The future of Web services and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) may well lie with Ajax, a programming technique for creating rich, Web-based applications that look and work like desktop software, even though they are browser-based and use few resources.
Ajax has received plenty of hype in recent months, in large part because of high-visibility Ajax applications such as those launched by Google.
But despite that hype, Ajax today is not yet being used widely for Web services and SOA. Despite its benefits, it's still largely known only to developers and hasn't yet permeated into the consciousness of those who run the business end of enterprises, and they often have the final say about how development gets funded and should proceed.
In this second part of a two-part column we'll look at roadblocks to wider Ajax deployment for Web services and SOA and what it will take to overcome them.
Why Ajax Is Harder Than It Looks
Ajax powers some of the most interesting and innovative services on the Internet, including Gmail, Google Local (formerly Google Maps) and other Google services, as well as the A9 search engine.
Ajax-powered services look and function much like straightforward desktop applications so at first glance it may seem as if for developers, there's not much to the technique. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth, say analysts and those actually involved in Ajax development.
"Google brought in a big team of the top Ajax developers," in order to launch its Ajax-powered services, notes Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink. "But Google is a multiple-billion dollar company and so it's been able to do that."
Enterprises, on the other hand, don't have the luxury of being able to hire an Ajax "Dream Team." And while Google is able to spend as long as it needs to develop an Ajax service with a budget that allows it to spend a significant amount of money on a project only to drop it, enterprises face tight deadlines and must-have deployments.
Robert Lepack, vice president of marketing for ICESoft, which makes an Ajax development tool, concurs.
"It's actually very hard to develop for Ajax," he says. "Everyone talks about the benefits, but no one digs into the complexities, especially when using Ajax with SOA," he says.
Advice For Getting Up to Speed
Kevin Hakman, director of product marketing for Tibco and founder of General Interface, an Ajax development tool bought by Tibco a year ago, has been involved with Ajax since before Ajax was cool, to paraphrase a popular country music song.
Hakman reiterates that there are plenty of complexities working with Ajax, but he adds that the benefits of the technology far outweigh those complexities. So what to do if an enterprise wants to get started with Ajax, but its developers don't yet have significant experience with the technology?
Hakman also notes that when developers need to build a full application they can use Tibco's General Interface, a full framework and set of tools for building Ajax applications. It allows developers to deploy Ajax applications without dependency on applets, plug-ins or installation of client/server frameworks. It also enables IT shops to reuse Ajax components.
Lepack notes that his firm's ICEfaces product takes a slightly different approach. It takes Java applications and then essentially allows those applications to be delivered as Ajax.
Where Ajax Is Today — And Where It's Headed
So where is Ajax today when it comes to Web services and SOA? Hakman says that it is in the early adopter stage. Enterprises using it tend to be innovators and IT leaders, he notes. He also says that they tend to have embraced SOA early on.
Hakman adds that there is a natural synergy between SOA and Ajax.
"Ajax is an accelerant to the acceptance and deployment of SOA," he says. "Ajax helps make the benefits of SOA become visible and so will help with SOA adoption. With Ajax, business end users will be able to see a tangible benefit from SOA and so it will bring visibility to the value of an SOA strategy."
Schmelzer has no doubt that Ajax will ultimately become widely deployed with Web services and SOA.
"We're not seeing it much today yet, but we will in the future," he believes. "Ajax hasn't made its way into products yet, but it certainly will soon. Probably within the next twenty-four months it will be hard to find a significant enterprise application that doesn't have some Ajax in it."