Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Context Delivery Architecture

At the last Gartner Application Architecture, Development, and Integration (AADI) Summit held in Orlando, FL at the beginning of June, William Clark introduced the concept of Context Delivery Architecture (CoDA). It is an architecture that is aware on the end user’s context such as location, preferences, identity, etc. and delivers the information that is most suited for it. Another way to describe it is WYNIWYG (what you need is what you get) services. The basic idea is that users’ specific context will drive what information they receive, how the applications interact with them, and where the processes take them.

Despite Gartner labeling CoDA as an emerging trend, I don’t believe it is a new concept. Context and location aware applications have been in existence for a while. Think back to the Internet bubble days when all kinds of schemes were designed to deliver coupons, advertisements, and other “useful” information to your mobile devices when you got close to certain location. RFID and its applications became the staple of context aware applications. Even Gartner based its research on these trends. It is true, however, that CoDA has not yet become mainstream and is moving up the Gartner hype cycle curve.

CoDA is still very immature. The vision is that CoDA applications will ubiquitously run on a variety of devices, technologies, and platforms. For this to become a reality, technology needs to be created that would allow the same services to be delivered to a variety of platforms that possess the same context aware capabilities. Users should benefit from being mobile, not be hampered by it. For example, salespeople that left the office for the client visit should be able to obtain specific customer information, find out sales status, and view the whole relationship picture immediately on their preferred device. The same capabilities should exist on all mobile platforms, which will truly make context aware applications possible. At the same time, mobile devices should evolve to ubiquitously interact with the network. Whether a WiFi, cellular, or any other kind of network is available should not prevent the application and the device from performing their functions.

Even though CoDA was billed by Gartner as the next step in the evolution of SOA, I don’t think it fits into the same paradigm. SOA’s primary goal is to create composite applications through the leverage of existing services. EDA, or as Gartner likes to call it, Advanced SOA, pursues the same objective, except that instead of services, the same events are sought to be consumed. By contrast, CoDA aims to enhance user’s experience through the knowledge of his/her context and tailor the application behavior to it. While it builds on the concept of reusable services that would deliver the right information at the right time, the whole concept has nothing else in common with SOA. In my opinion, CoDA is a move towards more intelligent applications but it is definitely not the next evolution of SOA.

CoDA still has a long way to go. It is an exciting concept that has science fiction written all over it. However, the technology, devices, networks, and people are nearing the point when context aware applications will become commonplace. The exciting thing is that I don’t think we have much longer to wait.

2 comments:

aaryes said...

A most interesting blog! More so because I have personally been convinced for a while now, that there needs to be a holistic way to leverage wider information availability (thanks to SOA & standards-based Web Services) and Communication Convergence. And, with the extent of technology available with an individual user, "information serving using one more delivery technology" has to give way to "servicing the individual need". I am infering from your blog that you agree that servicing individual contexts implies something like "a custom application for each context"; not manageable using current approach to application building. I have been tending towards a "OSI Network Model" type layered data-driven transformation from availability through experience.

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