Guest Post: How the Cloud is Driving Application Integration Up the Stack

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 19, 2010

As part of our ongoing series on cloud technology, we’ve looked at how the workforce is changing for sysadmins and database administrators. Now it’s time to turn our attention to application integration and open data access in the cloud.

Juergen Geck, CTO of open source groupware vendor Open-Xchange, says the cloud provides the perfect means and opportunity to drive app integration up the stack and calls for a measure of data standardization for it to really work. Geck pulls no punches in this smart and funny essay on how to get the ball rolling so humans and computers can take their data-sharing relationship to the next level.

How the Cloud is Driving Application Integration Up the Stack

Juergen Geck, CTO, Open-Xchange

There is no way to deploy an LDAP-plugin so my corporate directory can find all the contact information my colleagues maintain on their Facebook accounts maintain more accurately than on our in-house Open-Xchange Server. Clearly, we’ve gotten used to services offering what used to be available on our local system. In the case of Facebook’s, somebody has to go figure out how Facebook Query Language works, implement a service connector, and off you go -- all the data of the world at your fingertips. Or not? Well, then ask Google's Data Liberation Army. This is good, though; it brings the focus closer to what the consumers of our goods get to see and understand and work with!

In the case of Open-Xchange's Social OX, a user can easily go look at the data his groupware has just sent off to SugarCRM in a browser and the response is equally readable. How is that for transparency? The CEO doesn’t have to call the CIO, who then calls the support guys one after the other, to find the appropriate person to yell at. Everybody can just look at the data and figure out what they need (e.g., why Bill Gates would probably not be the person I will want to sell a power plant to ... or is he?). What this drive up the stack will eventually lead people to realize is that we are building this whole technology universe for the people and their drive to make some money, find friends, look at pictures from virtual farms, etc.

You say this is obvious? Well, I don’t think so. If people can’t easily read their data, then it probably won’t do what people would like it to do. Here’s an example. My phone is a very slick piece of technology with way more oomph than the first handful of generations of machines I started my career on. OK, I am old, but the point is, this piece of hardware is three years old and still does not fail to amaze me. However, if I try to share my contact info from my iPhone with your Blackberry because we just met and I think you are nice, well, I’m out of luck. But I love my iPhone. Really.

While a handful of rocket scientists and W3C folk have been preaching about KI and the next attempt to explain the world in technical terms, the world is moving on. Reality does not care for us engineers’ dreams. Software as a service, the cloud, they are different because people don't have to wade through tons of Microsoft, IBM, or Novell CDs, and spend hours watching rotating hour glasses along the way -- they can just go and buy what they need. The bottleneck today is no longer Amazon or Google, it’s integration between their offerings. The evolution up the stack, all the way to the very top where the users are, bringing a totally overlooked gem along with it: the chance for mere humans to understand what is going on with their data!

Application integration in the cloud is at the top of the stack or not at all

Call it Web2.0 in a browser, although that doesn’t technically make sense because data comes together on client servers and people need it to come together on their own servers instead. Don't call it SOA, because that’s old school and not what I am talking about today. We probably need a new descriptive name because integration of applications -- or rather, the integration and re-use of data from various systems with generic tools -- will finally require the IT industry to grow up and standardize.

There, I said it. Albatross. Total albatross. Standards in data? I must be joking, no? No!

If the French and the English can agree on one set of standards for a train passing underneath the English Channel (and now running German trains!), then why can't the IT industry standardize a first name, last name. and street address? It will eventually, but why didn’t it happen earlier? The easy answer is because they (we!) didn't have to. It was much more efficient to sell tools to tame the chaos.

Microsoft defined the building blocks for 90% of all presentations people create in a bad way (Powerpoint, anyone?), but that is not my point. My point is Microsoft focused on the tools customers need to solve problems because that is what they sell. The less of a standard there is, the better the conventional software market works. Enter the Cloud. Fantastic! All of a sudden standard data makes sense for vendors.

So how do we go about it? The obvious answer is to enable machines to read human communication instead of the other way around. The moment the paradigm shifts and data becomes readable to non-technical people first and machines second, will be the moment that machines begin to help us with our daily chores. They will finally understand what we want and need.