Systems Integrator or Web Developer?
Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Brent Harshbarger
Our man Bill Gates has shown little interest in getting into the hardware business. Back in the '80s, his vision was a future with a PC on every desk. Now that his dream is reality and we're all dependent, why aren't we using Microsoft PCs? The answer is simple. Why should Gates hassle with procurement, inventory, and manufacturing issues when he can own all the software and license it to you? So the world runs on Microsoft Office and one of the Windows-branded operating systems.
Several years ago, when it had become clear to Bill that he had won, he lost interest in the computer industry. He had nothing else to conquer. That is, until Netscape came along and provided him with a new challenge. Netscape was the catalyst in an IT big bang that saw the transformation of Microsoft from a software solar system into the entire computing universe.
Even though Bill's company doesn't make any hardware, he controls the vast majority of all the computer-based systems on earth. The Internet created the need for an interconnected operating system, and Microsoft has delivered in the form of .NET. .NET is a brand name referring to a wide variety of technologies, all designed to make the systems of tomorrow integrate smoothly, and all of them are worthy of consideration by anyone integrating systems today.
.NET touches on every aspect of computer technology that we'll use in the future. These technologies are called Web services, and if this is your first look, you will see how big Gates's universe really is. As an overview, I have broken the different technologies into separate categories.
.NET Framework is made up of several core components, starting with ASP.NET, which takes Active Server Pages to a whole new dimension. Then there's ADO.NET, which does the same thing for ActiveX objects that ASP.NET does for ASPs. Then there are a couple of application development elements — Common Language Runtime (CLR) and Framework class library.
Visual Studio.NET supports several programming languages. There's a next-generation version of Visual Basic called Visual Basic.NET, an enhanced version of Visual C++, and a new language called C#.
.NET My Services allow personal information to be stored and accessed via the Internet. These services are at the core of Personal Assistant applications, which are also enabled by Web services. There's also a security/authentication element to this technology as well.
.NET Enterprise Servers comprise a family of server products that will become essential for integration. It includes Microsoft products such as Application Center 200, BizTalk Server 2002, Commerce Server 2002, Content Management Server 2001, Exchange Server 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000, Mobile Information Server 2001, SharePoint Portal Server 2001, SQL Server 2000, and Server 2003 is just around the bend.
That's a broad look at the components that will support Web services, but I still haven't explained exactly what these Web services are all about.
For starters, Web services are a whole other host of technologies, including XML-based Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WDSL), Component Object Model (COM), and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). There's also Common Object Request Broker Architecture (COBRA) and Interface Definition Language (IDL), among many others. What these technologies do as a system is provide programmatic access to Web applications and bring dynamic communication to formerly static-only technology. Applications will be able to request and process information located on many servers and present the information in a useful manner to the user. Eventually, this technology will extend beyond the home and office; Microsoft has plans to take .NET into your car. The automobiles of tomorrow will inform the driver if an oil change is needed, and will then use .NET technology to provide directions to the nearest dealer. Conceivably, hospitals could use Web services for patient charting; a wireless network would send information directly to a doctor's PDA or laptop, and the nurse call system could be digitized as well.
As system integrators, we will be asked to get information from many of the sub-systems that live on servers not physically connected to client or project. Web services provides development tools, protocols that are standard yet definable. There are numerous applications that will arise from this technology in the coming years. The systems integrator who embraces Web service technologies and looks for ways to deploy them in their systems will gain the competitive edge.
Brent Harshbargerhas worked for Peavey in the development of MediaMatrix. He can be reached email@example.com.