A platform for development

Ravi Apte, CTO of the American Stock Exchange, has a team of more than 30 people working to develop applications for the country’s second-largest options exchange. But this month, that work will be made easier when New York-based Amex consolidates its three Web sites into one with the help of BEA Systems Inc.’s WebLogic EBusiness Platform.

AmexTrader.com, Amex’s market data services site, and AmericanStocks.com, its catalogue of companies listed on the exchange, will merge into Amex.com, its main page for market and historical data. Apte says his developers are working to integrate the sites through the BEA platform. “For our custom applications, we have small groups working. It’s a collaborative application development process,” Apte says.

While the Web services model for enterprise computing gathers steam, the platforms designed to accommodate the rollout of Web services are being used internally. Those chief technologists that are not at the stage of opening up applications beyond the firewall are instead making use of these new platforms to leverage and to integrate their applications internally.

Apte is one of many CTOs using development environments such as those provided by BEA, Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. to help with the integration of applications for use across the enterprise. In these environments, CTOs are deploying the Web services platforms internally as a prelude to extending them to partners or customers, says Kathy Quirk, senior analyst for application strategies at Hurwitz Group Inc., an industry research company in Framingham, Mass.

“This is the early stages of Web services,” Quirk says. “[These platforms] are an easy way for organizations to bring together different data types that they could not do before without great effort. This is the first, clear benefit.”

“In time, they will find better, additional ways to use Web services to drive the business and do things they couldn’t do before,” Quirk adds. “All the major vendors are providing tools to create Web services, and [tools] are making it easier for developers.”

In Amex’s case, BEA’s Java-based WebLogic platform will allow Amex to implement changes in response to customer demands and will help developers create application logic to support services offered through the Web site and to link to the back-end system, Apte says.

“The WebLogic platform allows developers to provide richer functionality to the Web site. By consolidating our Web presence and building on BEA WebLogic, we can simplify development of navigation for our visitors, get more information into the hands of our constituents, and accelerate the delivery of new services,” Apte says.

Apte says he is not yet ready to expose Amex content as Web services, but he will expand the Web site’s functionality to fit the needs of customers. Right now the task is to simplify the needs of development of navigation for customers, he says.

Integrating Web Services With Legacy Systems

At Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price, Senior Technical Manager and Architect Andrew Chernoff is updating his WebSphere Application Server platform as he tackles a thorny application development issue – standardization and integrating Web services with legacy systems. “We are using the WebSphere environment for development, and we are standardizing application development on J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition],” Chernoff says.

The standardization will bring consistency from application to application and will allow the integration of applications with legacy systems and other third-party products and services.

Chernoff has completed more than 15 WebSphere applications. He has also achieved shorter development times using the platform. He is researching the possibility of using XML-based Web services supported by WebSphere but says, “We are just starting to crack open the door.”

As an indication of the possibilities provided by the new development frameworks, Brad Sherrell, assistant vice-president of IT at Newport Beach, Calif.-based Pacific Life Insurance, outlined an agenda using Microsoft’s .Net environment.

Sherrell standardized and integrated his company’s applications using Microsoft’s Visual Studio .Net platform, using it to rewrite his COM (Component Object Model) objects for reuse.

“We are deciding what from our inventory of COM objects we want to leverage and rewrite in .Net,” Sherrell says. “We rewrite in Visual Studio .Net. There are mechanisms in .Net, called COM interop, that allow you to leverage your investments in COM objects.”

Sherrell also built a Web services-based Web site using .Net’s ASP .Net programming framework. “We took an existing extranet site and converted it to ASP .Net site getting its data from Web services, which is leveraging an existing set of COM objects we had before we rewrote the site. I wrapped the COM objects in a Web service,” he says. At the Web site, owners of Pacific Life products, such as insurance policies, can get access to Web pages that are delivered as Web services.

Sharing Data Through Expansion

At the San Francisco-based investment bank Robertson Stephens, Dirck Hecking, technical architect and vice-president of e-commerce, deployed an offering from Cape Clear Software as an integration tool to create a Web services platform so that employees and customers could share content such as research data. The company, with 1,200 employees, offers financial services, including corporate financing for IPOs and securities trading for stocks and bonds.

Hecking used Cape Clear’s CapeConnect software to convert Java-based business logic residing on BEA’s WebLogic servers into Web services that can be shared with non-Java-enabled partners or users. Hecking integrated Microsoft .Net and Sun’s Java-based applications, allowing employees and partners to access Robertson Stephens research and other data.

“The first step was to ask, ‘What does our company have?’ ” Hecking says. “Well, we have great equity research, with analysts covering industries in-depth. And we have data in our various departments. The old way was to replicate the database and give the data to the departments as needed. Now we’ve exposed our research as a Web service, enabling access from .Net and J2EE,” he says.

As a Web services platform, Cape Clear’s CapeConnect interoperates with application servers, including BEA WebLogic, IBM WebSphere, and iPlanet Application Server. Hecking says Robertson Stephens already had an established J2EE environment.

“By adding [CapeConnect] to the Web services stack, we can now move any application in the firm across any application solution,” Hecking says. His team has created more than 45 Web services.

Hecking says he has plans for a significant expansion of his Web services architecture. He is awaiting a time when Web services will be commonly deployed and when UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) registries will host services for internal and external use. The vice president wants to develop a Web services UDDI directory for users to identify their services and post them to a registry, where they can identify the services they need and post them to a registry. The company’s valuable equity research will be offered as key content.

“When I go to UDDI, I will really roll that out,” Hecking says. “We have 5,000 people interested in our research. We have real-time financial data. We are going to be consumers of Web services, and we are going to be providers of Web services.”

Hecking’s strategy of internally integrating applications and then looking outward fits the pattern outlined by Hurwitz’s Quirk. “The first wave is, Organizations are finding that Web services platforms are ways to do service integration,” Quirk said. “People are getting out there and playing with it, and eventually they will start moving outside the firewall.”