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The Internet has evolved into an electronic marketplace, and businesses are increasingly realizing its benefits and those of associated technologies -- Web servers, browsers and Java. The next step is to leverage Web technologies so as to deliver mission-critical applications to employees, supply chains and customers. The flexibility and open standards of the Internet are what make intranets and extranets powerful, competitive weapons. Companies are seeing a world in which applications can be accessed by devices requiring nothing more than a Web browser as an operating environment.

While this is all very intoxicating, managing Web applications in a production environment can be sobering. Running applications within browsers creates challenges that must be addressed. To realize ultimate benefits, companies must ensure secure access to Web applications, include Web clients in their overall enterprise system's management initiatives and recognize a true competitive advantage by delivering "smart" Web applications.

Adaptable Web solutions are vital. Successful companies deliver customized views of applications and data via browser based on the type of employee, business partner or customer attempting access. No longer is generic access acceptable; businesses are expected to respond to individuals in regard to their personal requirements. This introduces the "smart" Web application that can detect information about the user, device, connection type and overall runtime environment, and adapt itself accordingly.

Many companies are coding this personalization logic into their Web technologies (i.e., using scripting tools and languages), but while it works, developing and maintaining scripted personalized Web-based applications can be a nightmare. A logical solution is to deliver an infrastructure that manages the personalization across all Web applications by providing services to manage preferences at the specific user, group and ultimate device level and allowing applications to take advantage of these settings.

Web application developers can then focus on coding business logic and let the underlying infrastructure transform applications into "smart applications."

Many companies equate putting applications on Web application servers with exposing their assets to anyone with a browser. They need to set policies so only authorized users can access their mission-critical Web-based applications. The challenge is twofold: delivering applications only to authorized users, and centrally managing policies across multiple Web deployments in a unified manner.

Increasingly, enterprises are deploying multiple Web solutions across lines of business and departments. Each new deployment introduces Web administrators to new or duplicated administration and management schemes, increasing their management challenges. Even companies that deploy the same Web solution throughout the enterprise face the challenge of managing replications of the same user definitions across multiple domains.

The solution is a centrally controlled, unified schema that defines users, groups and systems with a common repository for the information delivered, using Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), which is an emerging industry standard for network directories. Centralized schemas and repositories allow administrators to define policies once, for access by multiple tasks, which reduces their overall cost and complexity of management.

Web clients also introduce new challenges to administrators whose focus is to incorporate them into the overall enterprise system's management initiatives, which ensures reliability, availability and serviceability. Traditional system management tools monitor networks at the specific nodes where agents are deployed, but deploying agents at each node is cost prohibitive and impractical. The inherent flexibility of the Web allows users to be at their workstation or on a laptop, and ultimately on a pervasive computing device (such as PDA or smartphone).

A practical solution doesn't invent a new management scheme for Web clients, but incorporates them into existing management systems. The ability to generate notifications of alarms and events at the Web client and provide awareness of them with centralized system management consoles opens up the previously closed world of Web clients to administrators. The net result is a demystification of activities at the Web client by extending visibility and satisfying a pressing concern for administrators.

Who Delivers This Promise?
These issues are as new as the Web technologies they enhance. While many Web infrastructure vendors claim to develop, deploy and manage Web applications, they fall short at the enterprise level. They deploy and manage at the domain level, leaving the issue of unified management across the enterprise.

The recently introduced eNetwork On-Demand Server from IBM is a cross-platform server-based solution for the advanced deployment and management of Web-based clients. It improves Web-served computing by managing smart Web applications containing information about users, devices and connections -- allowing administrators to centrally manage client applications while reducing network computing and administrative support costs.

As more companies realize the challenges and benefits of Web technologies, new entrants will crowd the field, but IBM is already bringing its years of Enterprise Class understanding to the Web space.

About the Author
Snehal Parikh recently joined IBM as a product manager responsible for enterprise Web serving. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

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