Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

SOA in Good Eternal Company

graveyard-689x407There’s a place where good acronyms go to die.  I call it the GAG (Good Acronym Graveyard).  It’s a dark foreboding place where over-hyped acronyms lie interred separated from their perfectly valid and useful living legacies.

Terminal Terminology

The first GAG funeral that I witnessed in my career personally was Artificial Intelligence.  In the 80s and early 90s, AI was hyped to the point where our brains would surely atrophy as expert systems, neural networks, fuzzy sets, and other goodies would put homo-sapiens out of business.  AI would be the computing industry’s super hero of the era.  But just as most of our super heroes eventually disappoint as they fail to live up to impossible expectations, AI came crashing down.  So many companies and investors were burnt in the process that the term itself became a pariah.  A proposal or business plan could promise to cure cancer, but would be rejected out of hand if it included the term “AI”.

In reality, the AI funeral was for the term itself.  The living legacy of AI is all around us.  We have automated decisioning and diagnostic systems that use many expert systems concepts.  Rule based systems are widely used to codify business policies, determine insurance quotes, and manage the complexities of telecommunications billing.  Neural networks among other techniques are used in pattern analyses such as facial recognition and linguistics.  Just about every complex search technique in use today owes its roots to a university AI lab.  More generally, heuristic algorithms are now pervasive in everything from music recommendations to counter terrorism.

The principles and techniques of AI have been staggeringly successful, but the over-hyped term and its unreasonable expectations rest in peace in the GAG.  This was no time for sorrow, however.  With this burial went the wasteful distraction of trying to satisfy the insatiable.  Released from this burden, practitioners were free to focus and produce the awesome results that have transformed large tracts of the computing landscape.

So Soon SOA

Service Oriented Architecture or SOA has now entered the GAG.  Following a similar pattern as AI, there is nothing wrong with its principles.  In fact, SOA is exactly the transformative movement required by complex enterprises that require breakthrough advances in agility while avoiding the infeasible cost and limitations of wholesale legacy replacement.  Over the past several years, however, the term SOA has been over-hyped as a silver bullet, a specific technology, or a turnkey solution depending on the agenda of the “hyper”.  To these expectations, SOA must and has failed.

In a 01-05-2009 post entitled “SOA is Dead; Long Live Services“, Anne Thomas Manes writes the following insightful obituary:

SOA met its demise on January 1, 2009, when it was wiped out by the catastrophic impact of the economic recession.  SOA is survived by its offspring: mashups, BPM, SaaS, Cloud Computing, and all other architectural approaches that depend on “services”.

SOA is a strategy and an architecture (people tend to forget that’s what the “A” stands for).  It is a path to which enterprises must commit and in which they must invest in order to realize the returns.  When a project is framed as full blown “SOA”, compelling returns on investment are exceedingly difficult to devise and sell.  However, Software as a Service (SaaS) has gained acceptance as an agile, cost effective alternative to wide-scale software installation and maintenance.  Cloud computing is rapidly ascending to acceptance as a nimble alternative to sizing data centers to handle peak-plus demands.  Mashups are everywhere from grass-roots developers to the enterprise back office.  As these mindset changes continue to cure, the principles of SOA will flourish – even better without the baggage of the term itself.

Requiem

And so we gather together on this cold day in January of 2009 to lay to rest the body of SOA, but not its spirit.  We do not mourn this passing as untimely or empty.  Rather we rejoice in the opportunity to move past empty promises and impossible expectations.

Perhaps now that the GAG is sporting yet another tombstone, we can attend to the real business of enterprise transformation through service orientation.  Perhaps we can even throw in a little AI for good measure… D’OH!!!

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When Antivirus = Virus

virusSecurity is not convenient.  Anyone who says differently is probably trying to sell you security products.  That being said, antivirus programs have been around just about as long as viruses.  You would think by now the major brands would have cracked the code.  Now I’m not talking about the daunting task of keeping up with new strains or heuristically predicting that a given byte sequence might be an unidentified threat.  I’m referring to basic usability and not bringing my computer to its knees.

While I am a professional and fairly accomplished technologist, I am also a user and sometimes I want to be just that; a user.  I use computers to get things done.  I don’t enjoy whiling away the hours dissecting, maintaining, or fixing them… which is how I spent a chunk of my yesterday.

Let me set the stage for my rant.  I have a reasonably good PC running Windows XP SP3 on a 3.2GHz Pentium with 1Gb RAM, and an endless sea of disk space.  It’s definitely not state of the art, but it’s not so bad that it deserves to be punished by my antivirus software, which is the latest supported version and is fully up-to-date.

As to the offending software, I should probably not name it so as to avoid a slander suit.  However, it begins with “M” and rhymes loosely with Hack-A-Fee, Lack-A-Key, Smack-N-See and Sack-N-Free.

Antivirus is a Virus When…

  1. It actually causes pop-ups.  It seems like every couple weeks, I was getting a pop-up from the system tray offering me new products or urgently urging me to extend my subscription for a low, low price.  My subscription was good for another 6 months, but out of fear of exposure I had to either take the time to look that up or mindlessly succumb!  Aren’t pop-ups one of those intrusions to be prevented?  It’s like saying torture is evil, but the U.S. can do it because we’re good and not like those other guys.  Now that I’ve uninstalled this thing, maybe I’ll send it to Guantanamo.
  2. It fights to prevent you from doing basic things.  A while back, I setup my PC and another laptop as a home network to share a printer and move files around.  Windows for all its faults actually makes this very easy now, even for the average user.  After following the simple steps, my laptop couldn’t see my PC.  Realizing it was probably the product’s firewall, I could have switched back to the Windows firewall, but now I was on a mission.  I started checking for the switch that enables home networking, assuming that non-technologists also use this thing.  Nothing.  I had to check the firewall’s intrusion logs to find that requests to certain ports had been blocked within the last few minutes.  After going online to find out the common use of these ports, wouldn’t you know they are the ports typically used by Windows for home networking?  Going into the advanced firewall settings, I opened these ports and my problem along with my patience dissolved.  I mean, who wouldn’t have figured that out.
  3. It causes your PC to gasp for air.  There’s really nothing quite like waiting 2 minutes to open a file or a browser link.  During that newly realized free time, one can make coffee, learn a foreign language, or watch all the snails zipping by in the proverbial passing lane.  I assumed it was performing realtime scanning, although what scan take 2 minutes on a 30K document I’ll never know.  I systematically disabled each protection feature to find the culprit, but to no avail.  Only when I removed the program en masse did my computer rise from the dead, which tells me that it injected something beyond user control; something un-good.
  4. It must be forcibly removed to shut it down.  As I mentioned when troubleshooting my giant bucket of slow, I tried disabling each feature individually.  As far as I could tell after probing every menu, option, and orifice, there was no master switch akin to “turn this damn thing off”.  I actually had to uninstall the entire application, a choice about which I was un-conflicted by this time but still…  When you have to force your guests to leave your house at gunpoint to get them to stop breaking dishes, it’s time to rethink your guest list.

End of Rant

I’m a life-long technologist and technocrat.  I am fully capable of resolving any of the issues cited herein, but I don’t have time to waste on something that is now so pervasive and so basic to every personal computer whatever the flavor.

I ultimately did solve my problem by sending the offending software on its way to the harbor and replacing it with a choice that will remain nameless.  By the way, one of my favorite actors is Ed Norton, but he too may one day be replaced by lesser known understudies.

I realize that security requires diligence and diligence requires time.  As a CTO, I spend my days and nights worrying deeply about security on many levels.  But as a PC user, I don’t want to waste precious minutes of my life thinking about antivirus any more than I would want to throw a dinner party to discuss printer drivers.