Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Don't Believe the Hype!

I note Gartner has published its 2009 Hype Cycle Report[1]. I must admit I find it a very strange beast. It claims to be an evaluation of technologies. But it is plainly a mix of technology maturity AND technology adoption maturity. For example SOA is classified as being half way up the “slope of enlightenment” and 2 to 5 years to mainstream adoption. Yet it is very clear that SOA technology is reasonably mature at this stage, but it has equally obviously run way ahead of users’ ability to deploy it, because it is an architectural issue facilitated by technology.

The report also includes a technology referred to as Context Delivery Architecture (CoDA) as being in the Technology Trigger stage and less than 2 years to mainstream adoption. Two issues here. First so called CoDA is simply part of SOA. By Gartner’s own definition it’s about architectural response to the end user’s context such as location, preferences, identity, etc. and delivering the information that is most suited for it. Second the Differentiated Service pattern[2] defined by CBDI in 2000 has high levels of support in many tools and platforms that are fully mainstream in terms of technology maturity. Yet Gartner believe CoDA will become mainstream in less than 2 years, even though they advise SOA will only become mainstream in the 2 to 5 year timeframe. Doh!

And I wonder how Location Aware Applications (slope of enlightenment) differs to Context Delivery Architecture?

And then there’s Cloud Computing. Currently shown by Gartner as being at the top of the “peak of inflated expectations” with 2 to 5 years to mainstream. Let’s examine this more closely. SOA is central to Cloud Computing. I note various commentators saying that Cloud simply enforces the encapsulation and virtualization principles of SOA. Of course there are new technologies in Cloud. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in particular is key; yet this is still just SOA for infrastructure, which many vendors have already done a great job of cracking, and have many user deployments.

Web 2.0 is also on the list. Whilst Web 2.0 is a very ill-defined trend spanning many disparate technologies, SOA is clearly central to most of the use cases. Yet it’s shown in the Gartner report as towards the end of the “trough of disillusionment” and less than 2 years to mainstream adoption, ahead of mainstream SOA!

And then there’s the heterogeneous nature of the Hype Cycle Report. Because it includes such a wide and disparate range of technologies, it’s really more confusing than informing. Further it ignores one of the most important influences on maturity – standardization. Reading the report this year I was tempted to simply ignore it. But the inconsistencies highlighted above persuaded me that this report is actually quite dangerous guiding decision makers in highly undesirable ways. Listen to Gartner and you are encouraged to think that SOA is a technology. But the A is not just important, it's the architectural foundation to many of the evolving trends. Yet Gartner seem to place them all on the same level as individual technologies. I suppose the real reason why is because it plays to vendors marketing programs, of which Gartner is an intrinsic part. However I see it as distinctly unhelpful to enterprise customers.

My recommendations on hype cycle analysis are as follows:

- Decide which classes of technology you need to track in terms of technology maturity. Create a grid for this. Use this to inform R&D and Discovery projects.

- Decide which classes of trend you need to track in terms of adoption maturity (include architecture, practice, technology, products). Create a separate grid for this. Use this to inform project chartering decisions and governance review criteria.

- Change both grids to include an assessment of when important and relevant standards will be stabilized.

- Create dependency models of the trend areas, so you can understand the relationships between such clusters as SOA comprising Cloud, IaaS, EDA etc).

Clustering and dependency techniques are important. Not only do they allow you to plan sensibly, they also facilitate completeness reviews. And strangely I observe Gartner omit the area of semantic integration, a technology domain that I see as starting to become very important for many of our customers. Of course it's an integral part of the SOA cluster, and it's strongly driven by SOA maturity and the requirement to deliver on consistent information services. By chance I am publishing a report on the Progress Data Exchange Semantic Integrator this month, and I also note that last month Oracle acquired a provider of a similar product - Golden Gate. But the Gartner methodology apparently doesn't seem to surface such an interesting area.

The basic idea of a hype curve has been around for decades. I recall doing something very similar back in the mid ‘80s with an oil major client. But like all models, the deliverable is highly dependent upon some clear definitions and rigour that make the opinion based report credible and comprehensive. Sadly Gartner seems to have been caught up in it’s own hype.

[1] Gartner's 2009 Hype Cycle Special Report Evaluates Maturity of 1,650 Technologies

[2] Design Pattern: Differentiated Service, Fewer Interfaces than Components