2002 Year in review

The enterprise wireless explosion and effects of open technologies and standards on industry strategy will have long-lasting effects.

WITH THE END of 2002 in sight, many in IT will be heading into 2003 happy to put this palindromic year in the rearview mirror. Still, this year offered up some important tech advances: wireless and pervasive computing exploded; edge computing and edge applications often took center stage; and XML and Web services wove themselves further into the enterprise, impacting everything from IT integration plans to EAI vendors' strategies. Meanwhile, open source and open standards changed the way IT leaders considered their infrastructure, and the concept of virtualization took hold in the storage industry while attracting attention from other businesses.

From here, 2003 still looks like a shiny, new opportunity -- and we expect the technology trends of 2002 to be the foundation for what's to come.

Pervasive computing

News perspective: Adoption of wireless technologies within the enterprise made significant strides in 2002. The concept of pervasive computing has unfolded as handheld devices, wireless networks, and mobile infrastructures and standards have proliferated.

In the infrastructure space, BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems rolled out technologies in anticipation of increased enterprise spending in 2003. BEA's WebLogic 7.0 application and Web services server is the technology that handheld suppliers such as Palm will use to convince businesses that mobile devices can connect to back-end data services.

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Meanwhile IBM's middleware for mobile devices, WebSphere Everyplace Access, received significant upgrades in 2002, promising mobile applications on handhelds and handsets that can mimic their desktop counterparts. Microsoft shipped its .Net Compact Framework along with Visual Studio .Net, giving mobile application developers the ability to have a single Web services platform for distribution across all enterprise devices.

The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) had a big year, welcoming first Sun, then Microsoft into the fold as J2EE, J2ME, and .Net became recognized as standards for mobile application development. When Comdex rolled around in November, OMA declared itself to be a standards body and published its first eight wireless specifications.

While wide-area deployments are waiting in the wings, WLANs came into their own in 2002. The IEEE approved a new security specification, 802.1x, a fix to the static WEP (Wired Equivalency Protocol) debacle -- and it didn't hurt that Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco quickly adopted and deployed the standard in their products. The 802.1x spec was followed by an interim specification, called WPA (Wireless Protected Access), from the Wi-Fi Alliance industry group.

The arrival of the 10GbE (10-Gigabit Ethernet) standard was also a significant milestone this year. After three years of work, the standard arrived along with 10GbE components, LAN and WAN switches, and test equipment. Extreme Networks, Cisco Systems, and Foundry Networks raced out new switches in 2001, but really didn't see much uptake until last year. Soon to join the crowd is 3Com, which will unveil its first 10GbE switch early in 2003.

Test Center perspective: "Pervasive computing" is one way to identify them, but these networking elements are really better described under the rubric of "ubiquitous computing."

After all, 2002 was the year that Gigabit Ethernet became a commodity, 10GbE networking moved off the show floor and into the racks, and 802.11b wireless networking took off. This last item leads us into our final element of ubiquity: the handheld device, whether a PocketPC or a no-longer-simple cell phone. No matter how you label it, the future of computing is in constant access to networked resources.

But the implications of these developments make for an interesting year to come. Consider how quickly copper-based GbE has become affordable -- even standard, if you've bought a Mac lately. Finally, desktop PCs can get enough bandwidth to make video applications convenient and useful.

Although most of us will be plenty happy with a gigabit connection, 10GbE is quickly becoming the standard for metropolitan networks. Four years from now we'll likely be writing about the commoditization of 10-gigabit technologies.

Between desktops using gigabit networks and, soon enough, servers capable of 10-gigabit speeds, wired networks have a long future ahead of them. But the exciting aspects of pervasive, ubiquitous computing are wireless networking and the ever-expanding universe of handheld devices. Wireless networking now encompasses the familiar 802.11b specification, the quirky but sometimes faster 802.11a category, and coming soon, the even faster 802.11g. Handheld devices are the excuse for much of the boom in wireless networking, of course.

With all of this computing ubiquity, the grid can't be far behind. The idea of depending on ubiquitous computing services in the same way that we count on dial tones or electricity can only be possible through persistent connections to high-speed wired networks and increasingly faster wireless nets.

Open source/open standards

News perspective: While open-source technologies did not completely loosen the iron grip of proprietary technologies in 2002, CTOs began to seriously examine the potential of open source. Most of the attention focused on Linux development and on several industry organizations devoted to creating open standards around Web services.

"With upper management really focusing on driving costs down and ROI, buying strategically into something like Linux [wasn't] such a radical idea at the end of the year," says John Pike, a LAN administrator at Iams in Dayton, Ohio.

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Linux got off to a fast start early in the year at the annual LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York. Hewlett-Packard chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina gave a keynote promising aggressive support of Linux and other open-source technologies; IBM announced Raptor, the first Linux-only mainframe; and Computer Associates rolled out over 20 enterprise-class products supporting the open-source operating system.

Sun continued its public feud with IBM over which Linux strategy was more practical and cost effective, promoting its distributed strategy over IBM's mainframecentric approach. The company early in the year delivered a raft of Linux-based products including its iPlanet Application Server for Linux.

Another driving force giving open standards some much-needed direction was the formation of the Web Services Interoperability Organization, whose charter in part is to set development standards around key building blocks including XML, SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL.

The consortium, which now has well over 100 supporters including IBM, Microsoft, HP, and Intel, failed to attract Sun as a supporter in disputes over political matters, although the company may join as a board member through elections early in 2003.

Earlier this year a top IBM official predicted that the widespread adoption of open source and open standards would lead to open-source grid computing, which will shape a host of IT strategies. By end of 2002, IBM gave its grid and autonomic technologies and strategies structure by announcing its On Demand Computing initiative.

HP and Sun also advanced their utility computing initiatives with the rollout of their utility computing model and the N1 strategies respectively. By year's end, some observers felt HP still had a lead over its two rivals in the area of utility computing and that Sun had a more credible story with the server virtualization and manageability concepts of N1.

Test Center perspective: Today's roster of leading OSS (open-source software) players looks a lot like yesterday's list of the corporate evil-doers the movement would overthrow. The same can be said of the leadership of relevant standards bodies; there are fewer academics and more captains of industry.

You could say these movements have sold out to corporate interests. You could also say they've grown up and realized that caped crusaders have to pay rent, too.

To say you're "open" these days is to invite deep and immediate scrutiny not just from activists, but from a standards-savvy IT community as well. It takes enormous effort to overcome the accumulated mistrust the OSS and standards communities hold for large corporations.

The company most famous for making openness work as a business model is IBM: It sells network storage appliances built on Linux, and it makes sure third-party Linux distributions run on almost all the hardware IBM sells. IBM garners respect by giving its inventions to Linux (not all of them, but enough) and being frank about Linux's limitations.

IBM warns customers that Linux doesn't scale well beyond eight processors and it lacks the availability and reliability that IBM's mini, mainframe, and Unix operating systems have had for generations.

But, thanks in part to IBM, Linux's list of shortcomings keeps getting shorter. IBM's cautious staged deployment of Linux throughout its own enterprise and its product line is a prototype that any IT operation of scale should study.

In just a couple of years, Apple reversed its historic commitment to closed platforms and embraced OSS and standards to a degree that could shame even IBM. Almost everything in the Mac OS X Server operating systems is published as Darwin, a unique cross-platform blend of the Mac kernel and the BSD 4.4 operating system. Apple kept the GUI and application framework components for itself, but those bits are easy to replace with open code.

The standards community, meanwhile, is adapting to the realities of patents. The granddaddy of standards bodies, the W3C, toyed with and wisely abandoned a policy encouraging the enforcement of patents on contributed technology.

However, intellectual property issues are taking center stage at the W3C and other standards groups. The definition of "open" is once again in flux. It won't be resolved until IT pressures standards bodies to set consistent limits on the encumbrances contributors can attach to their submitted technologies.

Web services/XML/SOAP

News perspective: In 2002, Web services advanced on two major fronts: development of tools to extend Web services functionality and standardization of the back-end plumbing required to make Web services work.

Yet deployment of Web services is viewed as being in its infancy.

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Google and Macromedia released technologies intended to make Web services more Web-friendly. Google in April released Google Web APIs service, which uses SOAP and WSDL to enable developers to query more than 2 billion Web documents accessible from the Google search engine via their own computer programs, according to the company.

Macromedia's ColdFusion MX moved ColdFusion from a proprietary application server to one that works with J2EE application servers and makes it easier to develop Web applications and services.

The new version of the software allows script writers, rather than developers, to create Web services and applications.

Also from Macromedia this year was Macromedia Flash Remoting MX, for building rich Internet applications and enabling developers to access Web application services such as EJBs, Microsoft .Net components, ColdFusion components, or SOAP-based Web services.

Web services made inroads with standards, but work remains to be done in areas such as choreography, the interaction between Web services for applications such as e-business, and in security. Competing proposals on choreography were offered in 2002 from IBM, Microsoft, and BEA Systems, which partnered on BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services), as well from Sun Microsystems, with its WSCI (Web Services Choreography Interface), which curiously also is supported by BEA.

For enterprise application vendors, 2002 was a year of warding off Web services' threatening potential; with Web services, enterprises could build composite applications by cherry-picking vendors' offerings while tightening internal suite integration.

SAP launched a new generation of cross functional applications (xApps) designed to run across multiple existing applications and information sources, driving end-to-end processes across heterogeneous systems. PeopleSoft fired back with AppConnect, a suite of pre-integrated portal, integration, and warehouse solutions leveraging Web services to reduce integration costs.

Meanwhile, EAI tools, business process management platforms, and messaging middleware took the stage, while newer technologies including Web services, JMS (Java Message Service), and proposed standards such as BPEL4Ws got breakthrough roles as facilitators of simpler integration.

Best of breed companies also maneuvered to embrace Web services to make their wares easier to integrate to back-end systems. Siebel and Microsoft, for example, announced a new agreement to integrate Siebel 7 e-business applications with Microsoft's .Net enterprise server family.

With the economy stalled, IT executives sought more ways to leverage their existing systems by tying together disparate applications and automating business processes.

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