Hitesh Seth, chief technology evangelist, Silverline Technologies, shares his pick of the top ten enterprise technology trends to watch out for in 2002.
The IT community - enterprise clients, product vendors, platform providers, systems integrators - has long searched for the ideal enterprise computing platform. This would make development and deployment of applications easier than ever and would be a mechanism that allowed seamless integration between back office enterprise applications and the user community - employees, suppliers, customers and partners.
With the continuing evolution of the Internet, the ideal enterprise-computing platform now seems to be within reach. The Internet is obviously the ‘great connector’ - a ubiquitous communication platform that can link anyone, using any device to any source of information or process.
But is the Internet the ‘Holy Grail’ that we were looking for? Perhaps so, especially with technologies such as Web Services, Microsoft .NET, J2EE, VoiceXML, P2P, Instant Messaging and WAP 2.0. But we’ve seen enabling technologies like this before. Few of them are brand new concepts. So why should this time be different? The main difference is that the Internet and the emerging technologies are built on top of a common foundation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at supply chain, or secure e-commerce, or collaborative applications, or whether you’re dealing with users in offices or on the road - the Internet provides the common link.
But what are enterprises doing about the new technologies? Probably building some applications with Java-based application servers and perhaps doing a pilot application with Web services, and maybe doing some proof-of-concepts around wireless and speech technology. But these activities are likely to be separate initiatives without a unifying theme.
Each of the technologies can be viewed as players in a marching band. Each can go off and play on at their own pace, but it’s the bandmaster who sees them as a whole and coordinates and synchronizes their movement. In the same way, CEOs, CFOs and CIOs - the funders and drivers of a company’s e-business strategy - must ensure that they take a bandmaster’s view of IT investments in new technology. Without this, they run the risk of a cacophony of IT noise, with underachieving technology and wasted investments.
It's time for executives to look at these technologies in a total context, so that whether we are talking about development platforms, or about building next-generation natural language based speech interfaces, or using open Web services to connect business partners, we have a common theme in mind - to utilise the Internet, as a whole. And what’s needed to bring this vision to reality is a common standards-based infrastructure.
Gone are the days when organisations depended on closed environments for building and deploying applications. Now, enterprises build their computing foundation on top of the Internet’s simple, open communication medium and prepare themselves for a wide range of possibilities.
So the Holy Grail of open computing is within our grasp, as the Internet drives the trend towards open,standards-based enterprise computing. Technologies like Web Services, VoiceXML, P2P, WAP 2.0 and instant messaging are manifestations of that trend. In the remainder of this article, we will take a look at them and other technologies that together form the top ten emerging software technologies for open computing. It is interesting to note that other technologies - like grid computing - though still some time away from mainstream enterprise use and therefore not in our current top 10 list, also layer on top of Internet technology and serve to reinforce the same trend.
Our top ten technologies for 2002 are:
Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)
‘Integrated’ Integration Frameworks
Mobile Device Convergence
Web Services is being referred to as the next wave of computing, and is expected to revolutionise the way Web applications are perceived. Web applications tend to focus on creating Web sites and site components and concentrate on delivering content to browser-based ‘thin clients’. Web Services delivers XML-based dynamic interactions using the same Web delivery platform as Web applications. Built on a combination of current standards such as HTTP/HTTPS and XML, and a set of upcoming standards such as SOAP, WSDL and UDDI, Web Services can be used to fuel dynamic B2B engines and deliver Web content. Another key standard in the adoption of Web Services is ebXML, which provides an XML-based framework for secure e-business. 2001 has been a year of innovation around some of the new standards related to Web Services - a large number of vendors have shown interest in developing initial specifications and products. 2002 will see the consolidation of some of these initiatives and the establishment of key standards that allow Web Services to become a platform for the next generation of on-line applications and services.
Initially instant messaging was primarily focused on the consumer market, with products such as: ICQ, AOL IM, Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger. Recently, instant messaging has gained a lot of traction in the corporate arena and is considered to be an important element in the Enterprise Information Portals (EIP) strategy. At a corporation with multiple remote locations an instant messaging system could be used by a project manager to communicate with an offshore based team. The team members can reply instantly from wherever they are based without the need for an expensive long distance call. Corporate instant messaging solutions have multiple advantages over traditional consumer products including tighter integration with internal enterprise applications, ability to leverage corporate user profiles/directories and security. In the year(s) to come, instant messaging will be a component of any enterprise application. Currently, collaboration suites from Microsoft & iPlanet already have instant messaging as a key component of their solution. Jabber, an open source instant messaging effort is another key technology. A number of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) platforms also include an instant messaging application.
This year saw a tremendous amount of activity in the area of Peer-to-Peer computing, and while standards are being formed, a large number of organisations including Groove Networks and Sun JXTA have released software for creating 'on the spot' and managed Peer-to-Peer networks. In 2002, we should start seeing a push towards the incorporation of some of P2P technologies and approaches in enterprise solutions. Collaboration applications such as file sharing, shared workplace environment, and instant messaging would seem to be first in line for adoption.
Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) - Standards-based Enterprise Application Development
Since its introduction last year, Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) has gained a lot of recognition in the area of server-based enterprise applications. J2EE is a group of specifications for server-side application development including Java Server Pages (JSP), Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), Java Servlet API, Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI), JavaMail, Java Database Connectivity (JDBC), Java Transaction API (JTA) and Java Message Service (JMS). The benefit of Java's ‘Write Once Run Anywhere’ functionality becomes critical when dealing with scaling an enterprise application from a midrange server to an enterprise server or even to a mainframe. J2EE-based development and deployment environments provide flexibility from an operating system, hardware and software perspective. While J2EE-based products have been around for quite some time, the latest revision of the standard (J2EE 1.3) has established the stability that corporations look for when selecting a platform for a scalable enterprise application. Next year J2EE will face competition from the emerging Microsoft .NET framework, though it is certain that these two players will be the software ‘super powers’ in the world of enterprise computing. 2002 will be a year when corporations that have been waiting to select an enterprise-wide computing platform will need to make a decision.
Microsoft will soon release its ambitious Microsoft .NET platform. .NET is a significant change from Microsoft's current technology platform and promises to bring about a revolution in the development of Web applications and services. .NET heavily focuses on Web Services development, which brings it into the spotlight of today’s technologies and trends. Since it represents an evolution from the traditional Microsoft ‘DNA’ platform, .NET is likely to be embraced by corporations with a strong Microsoft-based architecture and systems. .NET introduces a new language called C# (pronounced C-Sharp), which introduces a new element, but similarities to programming languages such as Java and C++. The fact that .NET supports the popular Visual Basic programming environment will enable a smoother adoption for .NET. In 2002, we will see how .NET is adopted by the IT and developer community. It is likely that .NET, along with J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), will emerge as the two pillars for enterprise computing.
Integrated Integration Frameworks
Integration Frameworks, generally classified as Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), Business to Business (B2B), Legacy/Mainframe Integration have been instrumental in solving a critical problem - integrating enterprise systems with customers and partners. The emergence of Internet-based B2B communication brought about a rise in the development and deployment of B2B Integration products and solutions. There are also important business benefits to be obtained by undertaking internal integration a company's systems. In fact, a large number of traditional internal EAI projects have been driven by external B2B integration efforts. Over the next several years, there will be a convergence of the various integration efforts into a common integration platform for business process modeling, automation and management. This is evident in the current vendor landscape, where an increasing number of EAI, B2B, and mainframe integration vendors have converged and are working towards establishment of a common integration framework.
VoiceXML is emerging as a standard that combines the power of speech-enabled application development, with the ubiquity of Internet-based architectures. Traditionally, Web-based systems have been limited to delivering content to browser-based applications and wireless data enabled devices. These systems have not been able to utilise the huge number of standard touch-tone phones currently in service. VoiceXML could change this, by enabling standards-based interactive voice applications that leverage the Internet as a delivery mechanism. While phone-based applications development is not a new phenomenon; it has traditionally depended on vendor specific proprietary tools and languages, which formed a substantial barrier to the development and deployment of interactive voice applications. VoiceXML is well positioned to minimise or eliminate this barrier and spread the development of speech-based applications.
The evolution of the wireless Internet revolutionised the role of handheld devices. This led to the development of large numbers of cellular phones, two-way and one-way pagers and PDAs that could leverage the growth of the wireless Internet. Now that users are balking at having to carry multiple devices for related functions, this has led to an interesting trend in device convergence. A number of vendors have started developing products around a converged device, which has the capability of a voice-based cell phone, a two-way pager for sending and receiving messages and a PDA. This converged device has highlighted the potential for integrating key functions, for example an address book application that provides a button to dial a person automatically.
Device convergence is accelerating and with the emergence of wireless communication standards such as 802.11b (Wireless LAN) and Bluetooth, it will gain increased functionality and acceptance. It will not be long before we see a single device providing multiple features and connecting with multiple networks.
WAP 2.0 was released earlier this year. WAP 2.0 is interesting not only due to its evolution and new capabilities but also because it marks the beginning of the convergence of wireless and Web standards. 2002 should see an increase in support for WAP 2.0-in handsets, toolkits, wireless application servers, wireless applications and portals. However, widespread deployment of applications based on WAP 2.0 will begin only when development tools, microbrowsers, gateways and handsets are available with WAP 2.0 support. Unlike desktop Web browsers, upgrading wireless microbrowsers in a handset it is not a trivial task and it is likely that users will chose to wait until new WAP 2.0-compatible handsets are available. However, the convergence of Web and wireless standards is imminent and WAP 2.0 may prove to be the catalyst we need to make it happen.
Wireless LANs are creating a profound impact in the way people connect not only locally to office LANs but also to the public Internet, from their office, from their cars, from client locations, from airports, from the factory floor, or from their homes. Because it is based on the 802.11b standard, there are a large number of vendors and solutions that interoperate with other products based on the same standard. Wireless LANs are enabled through Access Points, units that bridge the wireless network to the wired network. While it will be some time before wide-area wireless networks are feasible, a high-speed localized wireless networks, (up to 11Mbps), can be built today using 802.11b-based products. In 2002, we will see an increase in the adoption of Wireless LANs in the corporate environment.