much of it Petabytes of big data) across all "disciplines" inside the business.

If the firm can do this, then hopefully its data processing intelligence message can be brought to bear directly across all business streams. The IT department will then be able to see deployments of SAP HANA and other technologies in departments such as (for example) sales, research and development (R&D) and human resources (HR).

As luck would have it

Fortunately then, SAP has just completed a new survey which suggests that big data has outgrown its traditional roots in IT (and finance too), as it now plays an increasingly important role in sales, research and development (R&D) and human resources (HR).

SAP says that these business streams now account for 42 per cent of big data usage in business.

Although IT and finance remain the primary users of big data (46 per cent), the other business areas across different industries are increasingly adopting big data tools to drive revenues and internal organisational change. Together they account for nearly half of all big data usage, including marketing (13 per cent), sales (11 per cent), and R&D and HR (nine per cent each).

SAP now suggests that big data has penetrated companies' senior management, with 81 per cent saying big data is being integrated into projects.

The vast majority of businesses (61 per cent) have confirmed that they have made budget provisions for big data projects to help drive productivity, efficiencies and growth opportunities.

The firm says it is calling on business leaders to start thinking about how their companies are using big data and whether employees are being provided with enough training to get the most out of these powerful tools.

"Business are waking up to the power of big data and it is great to see its benefits being realised across UK businesses," said Adrian Simpson, chief innovation officer, SAP UK.

"We need to ensure that staff using these services understand how they can extract and analyse the information they need quickly in one shot. With real-time data, users have access to information to make quick decisions that have a real business impact. It is vital that businesses invest in training staff to be fluent in these services and processes to add value back into the business."

Why big data? = efficiency and performance

The survey found that efficiency and performance stand out as the single most common driver for big data analysis (37 per cent) -- over twice as important as the next biggest driver around reporting and analytics. This is followed by fairly equal ratings for the remaining four areas, although there are significant variations among the five market sectors, which saw a variety of concerns and priorities around how big data is being used.

Of course SAP's survey is not merely contrived with loaded questions to help position its commentary across a broader range of corporate disciplines. The company is successful enough at what it does without it needing to do this. Putting just a little extra thought into the way the firm is communicating may well be valuable though.

NOTE: SAP is this week holding the US leg of its TechEd 2012 customer and developer conference and exhibition in Las Vegas. More analysis will follow...

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Apple iPad app pushes the location-based cloud

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Location-based service (LBS) technology has been growing in line with the development of both the mobile devices we use to connect and the wider proliferation of cloud computing services which we seek to connect into.

Traditionally, location services fall into two types:

PUSH LBS: location services can be push-based e.g. alerts sent to users when they pass into pre-specified geographic areas such as restaurants or shops etc.

PULL (or QUERY) LBS: location services can be pulled e.g. alerts sent to users in response to queries they make related to where they are.

Multi-user location services

But a third "multiple-user" type of location service or model could now be about to develop as we now start to use the cloud and our mobile devices to connect with each other.

A new-ish app has surfaced on the Apple App Store called Find My Friends. Free from Apple itself, this app allows users running iOS 5 or later and sign in with their iCloud Apple ID and send a request to friends to be able to see their location.

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Of course this is not really a new third type of location based service. All LBS technologies must legally be permission-based so that a user "opts in" in order for a service to know the device's location and receive the information in question

According to Apple's app description, "You can also choose to share your location with a group of friends for a limited time. Use Find My Friends to keep track of your traveling companions when you're on vacation. Or to see if the kids are home from school. Or to meet up with friends for dinner. If you're running iOS 6, you can also set up location-based alerts -- to notify you when your kids leave school or a family member arrives home safely -- or have Find My Friends notify others about your location."


A developer opportunity?

So OK it's a nice idea for an app and quite a cute thing to have on your iPad or iPhone...

But what we also have here is a software application development opportunity for programmers to combine mobile, LBS and cloud technologies together and present a new breed of apps that allows us to interact with each other based upon where we are, what we are doing and the interests or user preferences that we may have set to govern the public information about ourselves that we make available to others.

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It's time to open up your API

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Everything is moving to the cloud.

Applications, data storage blocks, software along with software services of every kind and every infrastructural element of computing that care to stick a label on.

It is fitting then that our application APIs (application program interfaces) should also not only move to the cloud, but also be manageable within a cloud-centric virtualised hosted computing environment.

NOTE: An API is defined as a "specific method" prescribed by a computer operating system or by an application program by which a programmer writing an application program can make requests of the operating system or another application.

Current interest in this space this week comes from Layer 7 Technologies.

The firm tells us that it has announced the beta release of APIfy.co, a new cloud-based API management service aimed at enabling non-IT professionals to open up APIs to outside mobile app developers.

Describing itself as a "provider of security and connectivity building blocks" for the new open enterprise, Layer 7 says that the APIfy cloud platform makes it possible for organisations to launch an API programme in a matter of hours.

But why would you want to launch an API programme?

The answer is (relatively) simple -

... "apps" are driving growth for smartphones, tablets, consoles, TVs and even cars so firms are looking at ways to tap this "growing app economy" by making their data available to outside app developers.

According to Gartner, more than 45 billion mobile apps will be downloaded in 2012, nearly twice the rate from 2011 -- and by 2016, an estimated 300 billion apps will be downloaded annually.

Layer 7 provides IT organisations with a API management platform to open APIs to outside partners, cloud services, mobile apps and developer communities. APIfy takes elements of the Layer 7 API Management Suite and delivers it as a web-configurable service from the cloud.

It includes key API security, management and developer engagement services for publication of APIs to a developer community. It is also compatible with the Layer 7 API Management Suite, so that firms can upgrade to the full Layer 7 solution when they are ready.

"APIs provide enterprises with a simple means to open internal data and applications to external developers," said Dimitri Sirota, chief strategy officer at Layer 7. "APIfy distills the key elements of our suite into a simple and safe service perfect for API product managers, marketers and developer evangelists."

What is DevOps anyway?

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New buzz phrases in information technology come and go. DevOps as a portmanteau of 'developer' and 'operations' seems to have come to stay so far.

While formal definitions of DevOps are somewhat thin on the ground, we can reasonably define this term to describe the interrelationship between programmers and IT operations staff such as systems administrators, database administrators and others within an 'Agile' practice methodology.

Within DevOps, programmers are programmers.

If some programmers are higher level project focused developers bordering on being architects, then they are still programmers.

Equally, within DevOps, operations staff are operations staff. This means that sysadmins are right in there with all the other "sub-disciplines" of operations.

Elegant, rather beautiful programming

Distilled then, DevOps embraces the (arguably rather beautiful) interdependence between both sides of the development shop fence and stresses communication, collaboration and integration, in an elegant manner.

Senior VP of marketing at DevOps and "orchestrated IT" company Serena Software David Hurwitz suggests that in the real world, DevOps situations will mean two teams having to overcome the issues that they face, based on different goals.

Developers want fast development and deployment.
• Operations want stable systems and no problems for users.

Both sides want what is best for the user and for the business as a whole, but there is a real 'tortoise and hare' quality to DevOps that can't be underestimated. From an internal politics side, getting over the problem involves keeping that higher business requirement in mind, and not taking things personally.

Serena's Hurwitz writes as follows:

"From a practical perspective, release management is the biggest pain point within DevOps - actually managing how the software is pushed out into production involves both Dev and Ops working together... and the result has to be a clean deployment so that the end-user gets the service they want without any visible delay."

"Traditionally, getting software out to production can be either the responsibility of operations, or of the development team. IT operations teams will have established and trusted deployment strategies in place that minimise downtime and ensure stability at the expense of agility and speed of response."

Development-driven release management

"Development-driven release management goes the other way and looks at how deployment can be carried out as often and easily as possible. However, these deployments aren't necessarily into production. For instance, dev-driven releases are most advantageous earlier in the lifecycle, including for acceptance testing, performance testing and integration testing purposes."

"Some development shops are also embracing dev-driven releases directly into production, though this is primarily in dot.coms where the quality and auditability standards are lower than in classical industries such as financial services, government, health care and other sectors where critical transactions are enabled."

"From a process standpoint, continuous delivery has two big requirements: first, the process itself has to be solid beyond development. This means that it has to be as solid as any process that a traditional IT operations team might put into place. Secondly, it puts the emphasis on the release process to be automated and auditable."

"For companies that want to take this developer-driven approach, there has to be an understanding of the changes required in getting to continuous delivery and decision taken about how far to extend the developer-driven process into the delivery lifecycle."

"Even where continuous delivery remains limited to pre-production stages, the benefit of going down this route is that IT as a whole can be more nimble in responding to a changing market, whether this is launching new services or expanding available functionality. With a lot more businesses looking at how to expand the ethos of agile from development into their wider organisation, this is a great opportunity to show the rest of the world how things can and should be done."

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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