Security

A new event in programming?

A Caltech spinoff's new programming language could make it easier for software to digest RFID data and look for security breaches.

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By Martin LaMonica
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

A spinoff from California Institute of Technology thinks that software engineers—already awash in development tools—need another programming language.

The company, called iSpheres, last week introduced a language specifically designed for handling "events," such as financial transactions or attempts to hack a network, that business software needs to monitor.

The company plans to publish an early version of the software, called EPL (short for Event Programming Language), by month's end and will allow other companies to use it royalty-free.

iSpheres plans to make its money on a server version of the software, which will launch by year's end. And, to increase the popularity of EPL, the company plans to propose the language as an industry standard by the end of the year.

"Event-driven" applications are increasingly important because business customers are looking to make decisions more rapidly, based on regularly updated information, said Roy Schulte, an analyst at research company Gartner. He noted that previous research projects have tackled the same area and that other vendors, including IBM, have their own related efforts.

"This really is the next big thing," Schulte said. Event-based applications allow businesspeople to get "the most up-to-the-second, the most insightful understanding, of what's happening in their company."

For example, rather than wait for a computer system to do a batch process update of the day's financial transactions overnight, an event-driven design provides up-to-the-minute statistics to managers.

iSpheres did its initial research around event processing for command and control systems under government defense contracts. But the technology can be applied to a range of uses, from fraud detection to real-time trading to monitoring input from radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, the company says.

iSpheres also envisions the use of event-processing software in network security, where a number of suspicious attempts to log on to a network can trigger an investigation. In a pervasive-computing application, information collected from RFID can be collected and acted on only at the appropriate time.

"The problem is, there is a tremendous amount of noise in things like RFID. A tag can be polled 100 times, but you just want to send information when there are changes to the status," said Gary Ebersole, vice president of marketing at iSpheres. "The idea is to take data and filter it."

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People build event-oriented applications today using traditional programming tools. The point of creating a language specific to events is to speed up and simplify the process of writing business applications.

Business applications, in general, have been increasingly tough to program, according to analysts. A recent report by Forrester Research concludes that enterprise application development is "harder than it ought to be."

"Technical and architectural complexity is the result of technologies that have not met their promises, tools that have not kept pace with the changes in the implementation technologies, and the increasingly distributed nature of the deployment technologies," according to the Forrester report.

Event processing focuses on a fairly narrow set of applications, which represent about 10 percent to 20 percent of application needs, according to iSphere's Ebersole. But the software is designed to work with other existing middleware and development tool products, including Java application servers and tools such as Eclipse and BEA's WebLogic Workshop.

Rather than write 100 lines of Java code, iSphere's EPL can reduce that to 10 or 20 lines of code, Ebersole said.

Any application written with EPL requires a specialized "event processing" server to run the program. By December, iSpheres plans to sell its own server software to run EPL applications.

Other newer companies are warming up to the notion of event processing. Integration software company KnowNow has developed lightweight, simple integration software that can send data to many people based on an event, such as a document update.

Established middleware providers IBM and Tibco Software are already working on specialized event-processing software and languages. IBM has submitted its Common Event Infrastructure, a system for correlating events from multiple systems, to standards body OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).

It's too soon to say which technologies will become standards, but the industry will need a standard event-programming language in the next three years, Gartner's Schulte said.

Currently, there are efforts to create an industrywide language for automating business processes, Business Process Execution Language (BPEL). A standardized method to handle events in specialized "rules engine" software will complement process automation applications, he said.

"A big application will have BPEL to describe business process management and an event-processing language to describe event management," Schulte said. "Some language will end up as an industry standard, and it will be a factor."

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