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Monday, September 08, 2008

SQL Standards - an impedance mismatch with reality

Posted by Louis Lovas

SQL standard for CEP - an impedance mismatch with reality
Well the hype train has left the station. As I'm sure the whole of the CEP community knows by now StreamBase has teamed up with Oracle announcing a Streaming SQL standard. I am certainly in favor of standards in software technology, they clearly represent the tide that raises all boats. Customers and vendors alike are benefactors from communal standards. From ANSI standard programming languages like C and C++  to open standards like XML. Many a consortium of vendors and customers have labored arduously to define well-known technology standards for the collective benefit of the greater worldwide community.    However, this recent announcement by StreamBase and Oracle is nothing more than the practice of the crafty art of deception and diversion.  While I see nothing wrong with StreamBase and Oracle teaming up to work on enhancing the streaming SQL language for their CEP products, to tout it as representing an emerging industry standard is simply brazen.

The streaming SQL language in today's CEP products finds its roots in academia.  The Aurora project is one such academic endeavor. SQL was the language of choice for this project for good reason. Streaming data shares a number of common attributes with static data, why not use a well known data access, data filtering, data manipulation language. The Auoroa authors clearly had this in mind when they chose SQL. I'm sure they also had an expectation that streamingSQL and the future products based on it would evolve in a manner similar to database or other backend data service technology.

However, CEP platforms have matured into application platforms. This in no small measure is due to Progress Apama and our solutions approach to the market.  The Apama stack easily lends itself to the rigors and demands of the solutions or application environment. The Apama EPL, Monitorscript has the expressiveness of syntax to describe the semantics of  complex logic in today's CEP applications.  As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, many of our competitors have followed our lead by introducing a solutions approach themselves. But as a result, they've faced a challenge with SQL being the underpinnings of their EPL.  SQL was never intended to be an application language, therefore they've chosen either to build application solutions in the mixed-language environment or extend their base EPL to include procedural constructs to support the needs of application semantics. In either case, something has to give.  Reading the fine print of a StreamBase solutions datasheet: "Incorporates algorithms as Java or C++ plugins" is an indication of the inefficacy of streamSQL for the intended purpose.  With each new release of Coral8 and Aleri they announce features in their SQL-based EPL adding procedural constructs and imperative scripting constructs similar to Apama Monitorscript.  These language enhancements or mixed-mode development requirements clearly validate that CEP has evolved into an application platform and not just a back-end data service engine.  From a language standards viewpoint this has only served to fracture.  Each vendor has carved their own course in this brave new world.

As a cautionary note, standards can be the opiate of the masses. They give customers a sense that they are protected against vendor lock-in.  Even the perception of an emerging standard can be hypnotic. This is all under false pretense.  Real standards provide benefits to customers and vendors alike covering a broad swathe not just a select few.  As the CEP community ventures into the standards world we should focus in those same areas where standardization has a proven track record in other technologies, interoperability and integration.  There is plenty of fodder here and I'm sure it will unfold in the coming months.

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