IBM events: not the whole story

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A couple of months ago I reported on the announcement of IBM InfoSphere Streams as the company’s high end (complex) event processing platform. I also described IBM’s approach to event processing more generally. I did this on the assumption that the one day conference I attended was telling the whole story about IBM’s offerings in this space. However, for what turns out to have been non-disclosure reasons, that turns not to be the case: I have subsequently unearthed further products that fit within this overall umbrella, notably the WebSphere Premises Server and the InfoSphere Traceability Server (ITS, previously the WebSphere RFID Information Center), neither of which were mentioned in Boston.

Now, apart from the branding issues (which may be clear to IBM, and possibly even analysts but which I don’t think make sense to customers) I have to say that I am disappointed that we did not get to hear about these products in Boston, because they add substantially to IBM’s portfolio in the event processing space.

Briefly, Premises Server is the sensor/actuator equivalent of WebSphere Front Office for Financial Systems. While the latter collects data from multiple financial feeds (Bloomberg et al) the former collects data from sensors such as RFID readers, GPS, SCADA devices and so on. Needless to say, Front Office is designed to support algorithmic trading while Premises Server is intended for manufacturing, retail, logistics and similar environments for applications such as drug tracing, asset management, baggage tracking and so on. Where the two systems differ is that the Front Office product filters the incoming event streams to ensure that you only get one copy of each event passed to your event processing engine, whereas the filtering in Premises Server is intended to remove the data you are not interested in (yes, this can of beans is still sitting on the shelf) so that what it passes on are the meaningful events.

One other difference is that Premises Server also comes bundled with WebSphere Business Events (WBE, the previous AptSoft product). This is because, although Premises Server may have value in its own right, it will have most impact when the sensor readings that you take generate business events that can be managed within the context of business processes using WBE. Premises Server also includes a Tivoli component to manage the sensors from which the event data is derived.

All of that said, neither Front Office nor Premises Server are event processing engines but are, instead, front-ends to these sorts of products. However, while Front Office will more or less invariably front-end to an event processing engine such as InfoSphere Streams that is not necessarily the case with Premises Server, not least because of the bundling with WBE. Here you may simply use WBE to derive relevant events that will initiate a business process. On the other hand, you might also pass these events to ITS, which provides an event data repository for reporting and business intelligence purposes, or you might interface to a further event processing engine such InfoSphere Streams.

You might also want to link to both ITS and WBE with the latter supporting operational requirements in real-time and the latter providing a persistent store for data that you can query and analyse after the event. So, for example, you might have Premises Server running with WebSphere Business Monitor to support real-time dashboards but ITS (which comes bundled with Cognos software) for historical reporting and analysis.

More generally, I have been writing for some time that event processing has one market—algorithmic trading—and a lot of use cases. However, IBM claims tens of customers for WPS in each of a number of different environments such as supply chain logistics, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and so on. While the applications being implemented are still significantly different enough that these are not often repeatable implementations across environments it does look as if it will not be long before there are enough repeatable applications within each of these sectors so that these can be (in some sense) packaged.

To a certain extent this failure to notice the growth in markets for event processing outside financial services is my fault: by focusing on the vendors in the (complex) event processing space, which have not made much headway outside of capital markets, I have missed this development. On the other hand, it is also IBM’s fault for not telling me (or, as far as I know, anyone else) about it. Actually, this is a rapidly emerging space and the truth is that perhaps we need to start to look at solutions markets (at least as they develop) rather than event processing markets per se.

More to the point, it should be clear that IBM is leading the market for event processing outside of the capital markets sector, and by a significant margin. Taken overall, if it does not have the largest installed base already it soon will have.