Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on "Towards a Streaming SQL Standard"

The title of the presentation "Towards a Streaming SQL Standard" might be a little misleading, in my opinion. The title of the paper might have been "Oracle does this, Streambase does that, let's make a new language construct that enables both products to do this and that". And this is a great example of cooperation between vendors who researchers probably share a common academic heritage.

I don't pretend to understand why the new SPREAD construct is important. It will probably dawn on me when my team has an actual use case that the SPREAD construct solves. This is the case that I experienced a few months ago with Coral8 when we needed windows that flushed themselves when a certain column changed value (to be fair, Streambase already had this in their language).

A few points:

1) Despite what I think about Streambase's marketing and sales organization, you must admit that Zdonik and Cherniack are first-class researchers, and have contributed a lot to the field of CEP.

2) I get confused about Oracle's CEP offering. Is this paper talking about the CEP product that came with the BEA purchase or the original Oracle CEP product? Does any of this include work that they may have incorporated from the purchase of ESPER?

3) I would love to see Coral8's and Aleri's responses to this paper. Do their versions of Streaming SQL already do what the new SPREAD operator is purporting to do?

4) Will any of this standards work bubble up to the work that the STAC A1 council is doing? The STAC A1 council must be vigilant to ensure that we don't include benchmarks that might show off a certain, vendor-specific feature, unless this new feature solves an important business case. Likewise, if the SPREAD operator is important enough that all vendors rush to implement it, then this should be part of the STAC benchmark suite.

5) If the SPREAD operator is important, I expect that Coral8 will implement it right away.

©2008 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

4th Annual Event Processing Symposium

The schedule for the 4th Annual Event Processing Symposium has been posted.

Opher was kind enough to invite me to participate on the various panels in order to give the perspective from a financial services end-user. Unfortunately, I had to decline, as I can not really miss an entire week of work at this point (the first two days of the week will be spent at the Gartner Event Processing Summit, where unfortunately, I will not have the pleasure of ogling Tim Bass's beautiful wife).

I am disappointed to see that the customer rep from Financial services is Ian Koenig, formerly of Thomson Financial. There are a few factors that contribute to this disappointment:

1) Thomson is a vendor. It's not really a customer. It supplies products to trading firms like mine.

2) If I remember last year's Gartner Summit, Ian's forte was streaming news, not trading. (I hope that Brian Theodore might be able to clarify this a bit). Streaming news, while possibly useful in automated trader, is not something that is truly representative of the needs of a trading firm.

3) As it states on the programme, Ian is now an independent consultant. This means that, to me, he is not a true employee of the financial services industry. I would feel the same way if someone from Accenture or Sunguard Consulting marketed themselves as being an employee of the financial services industry .... but this is certainly my own feeling ... your mileage may vary.

(As an aside: When my old boss was dismissed from my firm last year, he continued to speak at conferences under the guise of still being a member of my company. I notice that this is a trend amongst people who have been recently dismissed from their financial services firms ... even on LinkedIn, people's profile still indicate that they are a member of a firm that they have been separated from.)

I get a lot of calls, asking me to speak at conferences, be on panels, be quoted for interviews, etc. I am happy to do so under various conditions. First, the appearance has to be approved by the senior communications people at my firm ... something that they have graciously granted so far. Second, I cannot reveal any of our "secret sauce".

I have a feeling that one of the reasons that Opher had to "fall back" on Ian is because most financial services firms are not as permissive as mine. I know most of the people involved in CEP on Wall Street, and I am sure that most of their firms would be dead set against them speaking at a public conference and blogging. We are a fairly secretive group, although in reality, all of us know what the others are currently working on. There are usually only two degrees of separation between any two people on Wall Street. That's why I am a bit puzzled as to why I seem to be the only customer from financial services who is willing to talk openly about CEP, and how excited we are to embrace the technology in our company.

On another note about the EPTS conference, the panel discussion titled "Is event processing a hype or the best invention since sliced bread ? Event processing market from business perspective" is chocked full of vendors. What is the blazes are vendors doing on this panel? Tim Bass ... where are you when we need you !

On a positive slant, there is a presentation by a Venture Capitalist on why he decided to stake some $$$ into a CEP company. That talk looks like it is worth the price of admission.

©2008 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.

Brief Thoughts on Standardized Streaming SQL

I haven't blogged for a few weeks because I am been on vacation for two weeks (San Francisco, Vancouver, Whistler, Banff) and in between that, I have been bogged down with all of the paperwork at my job, including doing budget planning for 2009. Let me tell you that, in this current economic environment, budget planning is a very interesting and challenging exercise. (The best strategy for dealing with budget time is to take your favorite managing director on the business side out to The Brandy Library, make sure he gets all liquored-up, and make him sign off on your budget after his 5th Highland Cooler.)

Also, I have been a bit turned off by all of the recent in-fighting that has been occurring on the CEP-related blogs. It seems that one person posts an opinion, then two or three of the well-known pundits start a counter-argument on their own blogs, which leads to a spiral of (sometimes good-natured) venom. Just like the recent Democratic and Republican conventions in the United States, I am hoping that the Gartner CEP Summit in two weeks will be a big love fest, and that the pundits will make peace with each other for a week or two.

I read with great amusement the recent announcement of Oracle and Streambase getting together and attempting to define a new standard for Streaming SQL. Some things that immediately crossed my mind were:

1) Streambase and Oracle are presenting their paper at the VLDB conference. The list of presentations is very impressive. Notice the number of papers that Microsoft is presenting, which leads me to hope that some very interesting stuff will be coming down the pike from MSFT. I wish that I could attend the tutorial on "Detecting Clusters in Moderate-to-High Dimensional Data: Subspace Clustering, Pattern-based Clustering, and Correlation Clustering".

2) Mark Palmer, who railed against Streaming SQL for such a long time in favor of Apama's more procedural language, now has to publically support the effort to standardize Streaming SQL. I wonder how much of Apama's language will appear in the standardized language.

3) There are other efforts at standardization underway. Opher Etzion is involved in one of them. I am not sure if Opher's efforts are aimed at solely defining a meta-language for events, or if what he is working on is in direct competition to the Streambase/oracle effort.

4) How willing will Aleri, Apama, and Coral8 be in adopting this effort? In particular, Aleri has a richer programming environment because of their procedural FlexStream language that gives developers a procedural "out" from the SQL-based language. Apama prides themselves on their Java-like language.

5) What happens if Microsoft ever weighs in with something of their own? You know that Microsoft will tie any effort in this area in with LINQ. Aleri is also moving to a more LINQ-like way of doing things. Of course, one can write a LINQ provider for Streaming SQL, but would anyone be motivated to do so?

(Update: Thanks to a reader who does not wish to be identified... the Streambase/Oracle paper is located here)


On another note, good luck to Colin Clark, who has left Streambase as quickly as he joined them. Colin looks like he is striking out on his own as an indie consultant. Colin just had his first child, so this must be an especially interesting time for him. It reminds me a bit of my own story when , in 1988, I quit consulting for Goldman Sachs while my mortgage application was pending in order to strike out on my own. When you get the entrepreneurial fever, nothing can stop you ....

©2008 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Career Choices - IB vs CEP Vendor

Which would you rather do? Work for a big Wall Street Investment bank, be guaranteed a good salary and (in good times), a decent bonus that might make you the envy of your neighborhood (unless you live in Short Hills, NJ or Greenwich, Ct), or work for a small, technically-savvy software company where you can be directly responsible for the bottom line?

This choice was recently faced by a colleague (let's call him T) at the big IB that I work for.

T is one of the top performance architects on Wall Street, and has personally been instrumental at improving the performance of several of our key systems. For various reasons, T felt that he wanted to explore some other opportunities, and within a few weeks, he had a few job and consulting offers. The fact that he could be so successful in his job search in this kind of market speaks volumes about his talent.

The position that T was going to accept was as a W-2 consultant with another large investment bank whose troubles have been in the news lately. T had never consulted before, so he had asked me a lot of questions about what it was like to be a consultant. Between the fact that T was new to consulting, only had a one-year contract, and was involved with an Investment Bank whose management was said to be a bit befuldled, I preferred to see T end up in another place. If this Investment Bank were to lay off additional consulting staff in the future, T would probably be one of the first ones to go. The Investment bank would have probably given T a small chunk of money to buy off the rest of the contract, and then T would have found himself back out on the street.

Coincidentally, a week before T was to resign from my firm, the CEO of one of the Complex Event Processing vendors contacted me to ask me if I knew anyone who would be available for a new position that his company had opened. Immediately, I thought of T. He was on his way out the door anyway, so I felt OK about referring him to the CEP vendor. Within two days, T had a third offer, and after another day, T inked the deal with the CEP vendor!

I spent quite a bit of time with T to help him through his array of choices. Almost every decision point favored joining the CEP vendor. The CEP vendor is certainly not a start-up, as they have been around for a few years and have about 60 people working for them, but it certainly has the feel of a start-up (sans the foozball table and loft in Silicon Alley).

The things that favored the IB were:

- The ability to interact with a large number of people and make a lot of new connections immediately. In consulting, your network is everything.
- The ability to work on a wide variety of trading systems, and to improve his domain knowledge.
- A great hourly rate

The negatives about consulting for an IB were:

- This particular IB has been particularly caught up in the credit crisis, and has recently dismissed a good number of employees, as well as a lot of contractors
- Being subjected to IB politics and processes
- The costs associated with being a consultant, which include paying 14% for Social Security (even though he was a W-2 of the consulting firm, they required him to pay the entire SS tax!)

The things that favored the CEP vendor were:

- Work in a start-up-type atmosphere where there should be very little politics and processes that get in the way of your productivity
- Work in a company of extremely smart rocket scientists that is very close to T's home
- In a pre-sales role, be able to directly affect the bottom line of the company and drive the future success of the company
- Have an opportunity to travel (well, some might look on that as a negative)
- Be able to meet a lot of different technologists from a lot of different kinds of companies. Since CEP appeals to hedge funds, there is an opportunity to gain some domain knowledge into hedge fund operations.
- If T is able to secure any kind of equity position in the company, then there is an opportunity to cash-in if the company gets purchased.
- Have direct interaction with the senior management of the company.
- Been involved in a technology that is visible in the Garter Hype Cycle
- The opportunity to be a jack-of-all-trades ... sales, technology, performance analysis, consulting

The things that were negatives about joining the CEP vendor were:

- Sales of infrastructure products are very difficult right now
- Deal with the very long delays in the procurement process that are endemic to every Investment Bank
- The travel schedule of a sales engineer might be very onerous, especially if you have a family
- Doing booth duty at trade shows

Did T choose wisely? I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

©2008 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Stac Council Meeting Recap

On July 30th, 2008, Stac Research had a general meeting of Stac Council members and associated vendors. Bob from Deutsche Bank was the generous host who managed to procure the Deutsche auditorium for the event.

There was a really good turnout given the fact that it was a hot summer's night in prime vacation season. Peter told me that about 175 people said that they would attend, and I would estimate the final figure at around 100 people.

The event was divided into 3 parts.

Stac had invited 10 vendors to give (exactly) 5 minute pitches on their products. The vendors that presented included IBM, HP, Sun, Solace, Tervela, Violin, Azul, Exegy, ServerEngines, and Bay Micro. All presented their solution for HPC on Wall Street. (Not a single mention of .NET that night .... where were you, Microsoft, and why aren't you on the Stac Council?)

There were two short presentations on the current state of the Stac M1 (Market Data) and E1 (Event Processing) working groups, given by Rob Wallos of Citi and yours truly.

Following the presentations was a cocktail hour, where there was actually a DeutscheBank labeled red wine! Everyone saw a lot of old Wall Street faces, ex-bosses, former colleagues, competitors, etc, and it was nice to reminisce with some of the folks who I haven't seen for years.

Several people from the large vendors approached me with questions about how they could join the Stac A1 working group. What it seems to me is that CEP still needs a lot of publicity, as people are not exactly sure about how to approach it. Only Ralph Frankel from Solace acknowledged the existence of CEP in his presentation, and offered a solution about how Solace can accelerate CEP-based apps. Solace is certainly a company that is on my radar, as it has been mentioned to me by several colleagues.

It's my opinion that, if a company really has a compelling HPC solution for Wall Street, membership in Stac is mandatory. Eventually, non-members will be conspicuous by their absence.

©2008 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.