Object models get another go

Component-based methods of developing applications didn’t win many converts in the past. But IT managers who attended a Gartner Inc. middleware conference in Los Angeles last week said emerging “service-oriented architecture” approaches built around Web services technology look like a sure thing.

The service-oriented development model separates application code from the data and user interface layers and puts a top priority on integration capabilities. Proponents said companies can use Web services tools, such as the Simple Object Access Protocol, to build open application programming interfaces that let their developers reuse and reassemble applications as needed.

The concept comes from the same object-based background as older technologies such as the Common Object Request Broker Architecture. But the Web-centric nature of the new architectures should make them less complex to design and manage, said Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner.

However, conference attendees acknowledged that building a complete service-oriented framework could cost companies millions of dollars for new software, application redesign work and IT staff training. It will also require much tighter central control of application development processes and new classes of software tools, they added.

“This is all right at the beginning stages,” said Cort Klein, a systems architect at Pacific Life Insurance Co. in Newport Beach, Calif. “First, we need to get object-based processes in place, and the whole organization has to understand those processes, not just IT.”

Irresistible Draw

Despite all the challenges, Klein predicted that the promise of rapid application development and simplified software maintenance and extensibility will eventually prove irresistible.

Plummer agreed. “It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of timing,” he said. Plummer estimated that it could take until 2006 for leading-edge companies to put full-scale service-oriented architectures in place. But before then, he said, IT managers can start moving toward service-oriented models incrementally as they develop new applications or upgrade existing ones.

To make a full flowering possible, Plummer and other Gartner analysts cited a need for the development of Web services security standards and new software that manages and monitors middleware workflow routines. Application servers, integration-brokering tools and portal software will likely be combined into unified suites within the next two years, they said.

Some attendees pointed to other hurdles that will have to be cleared. For example, Chris Colao, an IT project manager at San Francisco-based ChevronTexaco Corp., said application developers at multinational corporations often don’t conform to monolithic internal standards, making it difficult to drive the adoption of sweeping new policies.

Natalio Rivas, an application support and technical services manager at Duke Energy Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., called service-oriented architectures “wonderful on paper.” But, he said, IT managers face pressure to deliver projects on time. “In those cases, you do what you’ve always done because you know that works,” Rivas noted.