Sunday, July 22, 2012

Should I let this trend pass my by?


There are a lot of changes taking place not the least being how best to embrace and then integrate the latest smartphones and tablets with mission-critical applications. For the NonStop community, comForte is already showing how it can be done …

In my previous post to this blog I returned to the theme of tablets and smartphones and of how businesses are allowing any number of tablets and smartphones to have access to business applications, including those running on NonStop. A trend, I have to admit that shows no sign of running out of steam from lack or executive support.

The significance of this was reinforced just this week when at another primarily NonStop vendor presentation and where the projector, equipped with an Apple Digital AV adapter (as best as I could tell from close to the back of the room), the presenters moved
seamlessly between their iPhones as remote controllers and their iPads and where it wasn’t just slides being shown, but the contents of NonStop systems displayed in real time.

Nothing too spectacular, mind you, but with HTML5 messages being processed on the iPad (and on the iPhone) there were no limits to what could be pulled up from the NonStop system and then displayed on the meeting room’s big screen. The point here is this was just another example of terminal emulation on steroids. No special Apple Apps were involved nor were there any Web services being relied upon – any device with a browser could be used but again, even with reliance on the browser, the behaviors and characteristics of the tablet / system dialogue was on par with any of the Apps I was used to.

There’s no magic here in terms of what connections, protocols and services involved. The network was TCP/IP and there was a secure HTTP server supporting the HTTPS protocol. HTML5 messages were passed between the tablet and smartphone and the NonStop server. Can you run this in two, or three tier modes? Of course – with resources available there’s nothing to stop the NonStop server being directly involved as many businesses in the NonStop community already have secure HTTP servers up and running on NonStop!

Going mobile, as we are witnessing almost everywhere we turn, and pulling information from a server including from NonStop really starts out as a simple, logical extension to terminal emulation. The only twist here is that the terminal emulation on your tablet or smartphone is being launched from within your browser rather than being code interfacing natively with the device - and in many ways for that most of us are thankful. Issues like security and ensuring you have the latest iteration of the application simply go away.

Apple may have introduced the concept of an App and many of us may be routinely browsing iTunes for new applications but many in business have issues with this model. If the business logic already in place on your NonStop server already provides you with what you require then picking up an off-the-shelf product such as comForte provides today with J6530 Touch may be all you need. For many companies not only would this represent a good starting point but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all that many of these companies would ever need.

On the other hand, if you have already externalized your applications as Web services via SOAP and XML, consider yourselves ahead of the curve and in a great place to open up NonStop mission-critical applications to any demanding executive wanting to use their iPad to better interrogate the system and to see how the business is performing. And if you are open to the whole Apple apple-store model then by all means continue.

“The question will always be about the business and what is it that businesses are looking to do,” suggested comForte’s CTO Thomas Burg when I raised this subject with him. “Both an App (connecting via SOAP) as well as an HTML5 solution can be implemented as either two, or three, tier architectures.  Three tier architectures are typically more appropriate for high transaction rates and they also offer more tooling in the area of development tools and security. However, two tier architectures also have their benefits such as a less complex environment and not having to worry about the stability of the mid-tier.”

The most important observation that anyone can make of mission-critical applications running on NonStop is that change only ever happens slowly. It’s the nature of CIOs to treat the pursuit of business that is core to the business remaining in business very cautiously and to avoid risk at all costs. For many NonStop users this continues to be all about availability and avoiding becoming the headlines in the morning newspaper. With this in mind I have no doubt terminal emulation will be with us for many years to come and with HTML5 we now have the next iteration of terminal emulation and a logical extension if you like to what we have depended upon ever since the first personal computer arrived.

“I think at this early stage it is very hard to know what is right or wrong but doing nothing is not an option; you will only be left behind,” Burg was quick to remind me. “Do something; make sure you add abstraction layers where possible (SOA / SOAP being one of them); don’t lock yourself into a single technology and let the business requirements continue to drive you.”

Again, nothing new or surprising here and even as I continue to be pleased to see the novel ways in which today’s tablets and smartphones are being put to use, the most pleasing thing of all is that there are people readily willing to support these devices. Many years ago while in South Africa I wrote a post to the blog, Real Time View on my Blackberry even as the hotel lights went out – you can read more of what I experienced in the post of February 19, 2008 “
Out of Africa” - and what I wouldn’t have given to have been able to have access to an iPad.

In its recent publication on the “10 key IT trends for 2012” Gartner proposes that Consumerization will be among the key trends. And by this, Gartner acknowledges that “new application types will be developed to address mobile users but they won’t be desktop replacement applications.” No one would have thought of projection live applications to a hotel meeting room via an iPad and yet, I suspect we are only witnessing the very tip of the iceberg. Burg is right, this time around, doing nothing simply isn’t an option any longer.

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