STREET#GRID 2007: Developers Are A Lazy, Superfluous Lot
17 Apr 2007
I figure it’s even money that you read the title and said to yourself, “Well, duh,” or, “Dude, we are soooo not superfluous.” Either way, I think you might have raised an eyebrow at the first annual STREET#GRID 2007 Conference at the posh W Hotel in Union Square this morning. Lab49 Director Ross Hamilton and I attended a day of presentations and panel discussions and came away with the impression that developers were corporate waiters shuttling grid apps from IT service kitchen to table for tips. Who knew service-oriented architecture was about food service?
From the conference website:
Hosted by DWT and Waters Magazine, the inaugural STREET#GRID conference provides CIOs, CTOs, Chief Architects and senior technologists with a comprehensive understanding of how next-generation grid computing, virtualization, and SOA technologies can be applied to ensure optimal use of existing IT resources and increased revenues for business lines.
I tend to enjoy conferences like these, not for new information, but for the comforting sense of familiarity they breed: same faces, same themes, same vendors, same food. [Chicken or fish, sir?] It’s like sinking into a cushy leather chair with a smoking jacket and a hard-bound copy of Emerson. The whole High-Performance Rat Pack were in town: Platform, DataSynapse, Gigaspaces, Tangosol, HP, IBM, Microsoft. IBM came as close to Sinatra as one could get, hitting the high notes and talking like it’s all been there, done that. Microsoft was a teenage Wayne Newton, the Rat Pack-wannabe singing Danke Schoen just for the privilege to hang.
It was at a conference just like this back in January that I first got the idea about writing a book about distributed programming. When you get a sufficient din of vendors and customers together, you cannot help but hear the parallel conversations, the lost messages, and the pleas for a set of technologies that work together and simply do what the customers need them to do. People want guidance. People want the stuff to just work. People want standards and interoperability. So far, that’s not what the vendors give them. It’s the same old song at these conferences, but I get something new each time from hearing it.
Today’s rock in my shoe, though, was the perceived impotence of developers to advance the distributed computing cause. Bob Hintze, Vice President of Utility Computing at Wachovia Corporate and Investment Bank, fired the first salvo with the following quote:
We [at Wachovia] place little emphasis on SDKs and developer consciousness in making progress [with grid computing]. They’re simply less of a priority. Global monitoring and global management is a greater priority.
True, the SDKs and APIs for most of the current distributed computing frameworks are passably mature, while the management and deployment features of those frameworks are in diapers. If you’ve got a ten thousand node grid across multiple physical locations, it’s still pretty much up to you to figure out if any of these nodes has a bad power supply, is overheating, or is disk-bound due to a unscheduled backup. As Mr Hintze said, “Management was and still is the largest obstacle to overcome [in the adoption of grid computing.]”
Developer consciousness, though, can’t be overlooked as a key factor in distributed computing adoption. Distributed applications don’t just write themselves or become distributed with a simple recompilation (all hopes on Cluster OpenMP aside). All of the elastic computing power in the world is nothing but a ball of rubber bands if developers don’t know or can’t see how to take advantage of it.
So why don’t developers write more distributed applications? Maybe it’s hard? Kevin Pleiter, IBM Emerging Business Solutions Executive for the Financial Services Sector of IBM, had a different perspective:
So far, institutions have just done the low-hanging fruit to a large degree. The principal reason for that is programmer laziness.
Ack. Sure, mainstream developers may not yet know much about concurrency or grid computing, and their lack of expertise isn’t exactly accelerating adoption. But it’s a ghastly overstatement to suggest developers are slowing adoption because of their laziness. Developing distributed applications requires a massive integrated effort, of caches and job scheduling and algorithm decomposition and more. Some architects may grok distributed computing, but many journeymen don’t yet because the education isn’t available, the tools are all flavors-of-the-month, and many of the coders, as Herb Sutter suggests, just got to the point where they are finally effective with OOP. Laziness may be to blame, but not on the part of the developer. Vendors, educators, and book authors have all been slackers.
The only representative on stage that seemed to go all Braveheart for developers was Nati Shalom, CTO & Founder of Gigaspaces. Both Nati and his technology are very much developer-centric and seem to connect with the idea that developers are like craftsmen: they don’t choose for you whether your business builds chairs, bookshelves, or widgets, but without them to build it, you’ll have little more than wood blanks and sawdust to sell.