IT shifts to component-based software

The growing corporate demand for Web services is accelerating IT’s shift to component-based software, a complex and time-consuming process that comes at a time when the software architects needed to design applications are in short supply.

“Despite what the vendors claim, the whole business of tying together applications and facilitating better integration with back-end systems is still very complicated,” said Gary Barnett, an analyst at London-based Ovum Ltd.

There are benefits to implementing Web services, he said, but “to make functionality available to the outside world, companies have to ensure they can maintain these systems and that they won’t break every time they make a change.”

Some of the comments on software architecture came during last week’s Object Technology 2001 conference in Oxford, England.

“Good architecture lays out the blueprint for continued investments into an application,” said David Harvey, associate director of IT and technical architect at UBS Warburg, an US$8 billion investment bank in London. Harvey said the bank is implementing Sun Microsystems Inc.’s enterprise Java technologies, which offer the advantage of reusable Enterprise JavaBeans.

But that strategy also puts greater stress on the ability to revise the application blueprint and “bridge fences” across businesses boundaries with Web services, he said.

Pacific Gas & Electricity Co., for example, is in the midst of networking many of its individually built applications into a more coherent infrastructure, said Billy Glenn, principal Internet architect at the San Francisco-based public utility.

“The problem that we have is that many of our Internet-based applications were one-offs, so they have their own authentication and security,” he said. Each application also has its own method for extracting data from back-end legacy systems and databases. Glenn said one of his top priorities is implementing standard protocols across the utility’s wide application set to make sharing data among different programs more uniform.

The high cost of maintaining applications is another concern that prompts greater emphasis on sound application architecture.

Murry McEntire, lead architect at WorldCom Inc., said the growing emphasis on architecture has as much to do with building new applications that take advantage of new initiatives, like Web services, as with maintaining these applications once they’ve gone into production.

“It may take a year or two to build an application, but it will be out in the field for a number of years past that,” McEntire said. “For the lifetime of [a custom-built] application, the maintenance will far outstrip the costs of developing it.”

As with the demand for Web services, demand is high for the software architects that will help design and implement the application infrastructure to support them.

Tammy Anderson, a managing partner at Lysen Anderson Executive Search Inc. in Cummings, Ga., said she has seen a higher demand for software architects. “The search industry has been swamped with those types of positions, and there are hundreds of openings right now,” she said.