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Rich Enterprise Apps: A Cart and Horse Problem

The horse, of course, is the pull of rich presentation media and highly interactive user interfaces. The horse is lively and leads the way. The cart is all the backend machinery that enables a Rich Internet Application. The cart is homely and utilitarian, but made of necessary things such as data management, security systems, and communications. The current problem is that enterprise IT, quite naturally, prefers to put the cart before the horse.
Recently, while working on my review of Adobe's development products aimed at Rich Internet Applications (RIA), it struck me that here was a vendor with a brilliant array of creative tools that appeared to be challenged to assemble appropriate backend support (especially for the enterprise) in areas such as data access, security, team development and application management. Not unlike the current situation for the enterprise in general - a Cart and Horse problem.

The horse, of course, is the pull of rich presentation media and highly interactive user interfaces. The horse is lively, interesting to watch and, in practice, leads the way. The cart is the conveyance vehicle, all the backend machinery that enables a Rich Internet Application. The cart is homely and utilitarian, but made of necessary things such as data management, security systems, and communications. The current problem is that enterprise IT, quite naturally, prefers to put the cart before the horse.I say this is a problem because, as has happened several times in recent computer history, the pull of mass appeal tends to outstrip the hauling capacity of the superstructure. As the advent of the PC and then the Web left IT struggling to keep up, in a similar fashion, RIAs and Web 2.0 are or soon will be straining the capabilities of IT support structures. At the level of individual companies, supporting the Web was tough - after all, it was new; but Web 2.0 and RIAs up the ante with traffic and complexity increasing on a geometric scale. If you want to see a DBA's face turn white, ask how the company data systems can support corporate/public mashups.

How long will it take for the enterprise to fully embrace RIA and Web 2.0 projects? In previous blogs, I've favored easing into RIA and Web 2.0; but good luck. How will it go down? I think it will be close to the Web experience with online presence and e-business. The marketing department will go to the CEO and say "If we don't get on this , our competitors will eat our ." The IT department will say "Sure; but we have to have the capacity, security, and management in place." The cart and the horse will start a running argument. Sooner or later, the CEO will yell "Do the damn thing." As usual, IT will ultimately respond to the business imperative.

Hopefully by the time the CEO starts yelling, IT has at least begun to figure out the backend. This will not be easy. In addition to a need for much more capacity (mostly hardware), which is a familiar Web necessity, RIA and Web 2.0 expose new levels of complexity in areas like data security, user authentication, and system performance. For the enterprise, what will be the right combination of SOA, Web Services, data management, streaming media, GUI development, and a host of similar development and support issues? At the moment, nobody has all the answers; not for the Internet as a whole, not for vendors like Adobe, and especially not for individual corporations.

Nelson King has been a software developer for more than twenty-five years. Further complications include being a computer-industry analyst, product reviewer and author (of nine books on database programming). He's been writing for Intelligent Enterprise (and its precursors) for more than ten years. Write him at [email protected]The horse, of course, is the pull of rich presentation media and highly interactive user interfaces. The horse is lively and leads the way. The cart is all the backend machinery that enables a Rich Internet Application. The cart is homely and utilitarian, but made of necessary things such as data management, security systems, and communications. The current problem is that enterprise IT, quite naturally, prefers to put the cart before the horse.