Friday, October 3, 2008

On the Genesis and Exodus in Event Processing

One of the greatest scientists I had the honor to meet in person (in a conference in France, 1991) is Lofti Zadeh the inventor of "fuzzy sets" which is one of the major ways to formulate inexact thinking. When I was an undergraduate student, there was an urban legend that Zadeh came with the fuzzy notion when his wife went out of town and left him a cooking recipe, trying to formalize the recipe he came out with the notion of fuzzy. Later in life I've met another great scientist and wonderful person, the late Manfred Kochen, who told me overa lunch in Ann-Arbor, that he has been a graduate student together with Zadeh in Columbia University; so I told him the urban legend and asked him if it is true, he was quite amused to hear it, and said that the problem that actually started the thinking about fuzzy theory was - formalizing the process of parking car between two parking cars, assuming the Fred Kochen told me the truth, was the genesis of fuzzy logic. It was interesting to observe that Tim Bass, in a couple of his latest Blog postings, have returned to the genesis of "complex event processing" citing topics that emerge from the papers that David Luckham's group in Stanford published in the late 1990-ies - the list contained:
  • Network Level Monitoring and Management;
  • Cyber Security: Network Intrusion Detection;
  • Enterprise Monitoring and Management,
  • Modelling and Simulation of Collaborative Business Processes;
  • Business Policy Monitoring;
  • Analysis and Debugging of Distributed Systems.

These applications are all still very much alive and kicking in the event processing space.

It is interesting to note that the genesis of data stream management in one of the earliest papers of the "stream" project, has been, surprise, surprise -- "network traffic management". It also should be noted that David Luckham and Jennifer Widom reside in the same building.

As the area of event processing have many ancestors - they have some more genesis books, for example, the term "active database" was first coined by Morgenstern in his VLDB paper from 1983 , and the genesis of Morgenstern has been - consistency and integrity applications. We still see compliance and governance (our current names) as major applications. Other ancestors are in the area of system management whose genesis has been the "root cause analysis" application - i.e. diagnostics of problems out of symptoms. We in the AMiT project in IBM Haifa Research Lab started also with looking at system management applications, and what is now called "business services management" - impact analysis of events in the IT on business processes. I think that at least some of the pub/sub companies started with distribution of new versions of software to subscribers, and of course some of the current event processing vendors started with applications like algorithmic trading in capital markets.

If we have used the biblical term genesis, we also may remember that the successor of "genesis" is "exodus", and in our term -- moving on and not staying just where we happened to start. While some of the software industry is based on niche players, where the niche may be quite big (one of the biggest IT companies in Israel has concentrated for many years mostly in the area of Telco billing, probably big enough to enable niche companies of several thousands employees), however, for more basic software like event processing tools, there is a big benefit in the ability to generalize beyond the genesis, and indeed we see now that some vendors are going after other markets that may seem beyond their "comfort zone" and need to make some adjustments (this phenomenon may be one of the drivers for standardization in this area, but I'll discuss this issue in another time), thus, we are watching growing list of applications and business problems that event processing can be part of its solution, both in the infrastructure area (which should grow to internet scale infrastructure) and the enterprise application area. To conclude this posting with citing another great speaker, Professor Stu Madnick from MIT, whom I remember giving an amusing talk about theoretical computer science saying something like: A bunch of people went to a close room taking with them some problems from the outside world, and since then they are still in the same close room, still working on the same problems, and sometimes inventing new problems . Well - we shall still solve the original problems, but also look around to find new ones, we are just in the early days of the event processing area, and probably did not discover much of its power to impact the business world. More - Later.


Richard Veryard said...

"we are just in the early days of the event processing area"

If we are following your suggested path of technological maturity, the next step would be to define a systematic set of processes, procedures, policies and governance (Leviticus) and then we might eventually get to metrication (Numbers) and management review (Deuteronomy).


Opher Etzion said...

Excellent response Richard.

The next step should be to make order in the chaos.