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The Learning Layer: Adaptive Middleware for the Cloud

Some of us from ManyWorlds recently attended the Rackspace Software as a Service (SaaS) Summit. ManyWorlds is a long-time Rackspace customer—we are fortunate to have chosen Rackspace to power our Epiture® learning layer platform back in Rackspace’s early days, well before they became the leader in computing infrastructure and cloud computing services that they are today.   

We were particularly interested in the SaaS applications part of the conference, and it was amazing to see how the number of highly valuable enterprise applications being served from the cloud has absolutely exploded over the past few years. It is clear that delivery of applications from the cloud is inevitably becoming the standard model, even for the largest enterprises—and Rackspace is orienting its entire business around this reality. 

As a still-recovering big company CIO who spent a lot of time worrying about such things, however, perhaps the most intriguing topic at the conference for me was with regard to integration—how applications served from the cloud can be effectively integrated with existing enterprise applications. Most cloud apps have a relatively narrow scope—they do one thing, and they do it very well. But they need to fit within the context of an existing application environment, which is often the province of broad-scope applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems (e.g., SAP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. As the number of cloud-based applications grows, this integration issue becomes front and center for the CIO. Legacy applications generally cannot simply be ripped out and replaced—so integration approaches, whether ad hoc, or better, through standardized APIs, promises to increasingly dominate the CIO’s agenda. 

The Summit served to reinforce for me that the good news is that the learning layer can play a strong role in ameliorating this integration problem. The “ethereal network of learning” that I discuss in the book can be applied to integrate together myriad cloud applications with complex legacy application environments. Think of it as an “adaptive middleware” layer sitting between the cloud-based applications and the legacy applications, providing a single, coherent environment that includes a capability for integrative workflow, and that automatically adapts and personalizes based on usage.

When we first conceived of the learning layer, we primarily thought of it as providing an integrated layer of learning over existing applications and content—it is now clear that, perhaps even more importantly, it will serve as an adaptive bridge between the new and the old of the application world.

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