|By Jason Bloomberg||
|September 3, 2014 07:00 PM EDT||
In last week’s Forbes article I discussed various senses of the term real-time: low latency user interfaces, up-to-date information, live human interactions, and high-performance data processing – to name but a few. Today, for the Cortex audience (as well as the Wired Innovations and SYS-CON audiences), it’s time to channel Lewis Carroll and have a wondrous adventure to shed light on the true significance and challenges of real-time.
As we venture down the rabbit hole of our technology-infused world, it’s easy to see that everything is getting faster and bigger and, well, just more. Moore’s Law has just taken a big swig from a bottle that says drink me, as we have more memory, more storage, faster networks, more network-connected doodads, more and faster processors than ever before. And of course, we’re also getting better at everything: better apps. Better operating systems. Better ways of abstracting every element of our environment to provide even greater performance and flexibility. We are truly living in a time of plenty, if not excess. It’s no wonder that we want real-time in everything we do.
Today’s challenge isn’t only making stuff go faster. It’s figuring out how all the acceleration of all the bits and pieces fit together. Furthermore, this push to achieve a holistic perspective on all this gear drives our quest for real-time, as it only takes one bottleneck to slow everything else down. The only way we’ll truly achieve real-time behavior is by understanding the connections this wonderland of real-time requires. So let’s get started, or my ears and whiskers, we’ll be late!
Real-Time Starting Point: Reactive Programming
Google “real-time.” Right after Bill Maher’s HBO show and a general Wikipedia entry comes Wikipedia’s “real-time computing” page – presumably the real-time we’re talking about here. Load that page and you’ll notice two curiouser and curiouser facts right off the bat: first, the Wikipedia article itself has serious issues – as though no one who cares about real-time computing actually wants anybody else to understand it. Second, “real-time computing” is apparently synonymous with “reactive computing,” a much less familiar term. The rest of the article focuses on the sort of real-time we want from our antilock brakes – useful to be sure, but not the enterprise context we were looking for.
Maybe reactive computing is closer to the mark? Well, there’s inexplicably no Wikipedia page for that. The closest we can come is the reactive computing mock turtle: reactive programming. The basic idea with reactive programming is that the behavior of pieces of software can be declaratively defined, and thus evaluated in real-time – just as spreadsheet cells update automatically when a value they refer to changes.
There’s more to the reactive story than software that updates automatically, however, as a visit to the reactive manifesto illustrates. This wise caterpillar of a manifesto calls out four key reactive traits: event-driven, scalable, responsive, and resilient – essentially calling for Cloud-friendly, event-driven architectures that have the declarative behavior definition we know and love from the spreadsheet – only now across a hybrid enterprise context. Mushroom, anyone?
It’s no coincidence that Bloomberg Agile Architecture™ (BAA) also calls out responsiveness and resilience, although the BAA contexts for these terms are aspects of business agility rather than software – but suffice it to say, if your software doesn’t have these traits, it’s unlikely your organization is agile. Alas, we thought we saw the Cheshire Cat of agility, but all we saw was its smile. The people behind the reactive manifesto, however, have a far more technical context for these terms – Play Framework, an open source web application framework for Java and Scala that bills itself as lightweight, stateless, and Web-friendly.
At this point this Cortex might have gone down the Scala rabbit hole – but I’ll save that for a future issue (Through the Looking Glass, perhaps?). Just for fun, however, let’s follow the stateless thread of this adventure to the beach where the Walrus and the Carpenter entertain their oysters. I’ve discussed statelessness over the years in many contexts, from the challenge of maintaining business process instance state with stateless Services, to the role hypermedia play in transferring state to the client if you actually follow REST properly (which almost no one does), to the challenges state management presents to Cloud-based applications. Understanding the relationship between statelessness and real-time behavior, however, ties all these concepts together in a nice package. The oysters, however, aren’t nearly so satisfied.
State, in fact, is the Queen’s tarts of real-time computing. Sure, sometimes your software behavior can be completely reactive: event happens, do some stuff, give some kind of result, and never keep track of anything or wait around for somebody else to finish something. Such processing can be blisteringly fast, of course. It’s when you have to keep track of something that problems arise: where do you do the tracking? Do you have to keep track of multiple things at once when they might interact somehow? How permanent does the tracking have to be? And most importantly: won’t all this tracking slow everything down?
Time to hide the tarts: we could simply keep track of everything in the database. We get unlimited persistence, but databases are relatively slow and scaling them can be difficult. So let’s call upon the knave of hearts to spirit away those tarts to some piece of infrastructure in our middle tier, like an application server or an ESB. The database breathes a sigh of relief, but now we have a Cloud-unfriendly centralized state management approach. So instead, let’s pass the tarts to the client – after all, that’s where REST got its name (Representational State Transfer, natch). We now have scalability and Cloud friendliness, but this approach doesn’t deal well with shared state (as we would need for any type of collaborative application), and nobody likes HATEOAS, even when they understand it.
Enter caching. The idea of a cache is to temporarily store those pesky state tarts, thus lightening the load on the persistence tier. And calloo callay! We can now cache in memory, making it wicked fast. But we still have the Cloud-friendliness problem, so enter from the Queen’s croquet pitch the distributed in-memory cache. Cloud-friendly, check. Wicked fast, check. Responsive? Well, it depends on the color of the roses. The problem here, of course, is the problem caches always have: if all your data are always changing or every interaction always requires different data, caches are worse than useless, since caching something only makes sense if somebody is going to use it a few times before you need to refresh it.
At this point there’s only one more place for the tarts to go: back to the database. We need faster databases that are both Cloud-friendly and deal well with the continually exploding nature of Big Data. It’s no wonder, therefore, that the database marketplace is undergoing a dramatic period of innovation. Yes, another rabbit hole for yet another day – but let’s tease out a single architectural tea party that relates directly to real-time: immutability.
Your mad hatter of a database is immutable if it only supports writes that append data but no updates or deletes. Instead, to handle these pesky changes, additional records are added that indicate a previous record has changed. Immutability is essential for solving some knotty problems with concurrency – a mischievous dormouse for distributed computing since the client/server days and still a hassle in today’s Cloud-enabled world. As anyone who has used GitHub or a similar immutable data store can attest, immutability is the key to scaling a database that supports a large number of users who can add information, since all changes are handled as new data, and furthermore, the data store maintains a complete audit trail of everything that has ever happened, regardless of whether we all move down one seat at the table in search of clean dishes.
GitHub additionally works well with caching because it must assemble the current version of each stored file by adding together all the changes, or diffs, to that file. Temporary storage of each current version thus lightens the load on the underlying data store. But in other situations where the underlying data are always in flux, immutability still helps to address the real-time need. Reads can be extraordinarily fast compared to traditional databases, because the database can look to the index to identify the latest version of a record.
And so our adventure through real-time computing brings us to indexing in all its glory – not just for finding the desired record, but also for all the metadata necessary to assemble the various diffs in order to deliver the current version of a record in real-time. The metadata story for real-time, however, doesn’t stop at indices, as the army of metadata playing cards are central to the notion of declarative programming.
We have thus come full circle to the notion of reactive programming, which includes declaratively defining the behavior of pieces of software as simply as entering formulas into cells in a spreadsheet. And while a single worksheet may have tens of thousands of cells, extending the role metadata play to a distributed enterprise context ups the ante on the relationship between reactive programming and metadata: being able to resolve the desired behavior of any software given the combination of all metadata in the relevant environment – for every interaction, in real-time.
We call such resolution dynamic constraint satisfaction, where the metadata describe the relevant constraints, even though they may be fully dynamic. Calculating the result, therefore, must take place in real-time. Envision one massive spreadsheet, only instead of formulas in the cells, you have any reactive software you might find anywhere in your IT environment. The cell with your final answer is always correct, and always up to date – in real-time. Off with their heads!
The Intellyx Take
Our adventure down the real-time rabbit hole in this enterprise IT wonderland took us many different places. And while each of the critters we met had its own real-time story, our adventure tied all the individual stories together. Such is the nature of real-time: we have many moving parts and they must all be working at top form together in order to deliver a true real-time experience to each user.
Real-time behavior, therefore, is an important challenge for any digital professional, as there is more to digital transformation than meets the eye. Your customers, partners, and broader audience expect such behavior from your digital efforts, and to keep them happy you need the right technology and most importantly, the right architecture to glue everything together in real-time.
Technology vendors and analysts are eager to paint a rosy picture of how wonderful IoT is and why your deployment will be great with the use of their products and services. While it is easy to showcase successful IoT solutions, identifying IoT systems that missed the mark or failed can often provide more in the way of key lessons learned. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Peter Vanderminden, Principal Industry Analyst for IoT & Digital Supply Chain to Flatiron Strategies, will focus on how IoT depl...
Jan. 18, 2017 02:30 AM EST Reads: 1,801
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at Dell EMC, introduced a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organization...
Jan. 18, 2017 02:15 AM EST Reads: 3,196
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now ...
Jan. 18, 2017 01:30 AM EST Reads: 4,195
WebRTC is about the data channel as much as about video and audio conferencing. However, basically all commercial WebRTC applications have been built with a focus on audio and video. The handling of “data” has been limited to text chat and file download – all other data sharing seems to end with screensharing. What is holding back a more intensive use of peer-to-peer data? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, WebRTC Applications Team Lead at National ICT Australia, looked at differ...
Jan. 18, 2017 01:15 AM EST Reads: 4,866
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
Jan. 18, 2017 01:00 AM EST Reads: 6,041
"ReadyTalk is an audio and web video conferencing provider. We've really come to embrace WebRTC as the platform for our future of technology," explained Dan Cunningham, CTO of ReadyTalk, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at WebRTC Summit at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jan. 18, 2017 12:00 AM EST Reads: 2,254
In 2014, Amazon announced a new form of compute called Lambda. We didn't know it at the time, but this represented a fundamental shift in what we expect from cloud computing. Now, all of the major cloud computing vendors want to take part in this disruptive technology. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, John Jelinek IV, a web developer at Linux Academy, will discuss why major players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and Google Cloud Platform are all trying to sidestep VMs and containers...
Jan. 17, 2017 11:00 PM EST Reads: 565
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
Jan. 17, 2017 10:30 PM EST Reads: 718
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation; Alan Williamson, Principal ...
Jan. 17, 2017 10:30 PM EST Reads: 2,363
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Jan. 17, 2017 09:15 PM EST Reads: 7,556
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Jan. 17, 2017 08:00 PM EST Reads: 11,637
A critical component of any IoT project is what to do with all the data being generated. This data needs to be captured, processed, structured, and stored in a way to facilitate different kinds of queries. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle certain kinds of queries, but they are not always well suited to many problems, particularly when there is a need for real-time insights.
Jan. 17, 2017 06:45 PM EST Reads: 6,221
Providing secure, mobile access to sensitive data sets is a critical element in realizing the full potential of cloud computing. However, large data caches remain inaccessible to edge devices for reasons of security, size, format or limited viewing capabilities. Medical imaging, computer aided design and seismic interpretation are just a few examples of industries facing this challenge. Rather than fighting for incremental gains by pulling these datasets to edge devices, we need to embrace the i...
Jan. 17, 2017 05:15 PM EST Reads: 3,569
Web Real-Time Communication APIs have quickly revolutionized what browsers are capable of. In addition to video and audio streams, we can now bi-directionally send arbitrary data over WebRTC's PeerConnection Data Channels. With the advent of Progressive Web Apps and new hardware APIs such as WebBluetooh and WebUSB, we can finally enable users to stitch together the Internet of Things directly from their browsers while communicating privately and securely in a decentralized way.
Jan. 17, 2017 04:45 PM EST Reads: 3,055
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walked through how Octob...
Jan. 17, 2017 04:30 PM EST Reads: 2,907
The Internet of Things can drive efficiency for airlines and airports. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Sudip Majumder, senior director of development at Oracle, discussed the technical details of the connected airline baggage and related social media solutions. These IoT applications will enhance travelers' journey experience and drive efficiency for the airlines and the airports.
Jan. 17, 2017 04:15 PM EST Reads: 1,981
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint, a leading digital experience intelligence company, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Catchpoint Systems is a leading Digital Performance Analytics company that provides unparalleled insight into your customer-critical services to help you consistently deliver an amazing customer experience. Designed for digital business, C...
Jan. 17, 2017 02:30 PM EST Reads: 1,743
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
Jan. 17, 2017 02:15 PM EST Reads: 3,642
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
Jan. 17, 2017 02:00 PM EST Reads: 5,381
Things are changing so quickly in IoT that it would take a wizard to predict which ecosystem will gain the most traction. In order for IoT to reach its potential, smart devices must be able to work together. Today, there are a slew of interoperability standards being promoted by big names to make this happen: HomeKit, Brillo and Alljoyn. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Adam Justice, vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, will review what happens when smart devices don’t work togethe...
Jan. 17, 2017 01:45 PM EST Reads: 277