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Complex-Event Processing Wrings Efficiency from Operations

This article was originally published in NOW Magazine, which retains all rights.

Follow the author at www.twitter.com/strukhoff or www.nowmagazineblog.blogspot.com

If you’re already on the SOA path, you will no doubt continue. Maybe you’ve incorporated some business process management (BPM) as well, to bring the business-level view to the forefront of what you are doing.

And maybe you aren’t in the mood to digest another three-letter acronym. But maybe you should. If you are looking at the business side first, automating what you can, and working to secure your IT budget by focusing on driving operational efficiency to the bottom line, you do need to consider one more acronym—CEP, or complex-event processing.

CEP is just software, not an entire architecture or approach; and its entire purpose is to wring efficiency out of operations. CEP goes well with BPM and SOA, but requires neither. It has an intellectual side, to be sure, but also a very practical side.

NOW Magazine has previously covered the intellectual side through interviews with CEP’s creator, Dr. David Luckham, emeritus professor of Stanford University. Visit www.nomagnow.com to find online versions of these interviews.

But here’s the practical side: CEP goes beyond mere real-time processing to analyze events in instantaneous time. It enables enterprises to move toward a predictive environment that can do things such as red-flag fraudulent transactions, nip scheduling problems in the bud, or snap up opportunities (ie, revenue) on the margin.

An event in this context is formally define as any discrete thing or occurrence. A deposit into a checking account is an event. Ordering a book online is an event. A flight from San Francisco to New York is an event. (And being delayed for two hours at JFK when flying back is an event.) The French Revolution was an event. The Cold War was an event. The Big Bang was an event.

This definition can be troubling at first, as it doesn’t seem very rigorous. It doesn’t seem easy to grasp and manipulate it with information technology. But yet, CEP can be understood by analogies to human perception.

The human brain is well-understood to function by analyzing myriad inputs per second (which are delivered by the senses), abstracting, correlating, and analyzing those inputs, then recognizing what is happening.

So when you find yourself suddenly stuck in a freeway jam, you see a lot of people in cars driving to a large parking area, you see a big outdoor facility next to the parking area, it’s late afternoon on a weekday in the summer, and you smell hotdogs, then you think there must be driving by a baseball stadium just before a game is going to start. If you’re going to the game, then you know you are almost there. If you’re not going, you observe this information and maybe make a note to yourself to avoid this stretch of freeway at this time in the future if you can.

Your brain’s cognitive faculties tell you that this particular event doesn’t require you to make an instantaneous decision. On the other hand, when you see a big yellow square with the word “Penske” on it getting much larger very quickly in your windshield, you think that the big panel truck in front of you is slowing down and you had better hit the brakes right now.

You get the picture.

CEP performs a similar role for an organization. It can provide information that may confirm something you expected (ie, you’ve arrived at the ballpark), provide feedback on something for the future (ie, check out the baseball schedule and avoid this traffic in the future), or cause you to act immediately (ie, don’t buy the panel truck’s bumper.)

For business, this can include things such as confirming that the holiday season’s hot toy is being delivered smoothly from your warehouse to all ofyour stores, or that delivery has been slowed in a region due to a snowstorm (so maybe you need to accelerate the schedule in this region next year), or that three trucks are headed to Knoxville, Illinois instead of Knoxville, Tennessee and you’re going to have a riot on your hands if you don’t turn these vehicles around immediately.

Commonly-cited generic uses for CEP include credit card fraud detection, rules-based stock trades, business activity monitoring, and a multiplicity of security applications.

It would be easy enough to write an entire book about the hypothetical situations that CEP can address and improve. However, let your imagination run wild. You know your business better than any magazine writer. Whether you are trying to address global warming, solve world hunger, or simply get customer lines to move faster, you can easily outline countless routine and non-routine events that can benefit from creating an event cloud and integrating CEP into it.

Humans first built computers to do what we don’t do well—calculate. We soon discovered they could help us communicate—again doing what we don’t do well, which in this case is making ourselves heard over long distances.

We then wondered how well they could present information in ways that pleased our eyes, and also wondered if they could start to do some of our thinking for us.

Although do often think well, we don’t always (check that, we rarely) make the most rational decisions based on what we are thinking. And this is the essence of what we want our event clouds and our CEP software to do. We want them to do yet something else we don’t do well, in this case make rational, rigorous decisions based on the information we are seeing.

Through CEP we can encourage our systems to think like humans, but better. We may never teach a computer how to tell a joke well, but we can teach one to accurately distinguish a real threat from your grandmother in the security line at the airport. We can also teach one how to bring a level of efficiency, intelligence, and the sort of level-headed reasoning that we all need to get us out of this mess.

About Roger Strukhoff
Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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