DataWeek 2012 is a conference happening this week in San Francisco. The theme of the conference is a focus on the data revolution that is occurring across businesses. This includes the growth of data-related technologies such as "big data", "data as a service", and the Cloud and how they are creating paradigm changes in product engineering, marketing, and customer relationships. Areas discussed will be how "data science", "data analytics", "open data initiatives", and data platforms will be useful in 2013 and beyond as organizations more and more recognize data as a strategic asset and a critical driver for business growth.
As businesses become more and more data-driven, to compete they will have to become more adept at understanding their customers and customer behavior, product usage patterns, and opportunities and risks that may not be so apparent until operational, customer and other data within the enterprise is leveraged to illuminate what is really happening within our businesses. This can provide the groundwork for insight and the strategic decision-making that follows that insight. In other words, "how does data drive the business forward?"
StrikeIron's CTO Bob Brauer will be moderating a panel on "Making Data Products with Data-as-a-Service", where we will delve into what makes a successful data product, win-win business models, how high quality data is at the core of any data driven initiative, and what the future holds for data-as-a-service products. Tom Carlock from D&B, Stephane Dubois from Xignite, and Brian Wilcove from Sofinnova Ventures will also be on the panel.
Come join us for the session, Tuesday, September 25th at noon PDT at the DataWeek event.
Many of StrikeIron's direct customers integrate our various API-delivered data services into applications, Web sites, and business processes entirely on their own, usually with a single line of code or two - a testament to how easy this is to do. These product offerings available on the Cloud can be integrated into anything that can consume a SOAP or REST-based Web service (which is just about anything).
However, StrikeIron has also developed technology integration partnerships with many of today’s top software and Internet solutions platforms, solutions which are all enhanced by integrating Data-as-a-Service capabilities from StrikeIron.
Having these capabilities, such as real-time address verification, email verification, sales tax rates, foreign currency rates, SMS text messaging, and phone verification, pre-integrated into various other platforms that are already in use by large customers every day can be a very compelling solution. It is a win-win-win scenario for our customers, partners, and our technology.
One such partner is Informatica. Informatica has integrated several StrikeIron services for the purposes of contact data validation within its Informatica Cloud platform, as data validation is a very important step in the integration of data between various platforms. These services can be used via the Informatica Cloud StrikeIron plug-in, or as directly integrated within the Informatica Cloud platform per our most recent partnership. In the latter case, some of our services are available for use simply by checking a box directly within Informatica's Cloud application. This makes it very easy to have high quality, validated data arriving at a target destination, having been cleansed as an intermediate step while in transit from its source. You can view a recorded Webinar here.
One of the exciting things about SOAP and REST-based Web services protocols is that they are text-based, providing for the platform independence necessary for broad machine-to-machine communication and open cloud computing models. In other words, describing data using a textual XML dialect allows iPhones to communicate with mainframes, as well as enabling Fortran-developed scientific instrumentation devices to be able communicate with Dell Server applications in the Cloud written in Java.
As long as both machines are aware of the "rules" of a given XML-dialect and how data is described, they can communicate and more importantly pass data back and forth to perform certain functions based on the resultant data. This is powerful and has really helped lay the groundwork for the success of the Cloud.
To demonstrate this concept, here is an example of an "Input" SOAP message to StrikeIron's Sales and Use Tax Basic service. Remember that XML is not meant to be human readable, but rather the implementation of a set of XML dialect rules. However, if you look closely then you can see the actual data elements that are passed within the XML message received by StrikeIron within our data centers by the calling entity:
Our application servers, which are always listening, receive the request, do some user authentication, and then perform the requested task and return the resultant data XML message below. It can then be used how ever necessary by the calling entity (to process an ecommerce transaction for example). Here is an example of the "Output" XML message:
This communication and data transaction has occurred entirely without human intervention. It takes place between machines that could be located anywhere on the globe, each completely oblivious to the hardware and software that comprise the other entity.
Fortunately, humans rarely if ever need to interact at the XML-level (sometimes it might be useful for debugging). Instead, the creation, sending, receiving, and interpretation of these XML messages are handled by the software development environments that one is working in, abstracting a developer or application user away from the XML-based data exchange.
This form of XML messaging is what makes companies like StrikeIron possible, opening up pre-built data processing, data validation, aggregated data sources, and other business functions available to the world. Regardless of what software and hardware environments a customer happens to be running, it's this approach that makes the ever-evolving "Great Data Highway" possible.
I had an opportunity to moderate a panel at the Data 2.0 Summit this week in San Francisco entitled "Why You Should Join the API Economy". There was a considerable amount of thought leadership on the panel, including Chris Moody, President of Gnip; Gaurav Dillon, CEO of SnapLogic; Chris Lippi, VP Products of Mashery; Peter Kirwan, Entrepreneur-in-Residence of Neustar; and Tim Milliron, Director of Engineering at Twilio.
We explored several topics including where success is occurring now within various API ecosystems (what is working), where money is actually being made with APIs, what some of the adoption challenges are moving forward, and how people can begin moving down an API path (both publishing APIs and finding relevant and valuable ones to consume) - all of these topics I plan to cover in future blog entries.
However, one area we explored that I thought was especially interesting is the adoption of API-centric business models within larger enterprises. Sure, high tech companies like Cisco and Salesforce have been utilizing APIs as significant parts of their business models for years. But where it is becoming especially interesting and demonstrates APIs moving into the mainstream is the traction of APIs and DAAS (data-as-a-service) in traditional vertical industries.
For example, many government entities are now opening up data channels to enable citizens to create innovative applications, such as San Francisco's open data portal, on the publishing side of data and APIs. Opening up this data to the masses can drive all sorts of innovation that bring benefits to entire communities.
On the consumption side, Mohawk Paper's (a company founded in the late 1800's) inspirational data integration case study that Gartner published was discussed as evidence of an enterprise pulling data together from multiple third parties to create a custom solution in the Cloud. One of these services is StrikeIron's real-time foreign exchange rate service API. And of course, among our 1800 customers there are several Fortune 500 companies that are leveraging our various API's and DaaS products at increasing rates, all evidence of expanding adoption in the enterprise.
As we see API-centric and DaaS-centric business models emerge that find traction in the enterprise in addition to all of the smaller entrepreneurial innovators and startups, we know we are getting closer and closer to mainstream adoption, which is where some of the biggest opportunities are yet to be realized.
Have we gotten to the point where almost everything delivered over the Internet is considered "Cloud"? In fact, now it doesn't even have to be delivered over the Internet, as "Private Clouds" are quickly becoming a catch-all phrase to market older software and hardware products while simultaneously jumping on the Cloud bandwagon. After all, almost every IT management survey these days is indicating the "Cloud" as the key computing platform for quite some time to come. Many vendors, even deceptively at times, are rewriting collateral to match the trend.
While some will say that there is no true definition of Cloud and they can therefore "Cloud-promote" as they please, there are things an astute buyer should look for when determine if a product or service is actually "Cloud-like", especially since Cloudwashing might very well reach its crescendo this year.
For example, there should be a multi-tenant architecture allowing the underlying software resources to be shared transparently. There should also be a usage-based metering and billing business model, so costs of resource utilization matches actual use across a community of users.
There should also be linear scalability, a virtualized infrastructure, and an abstraction away from any underlying hardware and software complexity. In other words, reduced complexity is generally proportional to how "Cloud" a given software service is likely to be. As an example, our IronCloud
platform that delivers commercial data-as-a-service products
is a usage-based billed service that adheres to all of these principles.
Even though it is true that there are scenarios where a "Private Cloud" makes sense, it should still adhere to the above characteristics of a Cloud, even if it is limited to a single organization and resources are being shared across that organization in a true multi-tenant sense. But if you start to hear terms like "upgrade path", "required hardware", "required OS", "appliance", and so forth, very likely the use of the word "Cloud" has been liberally applied to describe the product or service.
So the next time someone says "to the Cloud!", make sure that is where you are really headed.
We are excited to announce today that we won two of the 2012 Cloud Awards. We won "Best Cloud Infrastructure" and "Cloud Computing Company of the Year". We were chosen out of a field of almost 200 organizations.
Our IronCloud platform is the foundation on which StrikeIron is built, so we take great pride in the recognition of our platform in the Infrastructure award.
Cloud Awards organizer Larry Johnson said, “Almost 200 organizations entered the program, which is among the first of its kind. We were swamped by entries, and the standard was remarkably high. Judging the submissions was a challenging task. But we’re happy to endorse StrikeIron as among the best of the best in their field."
Thanks, this is a great way to kickoff 2012!
The full press release can be found at: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/1/prweb9090732.htm
SAP Business ByDesign
is a comprehensive, integrated SAAS business management suite that can run the entire information chain of a business, including financials, human resources, sales, procurement, customer service and supply chain.
In its partnership with SAP, StrikeIron helps deliver additional functionality to the Business ByDesign offering in the form of pre-integrated SOAP-based Web services and SAP's "enterprise mashup" capabilities. This enables end user personalization and key user adaptation without requiring development skills.
In the following screencast, you can see a demonstration that utilizes StrikeIron's Cloud-based Reverse Phone and Address Lookup Web Service
, integrated into SAP's Business ByDesign product by the SAP team. The entire workflow is demonstrated:
Be sure to turn up the volume!
Much of cloud computing terminology is based on the notion of ‘as a Service’ (or ‘aaS’).
The ‘as a Service’ tag has migrated to several new uses. Here is my attempt at a set of definitions (and please comment if you disagree):
- SaaS (Software as a Service) – I mainly see this as an application that runs in the cloud and requires the user to download no (or very little, maybe a browser plugin) software to use the application. (e.g. SalesForce, Cisco WebEx, Google Apps)
- DaaS (Data as a Service)* – This is providing data over the cloud either as the result of a query (is the email address firstname.lastname@example.org valid) or involving a data transformation (correct the address 101 First Ave, Mytown, NC 2513). (e.g. StrikeIron!)
- PaaS (Platform as a Service) - Providing a platform for running applications, data storage abstraction, etc. One step up the software stack then IaaS (e.g. Google App Engine, Force.com/Heroku, PHP Fog)
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) – Providing a virtual machine and storage mechanisms that can be loaded with operating systems and software (custom, open source, commercial, etc). (e.g. Rackspace, Amazon AWS, GoGrid)
There are some proprietary aaS’s as well. My favorite is HP’s Everything as a Service. I am not sure what this really is but it sounds impressive.
Clear as mud? There is certainly some overlap between the different technologies but at the end the trend is clear. Leverage the efficiencies of scale, lower the barrier of entry, and speed up the time for implementation.
*DaaS can also refer to “Desktop as a Service” and “Database as a Service” in several sources.
2011 has been the year of the Cloud database. The idea of shared database resources and the abstraction of underlying hardware seems to be catching on. Just like Web and application servers, paying-as-you-go and eliminating unused database resources, licenses, hardware, and all of the associated cost is proving to have attractive enough business models that the major vendors are betting on it in significant ways.
The recent excitement has not been limited to just the fanfare around "big data" technologies. Lately, most of the major announcements have come around the traditional relational, table-driven SQL environments Web applications make use of much more widely than the key-value pair data storage mechanisms "NoSQL" technology uses for Web-scale data-intensive applications such as Facebook, NetFlix, etc.
Here are some of the new Cloud database offerings for 2011:
Saleforce.com has launched Database.com, enabling developers in other Cloud server environments such as Amazon's EC2 and the Google App Engine to utilize its database resources, not just users of Salesforce's CRM and Force.com platforms. You can also build applications in PHP or on the Android platform and utilize Database.com resources. The idea is to reach a broader set of developers and application types than just CRM-centric applications.
At Oracle Open World a couple of weeks ago, Oracle announced the Oracle Database Cloud Service, a hosted database offering running Oracle's 11gR2 database platform available in a monthly subscription model, accessible either via JDBC or its own REST API.
Earlier this month, Google announced Google Cloud SQL, a database service that will be available as part of its App Engine offering based on MySQL, complete with a Web-based administration panel.
Amazon, to complement its other Cloud services and highly used EC2 infrastructure, has made the Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) available to enable SQL capabilities from Cloud applications, giving you a choice of underlying database technology to use such as MySQL or Oracle. It is currently in beta.
Microsoft also has its SQL Azure Cloud Database offering available in the Cloud, generally positioned as suited for applications that use the Microsoft stack for developers that will want to leverage some of the benefits of the Cloud.
Some of the above offerings have only been announced so far, and not actually launched. Or, they have limited preview access available now. Also, even the business models in some of these cases have not even been completely divulged, or if so are very likely to change.
Clearly there is a considerable marketshare land grab existing now. All of the major vendors are recognizing that traditional-SQL Cloud storage infrastructure will be an important technology going forward. Adding a solid database layer to the Cloud architecture story seems like an important step in the continuing enterprise and commercial software move to the Cloud, and these new vendor offerings should in turn accelerate this move.
So, is this really the wave of the future? Some of the major questions that will have to be answered include those around latency. When data requests have to hop from a client application, then to the application server, to the database, and then back to the server and client, even multiple times within a single request, it can result in quite a performance hit. Likely, these machines exist far from each other geographically and might really slow things done, annoying an end-user with the slow page loads. This is probably why most infrastructure providers realize that they have to have the corresponding database capabilities available and accessed natively to reduce this latency. However, performance, along with security issues (perceived or otherwise) still could be a significant barrier to mainstream adoption.
Also, most of the relational database environments that exist in the Cloud only have a subset of SQL capabilities available and in some cases can be quite limited. For example, many of these Cloud SQL platforms don't support cross-table joins, at least not yet. This is a very common requirement for SQL applications. The lack of support is primarily because joins can consume a lot of resources, another performance-killer in shared environments.
Once most of this storage and Cloud database infrastructure gets in place however, incorporating more content-oriented data services such as customer data verification will become commonplace and easy to leverage. We may even see them incorporated into the database offerings themselves as they look to differentiate themselves from vendor to vendor. Cloud-based database offerings have the advantage of making much larger libraries of data-oriented add-on capabilities available right out of the box, so the story here is much more than just cost.
While SQL Cloud offering announcements are all the rage in 2011, 2012 will undoubtedly tell the adoption tale. No doubt these offerings will be ideal and cost-effective for many use cases out there. But will demand be large enough quickly enough to support all of these vendors and drive the innovation at a speed that will make these platforms viable in the near future for enterprise and commercial applications? The answer is likely yes, but the next twelve months or so will give us a lot of the supporting data to measure the extent of the trend.
At Larry Ellison's keynote yesterday at the Oracle OpenWorld event, he announced the Oracle Public Cloud and Oracle's move into Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IAAS) offerings, primarily geared towards Java developers and users of Oracle's Fusion Applications. The brand "Fusion Applications" represents a set of over 100 different modules (financials, HR, etc.) which have been designed to run both on-premise and now in the Cloud and is launching after six years of development.
Clearly the Sun acquisition gave Oracle a lot of the Cloud technology to get to this point, but Salesforce's $2 billion in revenue, increasing penetration into enterprises, and launch of Database.com at the Dreamforce event might be pushing Oracle more quickly into this direction.
However, Ellison was quick to point out that Oracle's Cloud approach was an open one and would enable deployments to be moved to other Cloud environments such as Amazon.com (at least in theory) because of its Java roots, rather than a proprietary one like Salesforce.com's where applications are built with a proprietary language (Apex). Cost, however, was not discussed.
In addition to IAAS and Fusion Applications, Oracle will also have other hosted applications available in its Public Cloud such as its database platform, the SUN OS's, Fusion Middleware, and its Enterprise Manager offering.
This move is more evidence that the industry is moving full steam ahead to Cloud-based deployments, where enterprises can consolidate legacy spending, have fewer servers and other hardware, fewer on-premise software deployments, and a greater reliance on SAAS applications and other service-oriented offerings such as data-as-a-service (DAAS).
One of the things you can see from the picture below is that the Cloud really lays the foundation for "data service" components (notice the distinction versus "database service"), enabling enterprises to quickly leverage third-party datasets and data-oriented business functions such as customer contact data validation. This would be more difficult to achieve in on-premise solutions because third-party data has to be acquired, stored, maintained, and managed - a costly and time-consuming process. With the Cloud, you can simply plug into these services and have all of the third party data managed for you.
So the Public Cloud has been announced, but when will it be launched? StrikeIron is eagerly waiting.