Lies, Damn Lies and OSGi

OSGi, the little Java framework that could, seemed to hit critical mass last year as it achieved active or tacit support across virtually every Java platform provider. To recap, OSGi is a dynamic component framework first developed for set top boxes in the waning days of the original dot com bubble, which subsequently gained new life after the Eclipse Foundation embraced it as its new component model. It grew popular because the framework allows middle tier platforms to not only modularize their stack, but dynamically reduce their footprint to the minimum number of components necessary to run the server at any given time.

In other words, with OSGi, you could run a pretty thin Java, or for that matter, PHP or Ruby server.

In our Ovum research last year, we concluded that OSGi was becoming the de facto standard for next generation Java servers.

Not so fast. It appears that a backlash has emerged. While IBM and SpringSource have fully embraced OSGi and refactored their server platforms, others have been grudging or slow. JBoss, which already had its own microkernel, has reluctantly added OSGi as a deployment option; Sun meanwhile has spoken out of both sides of its mouth, supporting OSGi for Glassfish but opposing JSR 291, which made OSGi as JCP specification, while backing rival efforts in the form of JSR 294 and Project Jigsaw, which rethinks modularizing Java.

We’d be tempted to state that all this talk about re-modularization is occurring after the horses left the barn. But a year later, the controversy refuses to fade. Eric Newcomer of Progress, who also co-chairs the OSGi Enterprise Expert Group, acknowledged that the Project Jigsaw demo looked “interesting,” he not surprisingly added that the effort behind the demo was “pretty scary when you think how far away that is from what’s already available in the OSGi Framework.” Fellow OSGi evangelist Chris Aniszczyk blogged a conversation with Newcomer based on Darryl Taft’s recent eWeek interview with Java creator James Gosling, where Gosling dissed OSGi as overkill and too fat.

It’s all quite entertaining. But our sense is that while, a year ago, the Java world seemed to be coalescing around OSGi, progress has stalled because vendors have gotten too far ahead of the market. Later on this year we’re going to take a renewed look at OSGi as part of our Ovum research.

For now, OSGi is essentially a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Having a server based on OSGi technology provides little benefit to the customer unless they change the way they deploy server images. OSGi’s ultimate benefit is that you could significantly reduce the footprint of middle tier servers to only what’s needed, which has clear cost and green/sustainability advantages. For customers upgrading to OSGi (or whatever microkernel)-compliant servers is only the first step. To get anything out of it (aside from a version upgrade), they must then get educated on how to get, literally, the least out of them. As a result, OSGi still seems pretty abstract to most customers, and therefore, there’s been little market clamor.

So, while IBM and SpringSource have already made the transition, tacit supporters like Oracle have not yet made any definitive moves to embrace OSGi in its BEA product roadmap beyond the OSGI-compliant event processing server that it inherited through the acquisition. And with pending acquisition of Sun, Oracle’s OSGi strategy remains a blank slate. This one ain’t over till it’s over.

In need of a trigger: Report from Rational Software Conference 2009

Rational Software Conference 2009 last week was supposed to be “as real as it gets,” but in the light of day proved a bit anticlimactic. A year after ushering in Jazz, a major new generation of products, Rational has not yet made the compelling business case for it. The hole at the middle of the doughnut remains not the “what” but the “why.” Rational uses the calling cry of Collaborative ALM to promote Jazz, but that is more like a call for repairing your software process as opposed to improving your core business. Collaborative might be a good term to trot out in front of the CxO, but not without a business case justifying why software development should become more collaborative.

The crux of the problem is that although Rational has omitted the term Development from its annual confab, it still speaks the language of a development tools company.

With Jazz products barely a year old if that, you wouldn’t expect there to be much of Jazz installed base yet. But in isolated conversations (our sample was hardly scientific), we heard most customers telling us that Jazz to them was just another new technology requiring new server applications, which at $25,000 – $35,000 and up are not an insignificant expense; they couldn’t understand the need of adding something like Requirements Composer, which makes it easier for business users to describe their requirements, if they already had RequisitePro for requirements management. They hear that future versions of Rational’s legacy products are going to be Jazz-based (their data stores will be migrated to the Jazz repository), but that is about as exciting to them as the prospect of another SAP version upgrade. All pain for little understood gain.

There are clear advantages to the new Jazz products, but Rational has not yet made the business case. Rational Insight, built on Cognos BI technology, provides KPIs that in many cases are over the heads of development managers. Jazz products such as Requirements Composer could theoretically stand on its own for lightweight software development processes if IBM sprinkled in the traceability that still requires RequisitePro. The new Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF) productizes the gap analysis assessments that Rational has performed over the years for its clients regarding software processes, with addition of prescriptive measures that could make such assessment actionable.

But who in Rational is going to sell it? There is a small program management consulting group that could make a credible push, but the vast majority of Rational’s sales teams are still geared towards shorter-fuse tactical tools sales. Yet beyond the tendency of sales teams to focus on products like Build Forge (one of its better acquisitions), the company has not developed the national consulting organization it needs to do solution sells. That should have cleared the way for IBM’s Global Business Services to create a focused Jazz practice, but so far GBS’s Jazz activity is mostly ad hoc, engagement-driven. In some cases, Rational has been its own worst enemy as it talks strategic solutions at the top, while having mindlessly culled some of its most experienced process expertise for software development during last winter’s IBM Resource Action.

Besides telling Rational to do selective rehires, we’d suggest a cross-industry effort to raise the consciousness of this profession. It needs a precursor to MCIF because the market is just not ready for it yet, outside of the development shops that have awareness of frameworks like CMMi. This is missionary stuff, as organizations (and potential partners) like the International Association of Business Analysts (IIBA) are barely established (a precedent might be organizations like Catalyze that has heavy sponsorship from iRise). A logical partner might be the program management profession, which is tasked with helping CIOs effectively target their limited software development resources.

Other highlights of the conference included Rational’s long-awaited disclosure of its cloud strategy, and plans for leveraging the Telelogic acquisition to drive its push into “Smarter Products.” According to our recent research for Ovum, the cloud is transforming the software development tools business, with dozens of vendors already having made plays for offering various ALM tools as services. Before this, IBM Rational made some baby steps, such as offering hosted versions of its AppScan web security tests. It is opening technology previews or private cloud instances that could be hosted inside the firewall or virtually using preconfigured Amazon Machine Images of Rational tooling on Amazon’s EC2 raw cloud. Next year Rational will unveil public cloud offerings.

Rational’s cloud strategy is part of a broader-based strategy for IBM Software Group, which in the long run could use the cloud as the chance to, in effect, “mash up” various tools across brands to respond to specific customer pain points, such as application quality throughout the entire lifecycle including production (e.g., Requirements Composer, Quality Manager, some automated testing tools, and Tivoli ITCAM, for instance). Ironically, the use case “mashups” that are offered by Rational as cloud-based services might provide the very business use cases that are currently missing from its Jazz rollout.

But IBM Rational still has lots of pieces to put together first, like for starters figuring out how to charge. In our Ovum research we found that core precepts of SaaS including multi-tenancy and subscription pricing may not always apply to ALM.

Finally there’s the “Smarter Products” push, which is Rational’s Telelogic-based rationale to IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign. It reflects the fact that the software content in durable goods is increasing to the point where it is no longer just a control module that is bolted on; increasingly, software is defining the product. Rational’s foot in the door is that many engineered-product companies (like in aerospace) are already heavy users of Telelogic DOORS, which is well set up for tracking requirements of very complex systems, and potentially, “systems of systems” where you have a meta-control layer that governs multiple smart products or processes performed by smart products.

The devil is in the details as Rational/Telelogic has not yet established the kinds of strategic partnerships with PLM companies like Siemens, PTC or Dassault for joint product integration and go-to-market initiatives for converging application lifecycle management with its counterpart in the for managing the lifecycle of engineered products (Dassault would be a likely place to start as IBM has had a longstanding reselling arrangement) . Roles, responsibilities, and workflows have yet to be developed or templated, bestowing on the whole initiative to reality that for now every solution is a one-off. The organizations that Rational and the PLM companies are targeting are heavily silo’ed. Smarter Products as a strategy offers inviting long term growth possibilities for IBM Rational, but at the same time, requires lots of spadework first.

A Silver Lining in the Cloud

Tibco has always been about data and more recently processes in motion. Its heritage is as a company that connects data and applications, providing the mediation that routes and integrates data, and governs the whole process, on its way to its final destination.

So it shouldn’t be surprising in this year of the cloud and virtualization that Tibco has become the latest IT software infrastructure provider to offer a way for its customers to take advantage of the cloud,. Initially that will be Amazon EC2, but going forward there are likely to be other clouds – public and private – that Tibco will support.

Its offering, now in beta, is branded Silver, based on the notion that there is a silver lining in the cloud. In this case the lining is mediation, and governance of an environment that provides the kind of elasticity that would not otherwise be feasible with dedicated internal environments.

Not surprisingly, Silver is a manifestation in the cloud of most but not all of Tibco’s Active Matrix SOA middleware for composing, integrating, and transporting services, plus governance of the process to monitor service levels. To get an idea of what services Silver provides, look at Tibco’s Active Matrix tooling and that will give you a good idea.

For the cloud, Tibco extended many of its Active Matrix tools with new caching and user and session management capabilities to preserve state within a virtual environment. To get a very simple idea of how Silver, or Active Matrix in the cloud differs from how you would the tools on premises, you would compose by using a tool that closely resembles the Eclipse-based Active Matrix Business Studio, build a deployment archive, and then set it free. By contrast, if you were composing the same composite service-oriented application on premises, you would have to set up the testing and staging environments, then configure it for deployment on as local server. Tibco manages the underlying plumbing, providing the load balancing, failover, fault tolerance, provisioning and de-provisioning of machine instances (in this case Amazon EC2 AMIs), and service level monitoring.

Silver is still a beta, which should be pretty obvious if you go to the Silver website; it contains only barebones information at this point. Silver is essentially a pure-play Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering that enables you to compose service-oriented applications fore the cloud, in the cloud. But as Tibco has always been a technology-driven company, it does a good job of explaining the tooling that it has offered but has not exactly flushed out the use cases covering the why.

As further evidence that Silver is still a work in progress, Tibco has not taken advantage of all the assets it has to truly tap the potential of composition in the cloud. For instance, while you can orchestrate and compose, you cannot necessarily model and execute the business processes that its BPM suite offers. However, it’s very understandable that BPM did not make it into the beta as that is a major chunk of technology that only addresses a portion of what its customer base needs.

But what is more surprising is that Silver for now ignores one of the most obvious use cases for the cloud: the ability to compose mashups on the fly, putting a front end to the services that customers are composing (the company has its own Ajax tools). As the cloud is in essence a lightweight approach to application deployment, so are mashups to integration. It would be logical icing on the cake were Tibco to pitch Silver as an easy composition environment for piecing together processes, services, and cool pieces of the web so business users could readily gain the flexibility of orchestration, and the accessibility and ease of deployment of the cloud.