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On the real-world infeasibility of fully-automated SLAs June 30, 2008

Posted by CK in Design, IT, Research.
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In the last few years I have been involved, to a certain extent, in digital service ecosystems and e-contracting frameworks. In other words, automated Service Level Agreement (SLA) management. In this sense, management includes things such as planning, optimization, negotiation, provisioning, discovery, monitoring, reacting on exceptions, re-planning/re-negotiation/re-provisioning, and so on, and so forth.

Although in general this seems to be feasible from a technical point of view (despite all the theoretical problems, which are always affected by the business reality as well), it is clear that human intervention and ratification will always be needed. It is not possible for managers to accept that a machine is making decisions that have a direct financial impact (good or bad), even if theory says these decisions have solid footing. Another problem has to do with the very definition of rules to express what is binding to the parties involved and what are the penalties depending on the exceptions. Coming up with the sheer terminology for a task like this is a huge thing by itself. The real-world (i.e. non-digital) legal system took hundreds of years to establish the relevant nomenclature for business law, and I guess there are still significant gaps (becoming larger as the world and business itself changes). Forming digital representations of real-world terminology and metrics which sometimes are abstract enough to require arbitration in court, is a very challenging task; Persuading managers to accept systems that make use of them, is probably impossible.

Then comes the issue of trust and (trusted) 3rd parties. A non-automated, static (i.e. manually managed) SLA for digital services is easier, in the sense that the parties involved agree a priori on the tools, metrics and exact numbers to use for the specific use case. Although it might be possible to define a one-fits-all referee for generic SLA compliance monitoring, it still looks like the average manager does not accept the jurisdiction of an external monitoring entity for making financial decisions that affect his/her business.

Then there are also the reflections of (technical) negotiation issues onto automated, dynamic SLAs. The network is an unreliable medium for transferring information. Message queues are useful, but they only guarantee delivery of a message; they cannot do anything about totally dumb agents which assume that sending a message means the other end received it immediately or almost immediately. Truth is, the message might be received with a significant delay; by that time, the agreement offer or the agreement document itself may be useless for the receiving party. After all, automated SLAs are build for a highly dynamic world of services, where the landscape changes from one minute to the next. Timestamping is not a solution, but we do have GPS after all, so it can be mitigated to some extent.

The above are only some of the problems, just to point out that direct application of real-world contracts on the digital world is not straight-forward. The last word must always belong to a manager, just like the real world. At least for the time being, noone accepts that this last word belongs to a computer system. It makes sense, but it is still a pity.

InterCity Express June 27, 2008

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Travel.
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This week I travelled for the first time with the Deutsche Bahn‘s InterCity Express, going from Dortmund to Karlsruhe. The experience was excellent.

Starting from the tickets (ok, this does not have to do with the ICE, but it’s an indication of the German Railway efficiency), when booked we were given a number which represented them uniquely. We went to a random ticket machine next to the university train station (i.e. a random station also :-)), where we entered the number and were given the printed tickets. No need to wait at the central station for them. Cool.

The train left right on time. It was going through the fast route between Cologne and Frankfurt airport, so I actually saw the 300 Kmh (or a bit less than that actually). Even at that speed, there was minimal noise and bumping. It was extremely clean, with many automations and facilities such as power outlets for your laptop etc. The 340 Km (or so) of the route were covered in a total travel time of 3 hours, including the connection at Mannheim and the somewhat long stops at each of the 6 or 7 stations in between. Additionally to the above, the views to the German countryside are so nice; it’s a great opportunity to actually relax and get away from work for a while.

When traveling within Germany, taking the airplane (or even your car) really seems to be suboptimal.

Oh and By The Way… June 7, 2008

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Personal.
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…this blog is now accessible as http://costas.gr and http://www.costas.gr.

πŸ™‚

Rebooting elevators June 7, 2008

Posted by CK in Funny, Miscellaneous.
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Today I returned to Dortmund, being officially an employ of the University. As my flat is still totally empty and sleeping on a bench is not an option, I booked a room at a local hotel. The building is clearly quite old and the hotel is a nothing-special 3-star I-guess-ok-for-the-price place. In any case, the funniest thing happened today:

I’m returning from some shopping, get into the elevator, press the button from my floor, button light goes on, doors close, but nothing else happens. I’m waiting for a while, before I realize that for the first time in my life I am trapped in an elevator. Thankfully, it was just for a minute; the girl at the reception somehow opened the door from outside. Then we realized that the elevator’s control would not respond any more to pressing buttons — it had just died. I’m getting out and start climbing up the stairs, when I see the reception girl running them up, steps three by three, up to the last floor as I found out later on. At the time I guessed she was just checking that people are not waiting in vain, as it had probably broken and they would need to call a technician.

This evening, returning from dinner, I got in the elevator again (I just never learn…) and saw three button lights on — but the elevator was at the ground floor. I asked the guy at the reception about it. The answer was “oh yes, I must go to the 6th floor and restart it, will do”. As it turns out, switching equipment on and off to make it work, is not a privilege of IT as I used to think. I would expect that elevator controllers would have solved such problems ages ago, but clearly this is not the case. Except if the elevator is controlled by some PC-based software πŸ™‚

Barcelona June 6, 2008

Posted by CK in Personal, Travel.
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I spent the previous week in Barcelona for the 23rd Open Grid Forum meeting. Many interesting discussions and a lot of controversy (see: Cloud Computing and its relation or not to Grid Computing). Other than the technical part of this trip, I should say that Barcelona is on the Pareto front of European cities: Good weather, amazing nightlife, beautiful city, humane enough (for Southern Europe standards :-)), excellent food, what else can someone ask for. I totally fell in love with it. Don’t miss the opportunity to go, when you get it!