At first glance, AJAX may seem best suited for consumer-facing applications. Google Maps, Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site, and Amazon.com's A9 search engine are all fine examples of how AJAX can add some glitz to a Web site's UI. For enterprise applications, however, it can be difficult to see how AJAX can provide enough real benefit to offset the risks involved in adopting a new, complex form of Web development.
But IT managers should be careful not to write off AJAX completely without a deeper look. Indeed, the same technologies that can add fun to consumer apps also have a serious side. And as a handful of companies have already found out, that side can be one that greatly benefits IT when tapped correctly.
The IT team at Tupperware Mexico, for example, first turned to AJAX when it tried to implement an online ordering and inventory tracking system that mimicked one built by their counterparts in Australia. The Mexico team, however, found that it didn't have the resources to run the application.
"We have only one T1, one server," says Liborio Longoria, technology manager at Tupperware's Mexico sales office and plant. To make matters worse, the T1 has to handle the traffic of 40 to 50 internal users simultaneously, plus that of dozens of distributors trying to log on to the system.
So, when Luis Derechin, CEO of AJAX development tool vendor JackBe, called out of the blue and told Longoria about AJAX, the harried technology manager was ready to give it a try.
AJAX encourages developers to split Web pages into compartments of data that can be refreshed independently of the entire page, and to write applications that act on data within the browser rather than on the server. After all, why should a browser ask a server to run a simple task when the browser has enough processing power to do the job itself? The result is that considerably less data and display information has to travel over the network.
Within months of starting to use JackBe's tools, Longoria's team had a system that ran efficiently on just one server. "I think our customers are happy, or at least satisfied, with our service," Longoria says. "We do order entry, billing, account receivables, promotions, inventory -- and we get 200 orders per week, per distributor, sometimes with all of them in the system at the same time. The reply still is good."
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Best of both worlds