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Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

I currently find myself on a consulting engagement for a large, multimillion-dollar, enterprise- wide Web services project for a major Fortune 500 firm. It's a golden opportunity to see first-hand the development of a bleedingedge enterprise service bus (ESB), complete with hundreds of Web services-enabled legacy systems and a sophisticated call center workstation front end.

One of my responsibilities is to meet with all of the various application and system development teams across the enterprise and assist them in achieving the final goal, which is deploying all of the various business services, based on ported applications, to production. Here is where the fun begins. Such a simple statement, "deploy" it to production, except that in this new service-oriented architectural world, "it" means different things to different people. So does the term "production" for that matter.

In the good old days of systems development, deploying applications was straightforward. You had requirements, a design; you coded and tested, and when it worked, you moved it into production. Even with online e-commerce Web applications, this formula held true. Not any more, especially at the enterprise level.

It's as if everyone started speaking their own language, and long-held project terminology, the glue that holds together large development initiatives, no longer seems able to do the job. The application? Which one? Can a legacy application still be considered an application if its business logic is exposed through a series of Web service interfaces?

The application is currently scheduled to go through testing. Wait a minute, how can that be when it has been in production for years? Oh, I see, we're talking about the Web service interface tied to the business-logic tier. The current plan is to roll out a pilot version to production in the fourth quarter this year, so we need to get the operations staff ready. Whoa, hate to point this out but we already have the operations staff supporting a handful of Web services plugged into the ESB in production with active users. Yes, but we're talking about the final deployment initiative centered on getting the call center workstation online and into production along with the remaining migrated applications. You know, the real push to get the "system" into production. System? Almost overnight, it seems that basic project terminology has become somewhat outdated.

To add to the confusion, the integration issues that come up on such an initiative require unprecedented levels of cooperation among development teams across the enterprise, teams that were never required to work together in the past, due to the stovepipe development mentality of each business owner. Moreover, it's simplistic to say that all you have to do is Web service-enable your legacy applications (made increasingly easy by development tools such as WebLogic Workshop) and then they can be used in portals or process flows. In reality, all applications being ported over will need to conform to a standardized framework for the handling of instrumentation, exception handling, user provisioning, security, and data (to name a few).

Dealing with this level of change across the enterprise makes the technology part look simple. Over time, people will catch up with the terminology, but the coordination and integration of the various Web service-enabled applications across the enterprise in a service-oriented architecture requires more sophisticated configuration management tools along with support for enterprise-wide development, testing, and deployment. The more assistance BEA and other vendors can provide to help manage the complexity by including enterprise-wide workgroup support and configuration tools in their development tools, the better.

More Stories By Java George

Java George is George Kassabgi, director of developer relations for Progress Software's Apptivity Product Unit.

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