By Frank Greco
Accelerating Innovation in the Enterprise
Technology is often the catalyst of transformational business. And in today’s environment of modern computing where we have extremely powerful technology along with nimble, agile approaches, the possibility of such disruptive innovation is very high.
With the latest trends in modern cloud/container computing, serverless architectures, microservices, blockchain, machine learning / artificial intelligence and ethical computing, it is obvious enterprises are experiencing a significant inflection point.
To gauge any possible impact of these trends on businesses, today’s technology managers and senior IT executives need to understand the effects of each underlying technology and more importantly, their possible combinations. This insight will allow senior staff to assess the impact on their business, on their partners and most importantly on their customers. Today’s unprecedented digital technologies lead to exponentially accelerating innovation which presents potential business opportunity gained. And for those organizations that merely maintain the status quo and fail to explore the power of new world, there is a growing opportunity gap that makes the business environment increasingly dangerous.
Let’s take a high-level look at some of these technologies and how they could impact the enterprise.
CLOUD NATIVE COMPUTING
Cloud computing has been around for over 10 years. Most enterprises have used both public and private cloud computing for a number of years. We all have come to appreciate the definition of cloud computing as essentially a software-defined data center that enhances the business agility of the enterprise.
Over the years, our IT staffs gained experience with PaaS, VMs, containers, DevOps, continuous integration/deployment (CI/CD) and microservices architectures. As expected, a new IT environment arose from this melting pot of cloud-centric flavors. By building greenfield applications with the intent of using agile application development and architecting specifically for the cloud, a new model for IT arose, Cloud Native Computing.
By taking advantage of this new native cloud computing infrastructure, enterprises can now consider using services from a federation of cloud providers including their own in-house cloud environment. This evolution of the hybrid cloud is often referred to as “multi-cloud” and it promises to provide enterprises (and vendors) with a wealth of possibilities for new applications. And as expected, with increased complexity the need for cost and service quality management becomes critical.
MICROSERVICES AND SERVERLESS
For many years we all have understood the benefits of services-centric software development and deployment. There is no question that Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) provided a clear foundation for IT. But over time the gravity of this growing mass attracted more debris, complexity and confusion. Due to overzealous marketing and misguided use, SOA became a product offering instead of a fundamental architectural style. Over time we simply forgot the ‘A’ in “SOA” stood for Architecture.
Microservices are a newer, finer-grained SOA where each single-purpose service has minimal-to-no dependencies on other services. This evolution of SOA provides more agility and flexibility at the cost of more complexity, not an uncommon tradeoff.
Quite often, these small microservices are run in the cloud using AWS, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud (formerly Bluemix) or others. Since this architectural model has become quite useful and very popular, these large cloud providers have evolved PaaS into a newer environment that removes the responsibility of provisioning virtual machines, web infrastructure, containers or monitoring features from the developer. More accurately called “Functions-as-a-Service” (FaaS), this more modern PaaS is more popularly known as “Serverless Computing”. This confusing moniker is just another marketing term and implies that while there still must be servers running your microservices, the servers and their operating infrastructure are not your responsibility. That is, it is “serverless” to you and represents a key moment in the evolution of cloud computing. But while it is server-less, it is not responsibility-less for IT managers.
MACHINE LEARNING / ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Machine Learning (ML) seems to be everywhere these days. Many enterprises have recognized this trend and see many potential improvements to their businesses from the use of ML.
ML is all about prediction. Accurate prediction is critical for practically all enterprises. Without a degree of confidence in business forecasting, organizations would have a difficult time delivering successful products and services in a cost-effective manner.
Over the past decades, many enterprises in a wide variety of industry sectors have had to rely on data analysis for predictions. But in today’s environment for enterprises, the volume of data has become massive along with a huge diversity of data sources. And business stakeholders now expect instant insight from this data. ML can be used to address these issues.
The core of ML is all about recognizing patterns in your data and making predictions against that data.
It is important to ensure the ML system is reading large datasets of “clean”, high-quality data. The more clean data that is available, the more accurate the predictions are. And since large enterprises have proportionally more data than smaller organizations, large enterprises are perfectly suited to reaping the most benefit from ML systems.
When deciding where to use ML in the enterprise, there are several typical characteristics of systems that could potentially take advantage of Machine Learning. A very repetitive system that requires decisions to be made based on past data would be an obvious target area. As ML evolves, it is not unthinkable to believe that every application development group will have at least one team member who is an expert on ML.
BLOCKCHAIN BEYOND CRYPTO CURRENCIES
Bitcoin is a well-known and controversial digital currency. There are countless discussions on the viability of this new form of money. Underneath the hood of Bitcoin and over a thousand other cryptocurrencies, there typically is a secure mechanism based on an incorruptible distributed, decentralized log or ledger called Blockchain. While blockchain was initially used for financial transactions, it can be used for other types of transactions such as “smart” contracts. These are active agreements where actions are triggered based on events specified in the contract. Blockchain ensures these actions are recorded in a tamper-proof log and this proof is distributed to all parties.
There are many applications of Blockchain that involve crowdfunding, governance, supply chain, new types of data security, intellectual property protection, et al. Blockchain is still a controversial technology but many companies are still moving forward with blockchain applications for important use cases.
NEW COLLABORATION TOOLS
All these new technology trends certainly have the potential to accelerate business innovation. But at this heightened pace, we also need to use tools that foster real-time and recorded collaboration among engineers, data scientists, software developers and technical managers. They must be easily deployed, cloud-friendly tools that allow the sharing of executable code and associated images, videos, thoughts, explanations and ideas.
The Jupyter Project is one of those tools. It is an open-source, modern workbench and growing ecosystem that allows collaborators to share executable code in many supported programming languages and frameworks. Its primary front-end web interface is called Jupyter Notebooks and its server uses a surprisingly simple yet flexible architecture that facilitates extensibility. This tool helps collaborators to focus on the important issues and not to worry about the tools themselves.
NEW GENERATION OF ENTERPRISE IT
Current enterprise technology is indeed quite powerful and is evolving at an extremely rapid pace. The velocity and magnitude of our modern IT environment offers the possibility of major innovations and disruptions, especially by combining some of these new tools in interesting ways. It also raises questions on complexity, regulations, governance and ethics. Senior technology managers need to understand the effects the new tools have on the business now and in the near future.
ACCELERATING INNOVATION IN THE ENTERPRISE – MAY 13-14, 2019
Learn how to leverage the latest IT trends for your enterprise by an international collection of enterprise experts and consultants at the Technology Transfer “Accelerating Innovation in the Enterprise” conference in Roma, Italy this May 13-14. This conference will explore the latest information of each of these topics in detail and to discuss how enterprises can rapidly adapt and innovate in today’s modern environment.