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Enterprise Application Development Limited Only by Our Planning

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Jason Sharp, managing partner and cofounder of Crossvale, Inc.

BACKGROUND: Crossvale enables and optimizes business execution readiness for IT vendors, and provides training, mentoring and retooling services to IT customers. Crossvale has a long history working with market- and innovation-leading vendors of application platform suite, enterprise integration and service-oriented architecture solutions.

PLATFORMS: A hosted AMD Athlon XP3000+ server running Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES 2.1.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We do not have a large, dedicated shop responsible for developing, administering and maintaining our internal and external Web sites. Historically, we've relied on HTML and Perl expertise, manually developing content and simple applications and customizing inexpensive shareware applications running on Apache. Unfortunately, this approach has proven very limiting. Few members of our staff have these skills, and there is no long-term business benefit to scaling these resources. Also, the development time and maintenance effort proved lengthy. Worst of all, complex applications that could better support our staff were effort-prohibitive. The end result is a Web server full of potential, but little functionality. We needed an especially low-cost and low-effort solution.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We found BEA WebLogic Workshop to be a highly featured enterprise Java integrated development environment (IDE). In particular, we loved the visual, rapid development with a simplifying J2EE development framework that abstracts lines of code and numbers of files. We were able to migrate our external and internal Web server functionality onto an application platform very quickly. Within a day, the graphic design resources were incorporated into a consistent look and feel for our Web portal-driven sites. By the second day, our original HTML content and resources were already surfaced into Web portlets we combined into rich, browser-based desktops. We then began incrementally replacing some of our static information with interactive Web portlets and developing new applications we'd previously found effort- and time-prohibitive. The tool encouraged the best practices of SOA, safeguarding our development effort in business logic components for future reuse and repurposing. The development accomplishments were measured in days and not weeks.

STRENGTHS: We most appreciated the simplified, visual development model that simultaneously enabled our junior Java technologists to contribute and our Java experts to rapidly crank out serious application development. Additionally, the consistent programming model enabled by "controls" made the combining of data access components, business logic components, Web applications and Web portals seamless. We're very confident that our development effort will be preserved thanks to BEA's continued tradition of standards support and innovation. We also appreciated that we could highly customize much of the BEA-provided Web portal features.

WEAKNESSES: Other than JSP tag libraries, we found there are few out-of-the-box business-quality templates, code libraries, portlets, etc. BEA defers to its growing third-party ecosystem for these, but we needed to develop most of our application code. Also, as with many vendors in this space, there is little built-in support for team-based development beyond typical integration with source-code control systems, forcing our developers to maintain their disciplined codevelopment habits.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We looked at IBM WSAD v5 and JBoss. We chose BEA WebLogic Workshop because of the higher development productivity, lower development learning curve, simplicity of installation and administration, and breadth of the application platform support.

DELIVERABLES: We now have an employee self-service portal, knowledge base and scheduling application, and a portal-based external customer site. We have a scalable development platform catering to our strengths in business know-how and Java skills. At this time, our application development is limited only by our planning.

VENDOR SUPPORT: BEA's Education Services provided thorough preparation for our development efforts. With Service Pack 2 and the support knowledge base, we haven't run into anything in this project that required support assistance.

DOCUMENTATION: BEA provides online searchable and downloadable documentation for the complete product catalog. The BEA dev2dev developer community provides additional tools, articles and samples which are routinely updated and expanded.

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