I’ve wanted to do a post on the growing recognition of a shift towards ‘externalisation’ or ‘edge’ based systems – if you can call them systems at all – but couldn’t quite think of a topical reason to raise the subject. There’s a saying in London that you wait forever for a big red bus to turn up and then three come along at once! (Funnily enough there is mathematical proof for why this happens, with the basic premise being that the first bus is delayed by stopping to pick up passengers and the following buses don’t have to collect so many people at each stop and therefore catch the first one!)
Well, three things have indeed come along at once and the first ‘bus’ is, I suspect, the result of the pressure of ‘passengers’ needing advice on how to travel the new road. In advance of their Enterprise Architecture (EA) summits being held in Orlando and London, Gartner has published a report entitled a ‘New Approach for Enterprise Architecture’. The analyst firm recommends a shift based on the ‘growing variety and complexity in markets, economies, nations, networks and companies’, which it describes as ‘middle out EA’ or ‘light EA’. This is all about using new technologies around the edge, or externally, that are based on some principles and business purposes different to traditional IT, with the focus on ‘state full’ business transactions in tight coupled integrations for mainly centralised core enterprise processes.

In particular, Gartner points to two key principles: ‘architect the lines and not the boxes’ and more tellingly ‘model all relationships as interactions via some sets of interfaces’. Read the details, along with the seven properties that Gartner describes as characterising this new emergent form of architecture. What interests me about these principles is the shift from the ‘old’ world of proprietary and ‘non obvious’ APIs to the new world where open APIs are the norm and product success is often based on using this approach. It’s a huge shift in attitude by Gartner though Dion Hinchcliffe at ZDNet has been publishing some interesting thoughts around the changing focus of enterprise architecture for some time now.
Secondly, this whole shift links up to a guest blog on multi-enterprise reference architectures a couple of weeks back, which you can read here. My colleague Richard Noon was suggesting the ability to make use of shared reference architectures in vertical industry sectors was both a cost saving and a good way to ensure that increasingly edge or externally focused requirements could be met in a manner that would encourage intra enterprise processes and capabilities to be introduced. This is another compelling argument that provided me with a hook to address this topic in today’s post.
Finally, I also wanted push this whole topic of common, shared and open architectures even further after the introduction back on October 6th of the latest version of OpenCL – the ‘third bus’. OpenCL is not very well known but it does have some strong backing notably from Apple who first proposed it, and have implemented version 1.0 in their Mac OSx v10.6, (snow leopard) release. The goal of ‘Open Computing Language’ is to create a common framework for writing programs that can execute across heterogeneous platforms of various processor types. It comes from Open Graphics and provides a rich interface standard to use the graphics processor for other functionality.
Why does this relatively obscure standard interest me and have its place in this post? Well, to me it means that as architecture moves beyond the functional requirements of computer-driven transactions towards the interaction of people around rich graphical presentations, we are going to need to think about architecture in a wholly different way. The Gartner so-called ‘new approach’- which many would argue they have been moving toward for some time now – lays out the beginnings of the change. But when business moves towards people-centric interactions around sharing expertise and decision-making as a prelude to the execution element, it will need to go a whole lot further. Fortunately Apple, Intel and AMD are taking OpenCL to heart and are actively working on how to embed this into their technology.
You can find out more about OpenCL here, but when you do, keep in mind the relevance to genuine cloud computing-supported business services. OpenCL is ‘an API to provide the coordination of parallel computation across heterogeneous processors’ so the general introduction of cloud technology will probably be the initial driving force for OpenCL to surface into more general use. Now reflect on architecture for ‘clouds’ generally and you’ll realise, yes, we really are just at the start of changing enterprise architecture approaches!