Sense and respond systems are already commonplace in many sectors. In some areas, like foreign exchange, commodities or stock trading, events happen rapidly and the software has to respond just as fast. S&R systems also exist in military command and control, which has been devising these systems for more than 50 years. There dealing with the enemy infers looking outside your own forces and "dealing with all the noisy information that they get from the outside world". S&R has also increasingly influenced process control, control of the electrical power grid and control of chemical plants, where S&R applications have been in play for many years. But now, Chandy says, it is time for other enterprises to start moving to achieve increasingly fast response to situations, both expected and unexpected.
That is not to say they need to do anything specific - yet - about their products and tool sets. It does mean laying the groundwork conceptually, he says, and understanding the event-directed architecture (EDA) these systems will eventually sit on relies on asynchronous operations.
As the Simon Ramo Professor of Computer Science at the California Institute of Technology, Chandy is conducting research on distributed computing. Currently he is working on development of an EDA to sit as a thin layer on top of service-oriented architectures (SOAs) to take advantage of S&R, as well as on applying S&R systems to crisis management. He says an event-directed architecture can help organizations to capitalize on the event Web (EW), a thin layer on top of the World Wide Web developed by Caltech's Infospheres Group. Continuously active, the EW monitors information sources and responds fittingly as conditions change. Organizations can build new S&R applications to respond continuously to critical conditions on top of the EW.
"The event Web is an S&R utility that helps people respond to critical conditions in their environments. EDA is the architecture that allows for the systematic structuring of S&R applications. Event-directed architecture components monitor the environment, process events and respond to changing conditions continuously," he says.
Change of Focus
We have had 40 years of enterprise IT focus on services within the enterprise. That is no longer good enough, Chandy says. External events demanding an immediate reaction continually buffet today's corporations. They must alert government agencies in short order should certain situations occur. They have to react fast to competitive threats, breakdowns in extended supply chains and vagaries in electronic markets.
That is why S&R systems differ from traditional enterprise information systems, which focus only on information from within the organization where the time, place, form and accuracy of events are controlled. S&R systems monitor events both inside and outside the enterprise. In an S&R application, finely tuned actuators or responders execute actions in response to detected critical conditions.
Chandy says it is time for CIOs to recognize that they will eventually need to build an event-directed architecture to capitalize on S&R. An event-directed architecture lets the enterprise monitor, correlate and respond to both internal and external events. While many organizations are still struggling with SOA, they should start laying the groundwork for EDA now, he says.
"There are many companies, including IBM and Oracle, that have existing products or are modifying products to focus on this event-driven architecture and thus make their companies more sense and respond companies," he says.
"A service-oriented architecture is where the client calls the server when the client needs something. In an event-directed architecture a server gets called on when something happens at any time. It's not a synchronous operation between a client and server: it's more like things happen when they happen and you react when you have to react. [CIOs] must keep that in mind as they build out this SOA architecture," he says.
Chandy says the business proposition of EDA is that it helps enterprises respond to events, whether threats, opportunities or other kinds of situations demanding timely response. In preparing the ground for S&R, CIOs should keep some questions about the business proposition in mind. How important is it for the enterprise to respond to situations as they occur? How might EDA help the organization respond in a proper and timely fashion?
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