by Christopher Lindquist

Real Time Applications Increasingly Becoming a Reality

May 15, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

Real-Time, Right Time, whatever you want to call it, dozens of vendors are lining up to give your company information “at the moment you need it.”

In the early days of the phrase, “real-time” often meant little more than “I’m going to query your data source repeatedly and often to make sure I don’t miss anything–system resources be damned!” Needless to say, this technique didn’t make many friends in the IT community.

Even today this continuous querying is often what you’ll get if you ask for real-time information access. But a change is happening. Events, messaging, publish/subscribe, Web services–these are the terms that will dominate the conversations around real-time in the coming months. Now, instead of dealing with reporting apps that constantly tap their data sources on the shoulder, hoping by serendipity to snag a snapshot just when something important happens, the data sources themselves (or the middleware that connects them to everything else) will note important events and automatically inform the relevant reporting and monitoring apps. Will it be split-second response times in every case? No. But unless you’re on a trading floor, a wait of a few minutes isn’t likely to cause any pain.

“I think ’right time’ is the right solution, but as you look at advances in technology over time, I think real-time will become right time,” says David Gillhouse, vice president for information technology at garage door opener manufacturer The Chamberlain Group. The company currently uses real-time synchronization software from DataMirror to guarantee that data center “hot sites” in Illinois and another in Mexico are always up-to-date.

And DataMirror is far from the only player in the real-time space. In February, Sonic Software launched Release 5.0 of its SonicMQ enterprise messaging infrastructure. On the reporting front, Informatica unveiled PowerAnalyzer 4 in March. Prior to this release, Informatica fell squarely in the “query, query and query again” school of real-time. But version 4 lets users take advantage of Java Messaging Services to create a truly event-driven data flow, in addition to the company’s more traditional tools.

There are also several upstarts. On the smaller side, KnowNow released LiveSheet for Excel, which lets users connect and constantly sync Excel spreadsheets?no need to worry about who has the most recent data.

Startup Iteration Software, meanwhile, has bigger dreams. Its founder, Ken Gardner, envisions a “streaming information model” where data constantly flows to reporting apps (like his) that can take what they need, when they need it. Want to see exactly how many sales each employee in your call center is generating on a moment-by-moment basis? Iteration’s Real-time Reporting Suite (in conjunction with the properly message-enabled applications or middleware) can tell you.

But it may be a long while?if ever?before such real-time reporting dominates. “We look at it as a supplemental tool to our data mart,” says Thomas Adler, manager of customer data and integration at the California State Automobile Association (CSAA), which is evaluating Iteration’s suite. “A lot of the reporting that we do on regular [time] increments is going to be fine.” But if all goes well, the Iteration application will bridge an information gap, allowing CSAA to quickly route time-critical information to those who need it in minutes?not days.

Of course, this does raise a big question: Where is all this real-time data access headed? A control panel full of dials showing the average words per minute of typists in an enterprise? The average number of syllables per closing for each salesperson? Ridiculous? Of course. But considering that not many years ago a request such as “I need that worldwide sales summary by next week” used to give IT folks the giggles, isn’t it interesting to be so close to the other end of absurd?