Welcome to the next wave of enterprise computing

Software-defined everything, a fresh stack of cloud-based technologies, and a new view of enterprise architecture are transforming business technology

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The way we deliver enterprise solutions changes every decade or so. Sometimes the changes are small; sometimes they’re earthshaking. We’re in the middle of one of those seismic shifts, with tectonic plates moving from on-premises to the cloud, from desktop to mobile, from physical to programmable.

To me, this upheaval resembles a crucial period in the Earth's prehistory. Stephen Jay Gould’s book "Wonderful Life" charted the pre-Cambrian explosion of life, a flourishing of early animals that suddenly died to give us the evolutionary roots of today’s world.

The explosion of technology ushered in by the early Web followed that same trajectory, ending with a die-back in the aftermath of the dot-com boom and leaving us the Web 2.0 world of JavaScript, HTML5, NoSQL, and RESTful APIs that are the foundation of today's cloud computing stack.

The surviving elements of that technology explosion have helped lay the groundwork for a new generation of enterprise computing.

Building a new world

As with previous generations, this new wave flows from work that’s gone before. It takes the API model and puts it at the heart of application development, giving us a framework for building composable apps – and a set of tools to empower a new generation of user-developers. It breaks down application functionality into microservices, which can be reassembled into new applications delivered across a wide range of devices.

The convergence of the API world with devops and virtualization is another key element of this new generation of enterprise applications. Programmable infrastructures are the basis for flexible, scalable architectures, letting you roll out services as needed – using automated management and self-service portals. That doesn’t simply mean orchestrating virtual machines. It’s a ballet that includes software-defined compute, storage, and networking.

Perhaps the biggest change is to the timescales we work in. Where we used to design enterprise apps for years of life, we’re now building departmental apps that work for months or weeks, while still maintaining complex core business systems. APIs may make our lives easier as developers, but they’re an added challenge for operations teams, who now need to manage internal and external systems, as well as control the flow of information in an increasingly regulated environment.

The other explosion – the proliferation of intelligent devices from smartphones to health monitors – is proceeding with equal force. Devices are getting more powerful and moving into more and more niches. User experience needs to be at the heart of how we build enterprise apps, with cross-platform development tools for everything from watch to phone to tablet.

Users expect consumerlike application experiences everywhere. The old days of the Windows Form are long gone. If we can't develop apps that engage users, they’re going to use the cloud and free tools to create their own apps.

Riding the wave

Enterprise developers have never had it so good, with the widest selection of tools at their fingertips, from functional programming languages to massively scalable cloud resources. But those tools need to reach a wider range of users than ever before, on an ever-increasing selection of devices and form factors. It’s a complex world that’s getting more complex, one where we need to build software faster than ever.

The rise of tools to monitor events and sift through petabytes of semi-structured data will help provide the feedback to determine what's working, what isn't, and where we need to go. Cloud-scale machine learning systems will be an essential component of large-scale Internet of things deployments, managing the information from thousands of sources and pinpointing what’s important.

That’s the world we’ll examine here, looking at the tools and technologies of a changing landscape and – most important – how you can take advantage of them to make your business more flexible and responsive.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.