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Dizzying speed of app development no big deal

.NET and J2EE have pushed the speed of application development to new heights. That doesn't necessarily mean that IT administrators are left cleaning up a mess of instability, however.

The fact that new applications written in Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and .NET can be written and deployed at lightning speed compared with older applications might cause some IT administrators to panic.

After all, faster and more frequent application deployments mean administrators must manage an enterprise in a constant state of flux. But not all experts believe that modular applications will cause trouble for the IT staff. On the contrary, some experts say the nature of applications built on Sun Microsystem Inc.'s J2EE and Microsoft's .NET frameworks solve some of the problems caused by older applications because there are fewer places where developers can make mistakes.

In the days before J2EE and .NET, when an IT shop rolled out an application, it was generally static for six months. But with today's applications, that's no longer the case.

Wily Technology, a Brisbane, Calif., software company, last week released the results of a survey of 185 application developers and other IT professionals that covered some of this ground. Among the findings were that about 3% of respondents deployed a J2EE application once a day, 15% deployed an application every one to four weeks and 35% redeployed an existing application every one to four weeks.

The study highlights a trend caused by more modular application architectures -- they make the infrastructure more dynamic and subject to change, said Jasmine Noel, a principal at Ptak & Noel Associates, an Amherst, N.H., consulting firm that analyzed the data. Though the study focused on J2EE, Noel said that the same results would be true for Microsoft's .NET architecture.

The study points out that today's developers are creating production-ready code faster, including updates to existing applications. The quick rate of change suggests that new applications are not as stable as earlier applications, and that IT operations staff cannot fully understand the performance profile of the application before it changes.

"You are rolling out and redeploying applications at a much higher rate than ever before," she said. "That six-month window doesn't exist any more, so you are constantly trying to keep learning how to keep these applications available and performing."

But there are some technical differences with applications written in J2EE and .NET that will help IT administrators. For one thing, developers that use these new programs are no longer responsible for memory management. With older applications, the pointer is an address to where memory is stored, said John Robbins, a .NET development expert based in Hollis, N.H., and co-founder of Wintellect, a software consulting and education firm.

"If you miscalculate the address, you crash," Robbins said. "In the old days, if you changed an application, the odds of creating a bug were huge. Modern applications handle the memory for you."

Another reason why applications are more robust is the fact that APIs in Java and .NET mask a lot of complexities. "To do an FTP file transfer, you had to buy a library or code yourself," he said. "Now the base APIs of Java and .NET take care of this."

This is not to say that developers can't introduce logic or performance errors, Robbins said.

While the quality of applications is improving, one expert said that more emphasis must be placed on making sure applications are well designed from the start.

"As more people understand [that] we need to do a better job in design, and understand what can change in an application, applications will be faster and more stable as they come out," said Roy Hoobler, manager of application development at Netatwork, a New York software company.

IT administrators usually insist on running applications that are well tested. With developers in a faster spin cycle, the window of time for testing gets smaller. But if developers do their jobs right and can prove they are testing their applications, they should eliminate the biggest weakness in the relationship between the two, Wintellect's Robbins said.

"IT administrators' and developers' jobs are rising up and touching each other more than ever," he said. "If they sit down and discuss how they can promote an environment where they can make a change in two weeks, they will smooth life along."

In the end, speedier deployments make the IT administrator look good by showing that he can respond to business needs faster, Robbins said.


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