Mission-critical AJAX builds ROI envy behind the firewall

I've been advising my clients for years on the operational and cost-containment virtues of Web services and SOA. But now I'll be adding the icing on the cake: slap AJAX front ends on those endeavors and do a lot better for less.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor
A couple of recent developments highlight the growing ROI power of AJAX, especially when applied to mission-critical applications behind the corporate firewall. While the high costs of IT operations continues to nag nearly all CIOS, the combination of AJAX-oriented GUIs and SOA-empowered middleware offers a new-found financial balm.

Indeed, the word compelling comes to mind when you factor the use of AJAX and latest Firefox browser as the client-tier tag-team that slashes total costs and vastly simplifies development for internal business application modernization and greenfield development. What additionally simplifies, and therefore further cuts total costs, is a coincidental embrace of SOA by corporate IT leaders. SOA on its own divorces the services and process development from the interface development -- sort of ready-made for AJAX-like UI deployment.

As Global 2000 enterprises, therefore, move to SOA, it makes sense for them to consider simultaneously moving to AJAX client interfaces. Or vice versa. The development-test-deploy cycle separation -- GUI on one hand and services orchestration on the other -- is clean. Developers on either side of the divide need not worry about client targets. Say adios to plug-ins, Active-X controls or Java applets. This is powerful. Separate teams can work the development of different tiers with operational integrity upon production. Build, buy or partner? Yes.

So when you consider the Web 2.0 development and deployment paradigm, don't limit it to the Web.  Make it include Intranet 2.0. Why? Public-facing Web applications are often used for e-commerce, which should be viewed as an additional income source, and therefore funded by IT budgeters as an investment. The impetus for adoption is based on functional improvement to customers and new revenue.

But internal IT applications are still often viewed as cost centers to budgeters seeking to hold the line or reduce total IT costs. It's harder to convince the bean-counters to invest in a cost center improvement. But AJAX on top of SOA could work magic to reduce the total costs of internal IT operations, with only modest investment and swift ROI. Those same investments, incidentally, can be used to then improve the revenue-generating e-commerce operations as well.

Bolstered by the move to SOA, an AJAX-oriented UI pilot project for internal use may be the prudent way to explore these development developments. As builders and architects gain confidence, more internal composite applications could then lead to expertise with the AJAX-SOA tag team, setting the stage for killer public-facing applications that improve functionality for the sellers and users -- while cutting total costs and improving the pay-off from rich e-commerce activities in the B2B extended enterprise future.

SOA and AJAX, like any IT change, require a compelling business case to garner managerial support and investment. I think we may now have a good case to make, especially when SOA and AJAX are used in tandem internally in a controlled environment.

So while the AJAX hype has been on public-facing Web applications that indeed significantly benefit from the technology, the application of AJAX to internal applications use, I believe, has greater near-term cost-benefit implications, and spurs long-term core competency payoffs. Show the CIO the money savings and make the paradigm shift happen as a functional and economic wedge against your competitors.

My conclusions on the economics of AJAX on SOA (AOS?) were supported after taking a briefing on the Feb. 13 release of TIBCO General Interface version 3.1 Professional Edition. The AJAX development framework and tooling, five years in the making and part of TIBCO's acquisition last year of General Interface, is free to developers for public applications and at a steep discount at $499 for 5 users for internal applications.

I was further moved in the direction of cost-benefit persuasion of AOS by the recent Oracle announcement that a new version of its Java application server and development tool are available with enhancements designed to ease back-end and AJAX development. Oracle Application Server 10g release 3, server software for running Java applications, is the foundation of the company's Fusion Middleware product line, which will eventually underpin Oracle's different packaged applications.

Using AOS could sure make life easier when managing Oracle's middleware and business applications. Perhaps SAP applications on the back end supporting AOS could also be used in composite arrangements alongside Oracle's? Sure.

I've been advising my clients for years on the operational and cost-containment virtues of Web services and SOA. But now I'll be adding the icing on the cake: slap AJAX front ends on those endeavors and do a lot better for less. Then go public (with the apps). The AJAX community sees the writing on the wall, and the race is on to deliver the de facto AJAX frameworks that will make the adoption of the AOS GUI further compelling on economic basis of cost, simplicity, and choice.

Editorial standards