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David Berlind
David Berlind
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Micrososoft's Cloud Ecosystem Czar: 'When Mashups Fail, Whose Throat Do You Choke?'

Whereas most cloud computing czars at most cloud solution providers are usually very gung ho about the cloud and mashups, Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of Microsoft's Cloud Services Ecosystem, offers a bit more of a sobering look at today's state of affairs when it comes to using a variety of disparate Internet-based services to composite or mashup some business application.

Whereas most cloud computing czars at most cloud solution providers are usually very gung ho about the cloud and mashups, Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of Microsoft's Cloud Services Ecosystem, offers a bit more of a sobering look at today's state of affairs when it comes to using a variety of disparate Internet-based services to composite or mashup some business application.Wrote Watson:

Imagine a developer building a composite application through the use of multiple web services, each of them running via a different hosting provider. The myriad of problems which can, and will, arise, have yet to be adequately addressed by the cloud providers.

Last year, Gartner Research identified mashups and composite apps as one of the top 10 strategic technologies for 2008. According to Gartner:

By 2010, Web mashups will be the dominant model (80 percent) for the creation of composite enterprise applications. Mashup technologies will evolve significantly over the next five years, and application leaders must take this evolution into account when evaluating the impact of mashups and in formulating an enterprise mashup strategy.

Last month (October 2008), Gartner stood by its prognostication when it included mashup technology as one of the four disruptions that will tranform the software industry, saying:

Technology changes that have been centered on SOA migration have now been augmented to include business process management, device portability and mashup-capable content. By 2010, Web mashups will be the dominant model for the creation of composite enterprise applications.

"Mashup popularity stems from the ease with which mashups can be created. Because mashup applications can be created on the fly, they open up possibilities for a new class of more short-term or disposable applications that could never meet the criteria for corporate investment," said [Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Yvonne Genovese]. "Another benefit is that users can easily personalize mashup content displays. Mashups can resolve issues such as content aggregation and the needs of business users to have the personal flexibility to do different things by combining data from within and outside the enterprise."

Now, back to Watson:

One thing that any enterprise IT buyer knows how to say is "who's throat do I choke?" What they are referring to, of course, is the notion that should something go wrong with their applications, they need to know that there is someone whom they can call, scream at, and from whom they can expect a late night visit of the monkeys to the cages to fix whatever errant process is running amok.

When you have a composited application, who exactly are you going to be calling? How can you even begin to diagnose the root cause of the issue. Further, what if QoS (quality of service) is the culprit? You calls are failing because the data is getting to you too slowly. It eventually gets there, it just gets there too slow. Is that factored into your agreement with the service providers? Or were you only thinking about SLAs? Either way, you still have the problem of who to blame, the ingress or egress traffic provider. What happens when this is a duplex, synchronous transfer? The real challenge for anyone looking to build composite apps will be ensuring that the service is uniform from each of their providers, which could be compounded by the fact that those providers may very well exist in different hosting facilities in different parts of the world. Want yet more complication? What happens when your cloud provider has multiple datacenters and has the ability to move your code around based on their need (read: not your need)?

As you can see, we're just now starting to scratch the surface of what's possible with cloud computing, but also just starting to understand what can go wrong. Without proper planning and thinking, we are going to be digging ourselves some real holes in terms of end customer sat, partner sat, and developer sat. Anyone have any thoughts?

Watson asks a lot of valid questions that are worth asking, particularly when it comes to mission critical applications. One question I'll throw into the mix is "What percentage of enterprise mashups will be mission critical?" In other words, so critical that the business grinds to a halt if they go down. Gartner's Genovese is probably right about Web mashups being the dominant approach to compositing enterprise applications. But what Genovese's summary doesn't mention is how enterprise mashup technologies are enabling mortals to composite applications almost as easily as they can composite a word processing document or a PowerPoint presentation.

When business-people were originally enabled with digital document tools (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, e-mail, etc.), the number of documents within each organization exploded (and continues to explode). But how many of those documents are mission critical? We create these documents knowing full-well that the majority of them are of limited usefulness. Once enabled with an application compositing technology that makes child's play out of developing software the way PowerPoint makes child's play out of compositing a presentation from multi-variant sources, business mortals will begin to generate composite applications the way they generate composite documents.

So, to the extent that Joe down in marketing is going to mash up 100 applications in the next year (personally outstripping the total number of applications built by his company's IT department), Gartner is right. But how many of those will rise to the level of importance where, when they fail, someone's throat needs to be choked?

Watson is very much right to ask these questions because the answer to that last question is probably more than zero. All it takes is at least one mashup to hit paydirt -- for the organization to start relying on -- and suddenly, the loose coupling that makes mashups what they are will need a little tightening.

Lastly, Brandon... you are of course raising some very important issues and questions as they relate to mashups and cloud computing. I hope you'll be joining us for Mashup Camp in Silicon Valley (Nov 17-19) to bring them up during one of the unconference sessions.

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