Sun Microsystems

Written for

Written by: David Wright

This article ran on page 1 of for several days in 2002. DW also wrote articles on Sun Services, as well as several large manuals.

The Key to Competitiveness: Flexible Architecture

As the era of Web services and business integration takes shape, one thing becomes increasingly clear: architecture–not just hardware and software infrastructure–is the key to competitiveness. Today’s Web-centric realities call for a more agile architecture that delivers high-quality services on demand.

The question for the evolving enterprise is how to design and build a more flexible, Web-services-based architecture that meets robust Quality-of-Service (QoS) requirements, such as reliability, availability, and security, without sacrificing previous IT investments. How can businesses take full advantage of Java technologies, industry best practices, and Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE) solutions in building business systems? How can they expand the channels for delivering Web services without exponentially increasing the cost and complexity of the IT environment?

These issues were recently addressed by a panel of Sun’s top architecture consultants in a discussion regarding issues, trends, and ideas that may be useful in the pursuit of architectural excellence.

As Sun ONE deployments proliferate, Sun architecture managers have noticed that large enterprise customers move gradually toward web services that can integrate with existing systems. Jeff Johnson, Manager of the Sun Java Center practice, explains, “For large companies it’s not a wholesale rebuilding of what they have. It’s an evolutionary migration of people moving toward web services. They take it one step at a time.”

Which raises the question: if corporate clients are concerned with hanging on to existing systems and functionality, can they also take a high-level view of their long term needs and the architecture required to sustain it? Johnson thinks they can. “I think that we need to recognize that that change is taking place and that J2EE is now a mainstream architecture. I think it has something to do with the fact that Java has been around for a while and big companies now are seeing the benefit. For example, SAP recently announced that they’re essentially rewriting their primary ERP application in J2EE and basing it on J2EE architecture.  I think that’s a fundamental shift that a lot of people said would never happen, that Java was more of a flash in the pan, more of a Web-based Applet-driven thing.”

Dan Hushen, Director of the Sun Pervasive Java Technology Practice, agrees. “We see a lot of focus on a functionality – that’s what the business units want.  Often times, when they talk about integration, they’re saying, “We want to integrate these services.  We want to integrate this functionality.  And they tend to gloss over the architectural ramifications of doing that integration, that consolidation, when they’re only focused on the functionality.  Because there’s a tendency to go straight to code and just do some storyboards and get some screens out there and it all becomes kind of user driven. It sounds good on paper, but then you end up with the spaghetti underneath and that kills you in the long run.  All your money goes into maintaining that code in the long run.”

Hushen’s team sees tremendous opportunities for Sun. “J2ME really extends the client base for existing enterprise applications. ” says Hushen. “So in other words, it’s a technology that really helps you to deliver your application in a very common and consistent way to more consumers, building on your common skill set, building on your common architecture, and building on the portability and homogeneity of the job of platform.  So J2ME is definitely a sustaining technology and it definitely fits into a consolidation strategy, but also it fits into the Web services strategy.”

Jim Delrossi, Practice Manager for Sun’s e-Solutions practice, translates business problems into technical solutions for Sun clients. In helping clients make decisions about the best way to deploy technology, Delrossi explains that business customers are learning the value of flexible architecture. “We’re seeing a big change now, too.” Says Delrossi.  “People are starting to wake up to the fact that the way the you build IT support systems is not the same as the way you have to build your line-of-business systems. If you took a look at someone like General Motors, the techniques for the use of IT would not be the same as those used for the production-line design and operations.”

Delrossi explains that, for most, using Java for this purpose is a foregone conclusion, “It’s not even a question.  The real question is about how do they staff appropriately to an industry standard level, or up to a level that they feel they’re going to be able to support–and that goes for the overall architects too, who realize that this is now business critical. “

While Java took hold quickly on the client side, Sun architects have seen a grassroots revolution of large companies using Java to architect their IT systems. “J2EE is now a mainstream architecture” says Johnson.  “We’re building large scale systems and not just one-offs. And we’ve had great success mentoring and teaching companies and development groups how to do this architecture, how to look at scalability and availability and really bake it into their application foundation as opposed to adding it as an afterthought at the end.”

How will these flexible architectures fit with Web Services and the loose-coupling model? Hushen sees a tight fit. “Web services are really, really good for building loosely coupled systems. Some of the trends that I’m seeing as people look back to distributive computing are the fact that externally focused systems either outside of your business area or outside of your enterprise definitely need to be web services-based to introduce that loose coupling model.”

From telcos to wireless to financial services, many industries are now grasping the importance of a flexible architectures. Hushen sees it in many places. “The customers that we have that are really looking way ahead in this space are the customers like the telcos that are introducing 3G Wireless.  One of the key benefits of moving to 3G instead of two-and-a-half G is similar to the benefits of moving from IT network into ATM in that you can create-quality of-service models and you can dedicate to a customer.  And so once again, they’re beginning to develop the real business need to drive QoS into their computing plan, and certain financial customers are doing the same thing.  They’re putting quality of service contracts on their IT staff with respect to trading systems, and so we are seeing a re-dedication to these — these systemic capabilities with respect to the business guys actually focusing on them from a functionality standpoint.”

For Delrossi and his team, the future holds increasingly complicated business and technical challenges. “Where we see our role is in helping the client make decisions about where are the best ways to deploy that judiciously so that they get the correct flexibility/performance trade off.  Those are hard decisions to be making for clients who may be only doing this once in the life cycle of their product.” Expert guidance is more critical than ever for the enterprise.

Johnson, Derossi, and Hushen are seeing a demand for flexible architecture first hand. “I think for us, from a backend system perspective, Java is the lingua franca to have all these disparate systems that a company may own, [that can tie together] legacy systems that have been around for a while”, says Johnson. “In order for them to be successful they need to focus on the architecture first. We see systems fail when Architecture is not considered up front, often because IT is under a great deal of pressure to get things out the door at lowest possible cost.  But I think we need everybody out there to take the long view. Just take a moment to think about it and really just commit to building it right. And I think what they’ll find – and we’ve proven this – time and time again, is that it’s a myth that it has to cost more or take longer to do it right.  At Ford Motor Company, they’re saving $750,000 an application now and building it right, building a solid foundation with the J2ME-based architecture, productivity tools, the common language, and they’ve seen the light.  They’ve seen that it doesn’t have to take longer to do it right.  And then the last thing is just get some expert advice, get some help. If you haven’t done this before don’t think that you can read a book and do it.  It’s not that easy.  You can’t afford to bet your business on that.”

The panelists for this article included:

Jeff Johnson: Manager of the Sun Java Center practice, an integral part of Sun Professional Services providing Java technology and high-level architectural and design consulting expertise to Sun customers.

Dan Hushen: Director of the Pervasive Java Technology Practice, the part of the Sun Java Center practice that develops design patterns and architectural strategies for emerging Java technologies such as Java Platform 2, Micro Edition (J2ME), Jini technology, and Java Card technology.

Jim Delrossi: Practice Manager for Sun’s e-Solutions practice, which translates business problems into technical solutions.

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