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3 Things People Get Wrong About Real-Time Applications


The world is changing (albeit a little faster than most would have preferred), and the phrase “Real-Time Application” is being thrown around more and more. The problem is most businesses have an unclear understanding of what “Real Time” actually means and an inability to use it to its fullest potential.

Whether you are building a smart office, developing the next big mobile app, or outfitting an oil rig with IoT sensors, modern business systems require a real-time approach to keep pace with society. So, what is it that most get wrong when thinking about real-time applications?

What Real Time Isn’t

Real Time is NOT Doing Refresh Queries Every 5 Seconds

Scalability is a big issue for businesses looking to build a real-time application; a system relying on refresh queries will very quickly cripple under the stress of too much data. This approach may work for very small systems but once too much data is being requested and processed at once the system will soon crumble.

By using a pub-sub approach, important business events can be “subscribed” to and immediate real-time action can be taken.

How does a pub-sub approach differ from the typical request-response approach you ask? Request response is much like shaking someone’s hand; one computer system requests data (reaches out its hand) from another that then fulfills that request (completes the handshake). Pub sub is a unidirectional relationship where the publisher (usually an IoT sensor or some other device giving off streaming data) does not know who it is sending its data to. It simply puts the data out there for interested parties to subscribe to and receive it.

This loose coupling between data makers and data ingesters enables for much more efficient data processing.

Real Time is NOT Immediately Storing Data in a Database

Although it can be helpful to have a real-time application look at database information to contextualize data, pulling from a database is inherently not real time. When an IoT pressure sensor on an oil refinery gets a higher than usual reading it does nothing to store that data away and wait for a major disaster to happen to go look at the data and see what went wrong. Your system needs to be able to react immediately, as events happen, using database information for contextualization only when necessary.

In order to develop real-time applications and successfully undergo digital transformation, a database-last approach must be utilized instead of database-first. This provides major benefits for scalability, system latency, and more. For more on how real-time event-driven applications work technically, check out our whitepaper, Event-Driven Systems.

Real Time is NOT Confined by Procedural Workflows

To truly have a real-time application you need to be doing more than just trigger pre-determined workflows based on events of interest. If your application can’t adjust to new information on the fly, you will very quickly find bottlenecks and redundancies spread throughout the system.

An example of this would be a field service application sending a worker to a repair site. When the worker is halfway there the problem resolves and no longer needs repair. With an application that is not able to receive new information, the worker may not be notified of this change in status, resulting in wasted time. With a real-time application, the worker could automatically be rerouted to the next repair job that requires the same tools and skills, resulting in minimal time loss.

The key here is that true real-time applications are able to ingest, analyze, and respond to business events as a situation evolves. The kinds of applications required for the modern age must do more than just ingest data for future analysis, immediate action must be taken.

The Business Benefits of a True Real-Time System

There are many benefits to switching to a real-time approach, but perhaps the most impactful is the increase in situational awareness across the business. Real-time technology provides a holistic view and control of your organization by seamlessly connecting sensors with systems. Through human-machine collaboration, system operators can be brought in to make critical decisions when necessary and not overwhelmed with meaningless data.

This article just skims the surface of the true power of a real-time application. Take a deeper dive into everything discussed here and more in our whitepaper, The Modern Event-Driven Architecture (EDA) Landscape.

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