Web driving demand for integrated apps

The growing corporate demand for Web services is accelerating IT's shift to component-based software. But the process is complex and time-consuming, and the software architects needed to design these applications are in short supply.

"Despite what the vendors claim, the whole business of tying together applications and facilitating better integration with back-end systems is still very complicated," said Gary Barnett, an analyst at London-based Ovum Ltd.

There are benefits to implementing Web services, but "to make functionality available to the outside world, companies have to ensure they can maintain these systems and that they won't break every time they make a change," Barnett said.

"Good architecture lays out the blueprint for continued investments into an application," said David Harvey, associate director of IT and technical architect at UBS Warburg LLC, an US$8 billion investment bank in London. Harvey said the bank is implementing Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Enterprise Java technologies, which offer the advantage of reusable Enterprise JavaBeans.

But that strategy also makes it more difficult to revise the application blueprint and "bridge fences" across businesses' boundaries with Web services, he said.

PG&E Corp., for example, is in the midst of networking many of its individually built applications into a more coherent infrastructure, said Billy Glenn, principal Internet architect at the San Francisco-based public utility.

"The problem that we have is that many of our Internet-based applications were [one-of-a-kind], so they have their own authentication and security," he said.

Each application also has its own method for extracting data from back-end legacy systems and databases. Glenn said one of his top priorities is implementing standard protocols across the utility's wide application set to make sharing data among different programs more uniform.

The high cost of maintaining applications is another concern that prompts greater emphasis on having a sound application architecture.

The growing emphasis on architecture has as much to do with building new applications that take advantage of initiatives like Web services as with maintaining these applications once they have gone into production, according to Murry McEntire, lead architect at WorldCom Inc.

"It may take a year or two to build an application, but it will be out in the field for a number of years past that," McEntire said. "For the lifetime of [a custom-built] application, the maintenance will far outstrip the costs of developing it."

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