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Disruption 2005: SOA hardware and Ajax

Ajax came on like a juggernaut in the latter half of the year with almost every vendor seeking to blend it in with SOA development tools. Meanwhile, the XML networking market saw the entrance of IBM, Cisco and Intel.

Service-oriented architecture focuses on the application layer, but in 2005 a presentation technology and some gear straight out of the networking universe shook up the application development community and reminded folks that there's more than one layer to consider in an SOA.

The browser-based presentation technology called Ajax has been around for years, but only got named in February. A few months afterward Google Inc. had built a new mapping with it, creating Web pages that reacted to user commands like a desktop application.

That made the big noise, but just as disruptive was the continued encroachment of XML processing hardware into the SOA mix. Combined, they've begun to put a squeeze on the application layer, forcing developers and architects to think outside the code and integration boxes where their comfort levels reside.

"The way we think about interacting over the Web is changing," said ZapThink LLC analyst Ron Schmelzer about the impact of Ajax. "It only took one application to alter our entire expectation level."

Almost as soon as Ajax began to gain industry buzz, it gained traction as a potentially ideal front end for Web services.

Microsoft had invented the underlying technology, but never done much with it. That changed this summer as it put together an Ajax development tool code-named Atlas. The JavaScript coding required with Ajax isn't part of most developer's skill sets, and Microsoft is hoping Atlas will make it more accessible.

Though Microsoft hardly was the only vendor looking to jump onto the Ajax freight train. ClearNova Inc. built a tool that integrates Ajax with server-side Java development .

BEA Systems Inc. executive vice president Mark Carges made the case that Ajax is too user-friendly not be a success.

Sure enough, as the year came to a close vendors were racing to build Ajax development tools. Everything from development tools to portal offerings to integration suites plan to offer Ajax features. It's finding a natural fit with SOA because both rely on asynchronous development patterns.

Dana Gardner, an analyst with Interarbor Solutions LLC, said a tangential result of the Ajax boom is that "software as a service became inevitable."

"Everybody's wanted to do it for years and now they see that they can," he said. "It's opened up the entire software market for innovation."

Yet Ajax is anything but user-friendly, cautioned Burton Group Inc. vice president and research director Anne Thomas Manes.

"It's really easy to build bad sites with Ajax," she said.

She believes that until more WSYIWYG tools proliferate the marketplace, Ajax will remain a fond, but unattainable desire for many IT shops.

Hardware puts muscle in SOA

XML networking devices weren't anything new in 2005, but the year did see a trio of tech industry heavyweights either enter the market or buy their way into it.

Perhaps the most significant downside of SOA and Web services has been performance issues. XML-dependent services and loosely coupled architecture are not built for speed. Anyone seeking to build these things is bound to run into performance issues.

XML networking, or service-oriented networking as some are calling it, looks to bring intelligent routing into the application layer. It seemed like such a good idea that networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. decided to join the party.

Not all XML networking revolves around hardware and shortly after Cisco's Application-Oriented Networking (AON) announcement, Intel Corp. bought Sarvega Inc. and its XML networking framework software. Meanwhile, IBM started to appear around the periphery of the XML networking space.

Cisco built its AON product on an IBM MQ Series messaging backbone. Then DataPower Technology Inc. announced it had achieved interoperability with IBM's self-healing autonomic computing environment.

The latter announcement turned out to be a prelude for IBM's October acquisition of DataPower. According to Schmelzer, the acquisition is the tip of an iceberg.

"This is a major part of IBM's SOA strategy," he said. "They love this technology."

For more information

Read about Ajax hype vs. reality

Check out our Ajax Learning Guide

Layer 7 Technology Inc. chief technology officer Toufic Boubez argued that a network design, based on the successes like TCP/IP and the Internet, makes more sense for SOA from an engineering perspective than a message-oriented middleware approach.

While tech titans encroached on its territory, Reactivity Inc. kept updating its XML networking gear, adding the ability to handle bigger XML payloads and to create a universal Web services ID.

Manes said XML security gateways have proven an excellent method of securing Web services for business-to-business connectivity, but, as Boubez intimated, the bigger question lies in where the intelligence lies inside an SOA. Many are betting that the network will supplant integration middleware in the coming years.

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