One of my customers recently initiated an expenditure tightening excercise. They had clear goals for a reduction of operational expenditures. While this particular excercise did not cut directly into the BI project I’m architecting for them, they have taken a comprehensive look at their web site infrastructure.
This customer had always been willing to pay for labor saving software, and it appears they own about one of everything from most vendors. Interwoven, ATG Dynamo, JRun, Oracle, Oracle AS, Veritas, Red Hat, Windows Server, IIS, etc. When they took an earnest look at how much of these high powered applications were costing them they realized they weren’t leveraging the features of the applications to warrant their ongoing upgrade/support.
All seems logical and straight forward to this point right? No huge gaps in common sense, yet. The technical architecture steering group put forth a philosophy to move off of vendor (closed source, purchased software) to more straight forward, simple, free software when appropriate for the situation. Still, there is no common sense alarms yet.
The web development team decided they wanted a general, flexible way to build and deliver content to their various web pages spread across several internet properties. Prepare to cringe — they decided to build, from the ground up, a web application framework. I’ve been around the block when it comes to web applications (I developed my first Java delivered Web Application in 1998 with the original Servlet API) and there have been great advancements to the way developers build apps on the web.
Approximately 80% of what one web site does, there are 10000 that are doing something nearly identical. Display some content, all over the page. Content can be varied formats from rich media to tabular numbered data. Which content displayed might vary by certain rules (time of day, user viewing, scheduled for that section, referring page, etc). Nearly all forms are identical from the GUI perspective, including a handful of wizards for step by step processing and error checking (or just a wizard with one page, the most simple form). There is usually some interface for business users/non techie types to manage the content of the site. None of this will sound foreign to you — it’s nearly standard for every website ever built. Which is why…
There are MANY MANY open source web application frameworks available to accomplish nearly all of heavy lifting for the most common 80% of website requirements. There are so many of these projects (because it is so common and so many developers are aware of this) that there are even projects to evaluate the projects. Some of the frameworks and APIs are considered rather mature (Tapestry, Struts, JSF, Cocoon)
I’m not an expert on these packages… I haven’t even used them on a real production project (too busy these days building BI systems). However, as most open source projects are, the most useful and most mature are the ones that are borne from developers resenting having to rebuild the wheel on project after project.
Given the state of the availability and maturity of these frameworks one wonders why IT departments would still be trying to roll their own. In my humble opinion, I’d take 100,000 lines written by 100 people working part time than 100,000 lines written by 1 person working full time. I urge IT departments to give the research of open source and yes, even vendor packages their due diligence when developing their TCO and ROI evaluations.
From what I can see, the wheel is good enough. Remember, perfect is the enemy of good enough!