Eric Knipp

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Eric Knipp
Managing Vice President
3 years at Gartner
15 years IT industry

Eric Knipp is a Managing Vice President in Gartner Research, where he focuses on Web and cloud application development methodologies and trends. Mr. Knipp is based in Dallas, Texas. Read Full Bio

Catalyst Debrief

by Eric Knipp  |  August 27, 2012  |  4 Comments

I just returned home to Dallas after participating in my first Gartner Catalyst conference. The event was impressive with tons of content and almost 1800 attendees on-site, not including Gartner staff. I’ve presented at a number of Gartner Symposia and Summit events and I was struck by the deep level of attendee engagement at Catalyst. Our attendees are in the midst of mobile, cloud, and big data initiatives and it was great to hear about their experiences and challenges in my conference sessions, roundtables, and of course copious analyst-attendee 1-1 sessions. As I cover Web APIs in depth these days (and to a lesser degree mobile development) I thought I would share my top 3 “aha” moments from the conference, based on attendee feedback and questions:

The mobile bone is connected to the Web API bone. I’ve advised for some time that clients consider a Web API as the first step of a mobile development initiative, in particularly one that depends on connections to existing back-end systems that have not yet been ‘mobile enabled’. My conversations at Catalyst make clear that practitioners have come to this conclusion as well and are embarking on a variety of Web API initiatives in support of mobile app enablement. I have one further piece of advice beyond establishing a Web API at the outset of a mobile app initiative – don’t treat it as just a part of or infrastructure for your mobile app, but as a product in its own right. Done well, your Web API will power multiple mobile apps, partner integrations, and Web applications, but that requires a commitment to design that is easy to skip if you think you’re just doing it as a one-shot deal for a single app.

The majority of Web API initiatives leave versioning for later. I believe this is a dangerous idea for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, if you run just one version of an API you risk introducing a breaking change anytime you extend it. While you can potentially work around this with a very robust set of test cases (which I would strongly encourage), it is easy to paint yourself into a corner when you are unable to fix a bad implementation that seemed like a good idea at the time. Over time your code gets crufty and filled with technical debt and eventually you might be forced to declare bankruptcy – basically starting over with a new Web API and disenfranchising all of your existing API consumers all at once. On the flipside, versioning isn’t something you should automatically commit to. Running multiple versions has its own costs – multiple code bases and the overhead that comes with that, multiple groups of API consumers and the service levels you must provide them, and so on. My advice on this one is just to take it seriously – if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Consuming Web APIs from external providers can be a serious challenge. If you deal with a lot of niche players with screwball ideas about Web API design you have your work cut out for you. While the cloud and social leaders like Facebook, Salesforce.com, Twitter and so on get a lot of pub for the quality of their Web API designs, there are myriad small SaaS providers who treat the Web API as an afterthought. Understandably, they instead spend their R&D dollars on slick GUIs and worthy business processes which the business selects without even considering integration. If you are unlucky enough to be asked to integrate some of these niche apps with your existing systems it isn’t going to be a lot of fun, especially if you use the brittle point-to-point style of integration. My advice is that you consider using a gateway to shield your applications from direct exposure to external Web APIs.. this will provide you a single logical layer to deal with and the better API gateways on the market can do some basic transformations and quality of service improvements that allow you to homogenize the interfaces somewhat, which can be very useful if you’re part of a larger team that delegates the business logic implementation to different hands than the actual service consumption/integration.

Web APIs are growing in popularity and that makes it a fun time to cover them. Web API gateways, servers, and management technologies are proliferating at the hands of cloud and product vendors alike. If you’re a Gartner for Technical Professionals client I would love to talk to you about it.

4 Comments »

Category: Web APIs     Tags:

So, you want to be an analyst…

by Eric Knipp  |  March 30, 2012  |  2 Comments

It is a bittersweet thing to say goodbye to a great team member while opening the door for a new, potentially great team member. Sean Kenefick is leaving our team to pursue entrepreneurial interests. Sean has done a great job covering ALM, DevOps and other software development life cycle issues. I wish Sean all the best in his new focus and I hope that our professional paths will cross again.

We now have an opportunity to bring a great newcomer to the Application Platform Strategy (APS) team. Our team covers every aspect of application development (AD) you can imagine – from middleware, to mobile, to user experience, application architecture, cloud platforms, business process management, SOA, agile and SDLC practices, and so on. If you’re a solution architect seeking guidance on AD-related technology and practices we are the best group in Gartner to speak with. We’re looking for one more great analyst or analyst wannabe to fill out the team.

We’re not looking to “replace” Sean. While there’s clearly an opportunity to address a gap in our coverage, we’re looking for the “right person” more than the “right coverage”. When we’re qualifying candidates, we will closely examine:

  • Depth of practitioner experience
  • Customer-centric thinking
  • Demonstrated willingness to take a position, articulate it well, and engage others in doing so
  • Ability to write, including technical documentation, books, and articles
  • Ability to verbally communicate, including presentations for large and small audiences
  • The right temperament and a heavy dose of intellectual curiosity

If you’ve always wanted to be an analyst but never had the courage to ask, this is your opportunity. Please use the below link to learn more about the job, and feel free to contact me or Anne Thomas Manes directly if you want to find out what being an analyst is all about.

Application Platform Strategy Analyst – Gartner Research

2 Comments »

Category: Uncategorized     Tags:

Deliberate vs. Accidental Identities

by Eric Knipp  |  March 22, 2012  |  Comments Off

Yesterday I had the good fortune to attend a breakfast talk given by Cowboy great Drew Pearson at the SMU campus here in Plano. Besides earning a place in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor last year in recognition of his NFL greatness, Drew is a successful marketing executive, life coach, and motivational speaker. Drew gave a talk on the subject of identity. Until I saw a post from my colleague and friend Tom Austin on the subject of digital vs. personal self, I had no plans to blog about Drew’s talk. Tom poses several questions:

  • Does your digital self reflect your real-world self?
  • Is it desirable or even possible to separate your personal self from your digital self?
  • How do you deal with this challenge?

Yesterday morning, Drew talked about the importance of identity at both an individual and organizational level. Having an identity means you know who you are and what you believe, and you never have to guess how you should behave. For individuals, your identity is the set of constraints that dictates who you associate with, how you treat people, how you make decisions, and how you will be remembered. For organizations, identity dictates what people you should recruit, who you should fire, how you develop your strategic and operational plans, how your culture evolves, and how your customers and competitors see you in the market. Businesses try to codify identity through the mission statement. Religious organizations use creeds. Nations use constitutions. Weirdly, individuals often don’t codify identity at all. Some of us opt for an affirmation statement. For most of us, our identity is something of an accident that we fall into, rather than something we deliberately choose.

Identity is hard enough to get right in the real world. How many of us are consistent in our values, our friendships, our goals? How many of us have been willing, from time to time, to pursue avenues other than those our probable identities would suggest? How many of us have never even taken the time to decide what we are or who we want to be? If you’re constantly negotiating with yourself, you probably don’t have a perfectly-formed identity. But don’t feel too terrible, because most of us are in the same boat.

If it’s hard to nail down an identity in the real world, it’s damn near impossible in the digital world. Every Facebook status update, every Tweet, and every LinkedIn post is another chance for us to betray our identities, revealing painfully short attention spans, feeble convictions, failures to be who we say we are (or even who we would like to be able to say we are). And that’s just the stuff we do on purpose – Google, Microsoft, and hundreds of government agencies around the world are no doubt compiling frighteningly detailed dossiers on our “true” digital selves.

I don’t pretend to have the solution to this conundrum. I think we’d all benefit from being more deliberate about our real-world identities. If we can do that, we’ll have a fighting chance at effectively managing our digital identities by aligning our digital and real-world values and choices.

 

Comments Off

Category: Personal Effectiveness     Tags:

Leading by Example – Architects Should Code

by Eric Knipp  |  March 11, 2012  |  3 Comments

Sitting on a flight from Dallas/Fort-Worth to Orlando for Gartner’s Orlando Portals, Content, and Collaboration Summit, I just observed an event that reminded me of why I believe so strongly that architects ought to cut code themselves. We’re being redirected around the leading edges of a storm line stretching from southwestern Arkansas all the way down to Houston. I am lucky enough to be riding my frequent flier status to an upgrade at the front of the bus, while coach is filled with already-exhausted parents and screaming kids excited to spend “quality time” with the Rat. Yeah, I am pretty happy to be up here.

Anyway, the row in front of me is filled with a familial unit, including 2 kids. I love kids (especially my 2 boys). But more to the point: I love kids who behave themselves. And for the most part these kids behave (if only due to their mobile electronic distraction units). That probably shouldn’t surprise anyone – if you’re in business class as an 8-10 year old kid, it’s because your parents are either very well-off financially, or because one or both parents work in a field demanding a lot of travel, and upgrades were made. In the latter case, these kids are probably still pretty well-off. Children of financially secure parents tend to be children of well-educated, well-behaved parents. Maybe not fair, but there it is.

Because we are being diverted around a storm system, we are enjoying a bit of a bumpy ride. The pilots have turned on the fasten seat belt sign, made announcements about the importance of remaining in your seat with the belt fastened, and our flight attendants have reinforced these ideas. When the plane is rocking side to side, the pilot is telling you to stay in your seat, and your friendly flight attendant is doing the same thing, you should probably stay in your seat.

So, back to my in-flight neighbors. Well-behaved in general, they don’t know how to follow the simple request to stay in their seats for their own safety. It is patently obvious why they don’t “get it” – their parents don’t get it either; they get up and use the bathroom, change seats, and so on, generally serving as a bad example of how to behave yourself as an air traveler. Kids parrot their parents. Fortunately, in the case of in-flight turbulence, most of the time nobody gets hurt, even if they can’t follow rules.

How does this relate to your role as an architect? Well, line programmers parrot you the way that kids parrot their parents. If the rules don’t apply to you, they won’t be taken seriously by the people you’re to nurture and develop. If you act like coding is a big imposition, gifted yet ambitious developers will aspire to a role where coding no longer matters. If you don’t experiment, create prototypes, and research new technologies, you certainly won’t engender interest in same from your programmers. Unfortunately, most of the time, someone or some project will get hurt by such behavior.

I don’t mean to draw an unfair comparison between developers and children (although in some rare cases, such a pure comparison is appropriate). What I mean to say is that everybody needs to be led. In your organization, architects probably don’t lead people in a traditional hierarchical sense – but architects certainly lead by example. How you conduct yourself matters. Choose to spend some of your time coding, even if you believe it isn’t the most valuable use of your time in a pure business sense. In terms of the example and inspiration you supply your organization’s line developers, it matters a lot.

3 Comments »

Category: Applications Programming     Tags:

Don’t Bring a Differentiated Knife to a Commodity Gun Fight

by Eric Knipp  |  March 6, 2012  |  3 Comments

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced yet another cut in its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) pricing (it also announced cuts in select PaaS capabilities, including the relational database service). I’ve been telling Gartner clients for years that this will never stop. Amazon.com is a retailer and at its core, AWS is a retail business. It is a mistake to look at AWS as a traditional IT services business, even though it competes against some megavendors in that space. AWS is like all retailers, ultimately about volume, not operating margin.

OK, you say, no volume, no business. True. But the incumbent IT industry megavendors are much more focused on margin, enjoying profitability between 20 (for professional services and hosting) and 40 percent (for traditional software). On its very best day a discount retailer like Amazon would dance a jig over a 6 percent margin. Simply put, if you’re Amazon or any of its component businesses, you’re not going to be undersold by any competitors that focus on value over price.

IaaS is for all practical purposes the closest thing to a commodity that exists in the cloud services market. I believe that eventually it will be a perfect example of a commodity, where service providers become price takers and there is very little room, if any, to command a premium on differentiated features and functionality. I believe that AWS itself proves this out through its increasing portfolio of higher-order, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) style offerings.

If IaaS is becoming a commodity, volume business, the logical move for value players who prefer margin to volume is up the chain to PaaS, or even software-as-a-service (SaaS). It makes a lot of sense – if you’re a company with a history of winning in the market with a differentiated value proposition, then it’d be natural for you to compete in an adjacent market in similar fashion.

Which is why I keep scratching my head over the things I see happening in the IaaS market. I see a number of large enterprise-oriented players who’d like a piece of the exploding cloud infrastructure market. They’re aiming money, and more importantly, time and leadership focus, at the IaaS opportunity. Now, these are not players from a retail background – they’re in the high-value, high-margin bucket I talked about earlier. And they think they’re going to go out and eat Amazon’s lunch by competing in the IaaS market. How likely are they to be successful?

So I keep asking myself this – why are companies with an obvious path to sustainable, high-margin growth – winning in the PaaS space – sinking so much effort into competing in the IaaS space? Do they really want to die the death of a thousand cuts at the hands of a retailer?

Or, in other words, don’t bring a differentiated knife to a commodity gun fight.

3 Comments »

Category: Cloud Cloud Application Platforms     Tags:

Cloud Services Enterprise Generalist Strategies Emerge

by Eric Knipp  |  February 15, 2012  |  Comments Off

Cloud computing has become an important element of every enterprise IT provider’s business strategy and it is long past time to treat “a cloud [as] water vapor,” as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison famously said in 2009. Even Oracle is now well-entrenched in the cloud war through both acquisition and internal initiatives. Microsoft, IBM, SAP, and every other established player in the enterprise IT space is heavily invested in cloud technology and/or cloud “marketecture”. And then there are the many smaller players “born in the clouds”, a small number of which have gone on to become large enterprise IT providers in their own right, such as Salesforce.com and Google.

In 2008 it was hard to envision just how much difference a few years would make. Back then, the biggest players in serving the most needs of the enterprise IT market, and with the best prospects for future growth, were dominated by packaged software, data center infrastructure, professional services, and managed hosting. At the time, the only companies truly qualified to be considered enterprise IT generalists were IBM and HP – with Oracle in the on-deck circle, with its soon-to-be-announced acquisition of Sun. Not that these were the only important enterprise IT companies – far from it – but clearly they were the ones with the largest share of wallet in existing customer accounts, they were the ones serving the broadest set of needs, and clearly they were the ones with the best prospects to grow customer spending over time.

What a difference a few years makes! The emergence of what Gartner today calls the “Nexus” of forces – cloud, mobile, social, and information – has radically altered the size and scope of the battlefield upon which the IT leaders make war upon each other. Hardware and traditional managed hosting are becoming less important as enterprises realize that they don’t really want to own IT capital assets, and they don’t really want to deal with the plumbing issues associated with managing infrastructure. Business leaders are rediscovering that the reason they chose to build data centers and fill them with expensive shiny boxes is because they want the business value associated with the processes running there. CIOs are being told to drive business value and shift away from the day-to-day tactics of cost optimization. It isn’t happening all at once but the change is now obvious and inexorable. In “Vendor Roulette”, which Ray Valdes and I presented at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in 2011 (and which we presented in a slightly different form with our colleague David Mitchell Smith in 2010), we postulate that the industry structure is shifting away from the 2008 picture, and toward something that looks more like this.

We are seeing the beginning of business strategies that align with the vision of the future enterprise IT industry structure we articulated in Vendor Roulette. Today’s announcement of Canopy - a joint venture between Atos, EMC, and VMware – is a fine example. Combining cloud platforms with professional services is a key step in the maturation of the cloud services market. While I don’t know enough about Canopy to know if the company will succeed, I am excited to see more examples of organizations whose stated business strategy aligns so well with what Gartner has been saying for several years. I believe we will see further examples in the near future – and that companies from Salesforce.com, to Microsoft, to Oracle, and beyond, will make professional services a key ingredient in the cloud services recipe.

Comments Off

Category: Applications Cloud Cloud Application Platforms     Tags:

Fall 2010 Conference Schedule

by Eric Knipp  |  October 15, 2010  |  1 Comment

I’ve not had time to blog in a while, thanks to my slamming research and conference schedule. I guess I shouldn’t complain – I enjoy getting out to see the folks, and some of my colleagues find themselves at Gartner Symposia on nearly every continent. By comparison my schedule is tame. So, where will I be this Fall?

October 18-21 finds me in Orlando, Florida for Gartner Symposium/ITXpo 2010, where I’m delivering several important sessions:

  • Monday, 10/18 – Gartner Keynote: New Realities, Rules, and Opportunities (with various distinguished colleagues)
  • Tuesday, 10/19 – Debate: Shared-Hardware vs. Shared-Everything Multitenancy (with Lydia Leong and Ray Valdes)
  • Tuesday, 10/19 – Web Application Development in 2015: Shifting Sands
  • Tuesday, 10/19 – Vendor Roulette: Predicting the Next M&A Moves (with Ray Valdes and David Mitchell Smith)
  • Thursday, 10/21 – Platform as a Service: The Strategic Center of Cloud Computing Architecture (with Yefim Natis)

The following week, October 25-27 finds me in Japan at Gartner Tokyo Symposium, where I get to deliver some very interesting, broad talks on cloud and emerging technologies:

  • Monday, 10/25 – Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2011
  • Tuesday, 10/26 – Emerging Trends and Technologies: Now that You Have the Bandwidth
  • Wednesday, 10/27 – The Cloud Computing Scenario

After some much needed R&R I will be landing for Mashery’s the Business of APIs conference in downtown San Francisco. Just a little over a week later, I am chairing the Application Development track at Gartner’s Application Architecture, Development & Integration conference in Los Angeles November 15-17, where again I get to meet with the folks and present some interesting pitches:

  • Monday, 11/15 – End-User Roundtable: Best Practices in Cutting Development Cost
  • Monday, 11/15 – Rapid Fire: If We Build Cloud APIs, Do We (Still) Need Cloud Integration (with Benoit Lheureux)
  • Tuesday, 11/16 – Rapid Fire: Apptrepreneurship: Your Next Great Software Delivery Model?
  • Wednesday, 11/17 – Web & Cloud Development 2015: Prepare for Shifting Sands

That rounds out my Gartner conference travel schedule and while I’m excited about the great material and big audiences I expect to see, I am a little bummed that I’ll be forced to miss some of the premier AD conferences of the season, including Adobe MAX and Microsoft PDC. Fortunately my consolation prize is attendance at DreamForce in early December, which should be an interesting opportunity to see what’s up with VMforce, among other things!

I hope to see some of you at these events!

1 Comment »

Category: Uncategorized     Tags:

vFabric exposes the new power in the cloud

by Eric Knipp  |  September 1, 2010  |  1 Comment

VMware is not a household PaaS name (are there any?) but vFabric will take it there.

As a CEAP, vFabric provides a variety of vetted components – Spring for AD, GemFire for XTP, Rabbit for messaging, etc. Of course the underlying lingua franca is Java, a language ubiquitous in the enterprise. Interested cloud platform providers, such as carriers – will no doubt take a close look at the vFabric offering as a basis for PaaS competitiveness.

The other story is one that I’ve been following for a while – the potential shakeout in PaaS. I pointed out last year that the SpringSource acquisition put VMware in position to dictate some terms in the cloud application platform space. Not everyone believed, but here we are with VMware moving up the stack (albeit not with CloudFoundry, but hey, nobody’s perfect).

The next question – how far can VMware go in its “encirclement of Microsoft” strategy? VMforce and Google App Engine for Business are a great start, but the PaaS shakeout is just getting started. Smaller providers must catch Maritz mania for the VMware strategy to be fully realized.

It will be interesting to see how things play out. For now I plan to enjoy the next couple of days of VMworld and report back.

Note to Microsoft: Eclipse is an IDE not a language.

1 Comment »

Category: Uncategorized     Tags: , , , ,

Windows Phone 7 Series: Leave the Tags On?

by Eric Knipp  |  March 28, 2010  |  1 Comment

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending MIX, Microsoft’s Web-oriented conference. This conference was cool for a range of reasons; for one, it was my first in-depth viewing of Windows Phone 7 Series.

By all accounts, Windows Phone 7 Series is an impressive improvement over Windows Mobile. The preview we saw looked great, performed well, and incorporated some interesting enhancements to smartphone GUI, such as grouping related icons rather intuitively. The development model is entirely based on Silverlight, Microsoft’s RIA technology built around .NET. This provides immediate access to a large number of developers who are no doubt hungry to build apps – but it also creates the problem of disenfranchising existing Windows Mobile customers who have no upgrade path for their applications. The latter has the potential to be a big problem as Windows Mobile is firmly embedded in operational technology used in logistics operations (like warehouses). Microsoft hopes that by offering a more flexible development toolset, developers will make up for the lack of backward compatibility by cranking out lots of cool Windows Phone 7 Series Silverlight apps.

Silverlight is an interesting beast. Microsoft has moved fast to get it to market and make it competitive with Flash. That the company has been able to do so is a testament to the breadth of its existing investments in .NET, PhotoSynth, WCF, WPF, Visual Studio, and a range of other reusable items sitting in the Microsoft software inventory. Most curious, though is the choice of name .. how did the Silverlight team manage to get a simple and compelling name where so many others, like Windows Phone 7 Series, have failed? Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series, as a name, strikes me as not too far off from the high school teenager wearing clothes with the tags hanging out. On the one hand, it is a clear signal; on the other hand, it might say more about the bearer than the brand.

So, you tell me. Should Microsoft let its tags hang out?

1 Comment »

Category: RIA     Tags: , ,

Execution (dot) meme

by Eric Knipp  |  February 14, 2010  |  1 Comment

I’ve noticed a number of blog posts lately about the value of execution. At the risk of stating the obvious I’ve decided to chime in.

Corporations and individuals alike spend a lot of time on differentiation. We set ourselves apart through our values and our deeds, our features and our form. Our resumes and product marketing literature are filled with comparisons – what we have and haven’t added to our list of accomplishments.

I just finished watching Hannah Kearney win the gold in the ladies downhill moguls. She won the gold not because of a fancy air package – but because of execution. She went faster than her opponents and executed her fairly unconventional air package flawlessly.

I regularly read the Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine Blog. I’m not saying I don’t value features. We all do. But the enterprise values something more important than features – execution. Because what is reliability other than repeating the same thing over and over again? And what is execution other than that?

1 Comment »

Category: Cloud Application Platforms     Tags: , ,