Does patience pay off?
J2EE, .NET, portals, WCM, Web services, EAI and PKI are among those technologies that can bring added value when it comes to optimizing and streamlining information systems. But while media hype pushes customers to adopt these technologies, practical experience suggests that experimenting or just plain waiting may be the best approach.
J2EE - mature and open, but still suffering from persistence worries...
The J2EE standard offers many advantages, such as its openness, maturity, durability and multiple platform support. J2EE benefits from many reliable, robust implementations in the open source world, which have enabled numerous enterprises to launch pilot projects or even stage major projects without having to invest in an application server platform. Indeed, J2EE has definitively proved its worth as regards major, complex projects.
However, J2EE still suffers from two major drawbacks, as prevarications in the field of persistence undermine the EJB component model: the complexity of the EJB model and the lack of portability.
The J2EE application server market is shared by IBM (with a 30% share), BEA (25%), Oracle (12%), Sun (8%), with the remaining 25% held by various other application servers.
The general trend is for application servers to become a simple commodity. Vendors such as IBM, BEA, Oracle and Sun are all touting more or less complete, horizontal solutions (workflow, portal, EAI, WCM, SSO, PKI, directory, mobility, collaboration, Web services, administration, business intelligence...) which of course only work on their own application servers.
.NET - J2EE's well-placed rival
.NET has imposed itself as the de facto alternative to J2EE. When it appeared, .NET did not really display any weak points, managing swiftly to impose itself and gain credibility. The platform (framework, CLR, etc.) already appeared robust and effective in its very first version, Visual Studio. .NET has shown itself to be a formidable weapon, and enables high levels of productivity to be achieved, comparable to those obtained with client/server environments such as PowerBuilder or Delphi, while implementation of Web services is a fully assisted, automated process.
However, .NET is not revolutionizing transactional architectures. It remains a proprietary platform that only runs in Windows. There is no .NET platform that operates as open-source, apart from the go-mono project which is not yet complete, and several initiatives to port various classes of the .NET framework.
Enterprise Information portals: more organizational than technical
The portal question is one that applies, above all, to enterprises that have found themselves with dozens, if not hundreds of intranets over a few years. The general practice is to adopt a horizontal procedure, that involves building all the basic components in a portal (SSO, Portlets, EAI, SSO, WCM, Processes, Administration…). Some existing intranets are ported by setting up pilot projects to test and validate technical, organizational and political choices, and by developing a change management process.
The portal market is in its final, structural phases. Major players such as BEA, IBM and Oracle are winning market share faster than pure players such as Plumtree and Epicentric (which has just been taken over by Vignette). Practical experience shows that a portal project will raise more organizational, cultural and power-related issues than purely technical questions.
Web Content Management, the vital function to deploy and organize
WCM is an omnipresent concern in any intranet, extranet or Internet project, whether it be in the transactional, institutional, knowledge management or publishing field. It is a vital function for an enterprise information portal, as it is linked to communication and change management.
Choosing a single WCM tool and organizing the content publishing and validation process are two essential tasks in any portal project.
The WCM tool market is divided between entry-level and top of the range solutions. The first category includes Vignette, Documentum, Interwoven, Tridion and CMS 2002 while the second features Instranet, Redot and many other free software solutions.
Web services, the new integration middleware that's tipped for the top
Web services will have an even greater impact on middleware than HTTP, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI are three technological standards which have already been massively adopted by vendors in all categories, as they clearly constitute the ideal middleware.
Web services have proven their maturity, effectiveness and security in B2B exchanges. Strong performances and ease of implementation are on the cards... Much research and experimenting is in progress, to enable this standard to be implemented so as to consolidate exchanges within the enterprise information system itself. The arrival, via J2EE and .NET development studios, of powerful tools for implementing Web services will accelerate the use of SOAP as an internal enterprise middleware, and will thus extend towards EAI standards.
Interoperability between Web services created on different platforms is perfectly feasible for simple services, but could be improved for services carrying very complex XML structures.
Some architects are still reticent about SOAP, but their complaints are unfounded and bring to mind the criticisms that dogged the beginnings of HTTP.
New standards for managing distributed transactions in a Web services environment, such as BTP, or for process description, such as BPEL4WS, are progressing fast and gaining the support of the major market players.
EAI, a chance to capitalize on legacy applications
EAI involves setting up a technology which simplifies the integration of enterprise applications in order to urbanize (better organize) the information system, and thus optimize existing business processes and quickly create new ones.
The market is becoming more structured with the arrival of J2EE application server vendors, along with vendors of ETL tools like Sunopsis or Hummingbird Genio as EAI platform. EAI vendors are all aligned on the J2EE and XML standards. Microsoft is also targeting this market by favoring Web services, XML and ease of use.
Pure vendors such as Seebeyond, TIBCO and Webmethods share over 30% of the market and have a technological advantage, due mainly to their management of complex workflows, support for mainframe platforms and tools for utilizing and administering flows.
EAI projects pose such complex organization problems that only senior management can decide whether to initiate an EAI project. On top of this, the technical side of things is hardly simple. EAI tools are very complex, and their technological capabilities, often overhyped by marketing pitches, do not always bear up in reality.
It is almost impossible to describe a universal project approach… The answers to questions about testing, administration of flows, management and waste recycling must be found project by project.
PKI, for virtual processes
Public Key Infrastructures make it possible to set up authentication solutions by electronic signature.
The PKI standard is fully operational and market solutions are mature enough to allow deployment both within enterprises and from business to business. The adoption of XML standards such as XKMS will improve interoperability between the technological platforms on the market.
Certinomis, Verisign, Certplus are key organizational and technical solutions but other, business service-oriented platforms such as Click & Trust make it possible to quickly implement virtual processes without having to manage all the technical and organizational complexity of PKI internally.
PKI is not yet viable in B2C mode, mainly due to the major costs of registering and producing certificates, and the support costs.
Experiment, adopt or wait?
When an issue is more organizational than technical, experimenting little by little is the best approach, so as to let the antagonists get involved and make themselves heard.
When the matter is purely technology-related, then adoption may be planned in the context of a pilot project, before scaling up, as part of a change management process.
Lastly, when standards have not reached "recommendation" phase, and vendor implementations diverge, the most profitable virtue is patience.
Copyright 2002 TechMetrix Research. TechMetrix is a technology-oriented analyst firm focused on e-business application development needs. TechMetrix is also backed by its parent company, a European global system integrator - SQLI - with more than 800 developers in the field.
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