Will they get it right this time?

Will they get it right this time?

Analysts are calling it the industry’s hottest trend even though nobody is quite sure how to define it. While confusion reigns, there is no doubt that the application server software market has the potential to not only revolutionize enterprise-style computing but, more importantly, help out the beleaguered IT organization.

Del Yocam, CEO and chairman of Inprise Corp. (formerly Borland Corp.), summed up the situation earlier this month during a speech at a developers’ conference in Toronto.

The IT organization, he said, is not only facing a “crisis of complexity,” but the crisis is heightened by the fact that in the age of global competition and increasingly narrow market windows, companies that can initiate rapid change — not just respond to it — are more likely to succeed.

The paradox is that IT directors who need to add more functionality to their systems are limited by the complexity of those systems. Enterprise applications, said Yocam, have become a bottleneck for many organizations rather than an enabling technology.

His analysis is one that any IS executive can relate to. Not only do consolidations and mergers require IT support to get disparate systems to work together, but there’s also a dramatic shortage of IT programming out there.

“The combination of more data, more users, more systems and more applications, compounded by a lack of time and resources, has contributed to this crisis of complexity,” said Yocam. “Information Technology organizations are under increasing pressure to deliver bottom line business benefits to their users.”

In our report on the applications server market (see p. 21), John Saunders writes that a litany of product categories exists. They include database management systems, transaction processing monitors, object request brokers and object transaction monitors.

According to Ted Schadler, a software analyst with Forrester Research Inc., application servers connect clients with an assortment of distributed computing applications that include databases and enterprise resource planning software.

What it all adds up to is an ill-defined market for distributed computing which, theoretically at least, would negate the need to install software on desktop systems or add more servers to networks.

Yocam for one believes it to be as “sweeping” a change in the IT environment as the widespread adoption of the relational database in the early 1980s.

That might eventually happen. But let’s not get carried away just yet.

Schadler has already issued a reality check that any IS organization should consider before getting too excited about this movement. Today’s bevy of competing developers and standards, he says, amounts to nothing less than chaos.

That is troublesome. Two major players who despise each other — Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. — already disagree over enterprise networks.

Oracle advocates a “server-centric world” while Microsoft is pushing distributed applications on numerous servers through its Windows-centric component object model (COM) architecture and the CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) framework.

There will be other conflicts for sure. When you have a market that is expected to be worth as much as $2 billion (U.S.) within three years, that’s a given.

Will it be a panacea for IT, as Yocam suggests? Possibly. But first Larry, Bill, Scott and the others must resolve their differences.

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