On April 11th IBM announced what it is referring to as a new category of systems, expert integrated systems. As befits a company like IBM when it makes an announcement such as this, a fair deluge of information has been made available, including this expert integrated systems blog as well as an expert integrated system home at ibm.com.IBM says expert integrated systems are different because of three things: built-in expertise, integration by design and a simplified experience. In other words they are more than just a static stack of software and hardware components – a server here, some database software there, serving a fixed application at the top. Instead, these systems have three unique attributes:
- Built-in expertise. Expert integrated systems represent the collective knowledge of thousands of deployments, established best practices, innovative thinking, IT industry leadership, and the distilled expertise of solution providers. Captured into the system in a deployable form from the base system infrastructure through the application.
- Integrated by design. All the hardware and software components are integrated and tuned in the lab and packaged in the factory into a single ready-to-go system. All of the integration is done for you, by experts.
- Simplified experience. Expert integrated systems are designed to make every part of the IT lifecycle easier, from the moment you start designing what you need to the time you purchase, set up, operate, maintain and upgrade the system. Expert integrated systems provide a single point of management as well as integrated monitoring and maintenance.
At launch IBM has announced two models, PureFlex System and PureApplication System. IBM PureFlex System provides a factory integrated and optimized system infrastructure with integrated systems management whilst IBM PureApplication System provides an integrated and optimized application aware platform which captures patterns of expertise as well as providing simplified management via a single management console.
For a good, detailed and independent description of the PureSystem announcement see Timothy Prickett Morgan’s article in The Register. Another interesting view, from James Governer on RedMonk, is that PureSystems are IBM’s “iPad moment“. Governer argues that just as the iPad has driven a fundamental break with the past (tablets rather than laptops or even desktops), IBM wants to do the same thing in the data center. Another similarity with the iPad is IBM’s push to have application partners running on the new boxes at launch. The PureSystems site includes a catalog of third party apps customers can buy pre-installed.
What I’m interested in here is not so much what expert integrated systems are but what exactly the implications are for architects, specifically software architects. As Daniel Pink says in his book A Whole New Mind:
..any job that depends on routines – that can be reduced to a set of rules, or broken down into a set of repeatable steps – is at risk.
So are expert integrated systems, with built-in expertise and that are integrated by design, about to put the job of the software architect at risk?
In many ways the advent of the expert integrated system is really another step on the path of increasing levels of abstraction in computing that was started when the first assembler languages did away with the need for writing complex and error-prone machine language instructions in the 1950’s. Since then the whole history of computing has really been about adding additional layers of abstraction on top of the raw processors of the computers themselves. Each layer has allowed the programmers of such systems to worry less about how to control the computer and more on the actual problems to be solved. As we move toward trying to solve increasingly complex business problems the focus has to be more on business than IT. Expert integrated systems therefore have the potential (and it’s early days yet) to let the software architect focus on understanding how application software components can be combined in new and interesting ways (the true purpose of a software architect in my view) to solve complex and wicked problems rather than focusing too much on the complexities of what middleware components work with what and how all of these work with different operating systems and computer platforms.
So, rather than being the end of the era of the software architect I see expert integrated systems as being the start of a new era, even an age of enlightenment, when we can focus on the really interesting problems rather than the tedious ones bought about by the technology we have inherited over the last six decades or so.