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Navigating the RIA Iceberg

Businesses using RIAs can now offer their software users an experience surpassing the richest client/server applications

Rich Internet Applications for the Enterprise (Enterprise RIA) can convey multiple benefits to a business, from lower cost of ownership, overall application availability and better security, to tremendous user experience. But these benefits come at a price: complexity and cost. For enterprises and ISVs looking for an efficient way of acquiring RIA-build capabilities, there is now a new breed of end-to-end RIA platforms designed to overcome the limited scope of client-side RIA platforms and the lack of deployment flexibility inherent in cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service solutions.

There's almost no need to mention the enormous number of benefits that Enterprise RIA can convey upon a business, from lower cost of ownership to overall application availability and better security, with tremendous user experience. You're probably already sold. Instead, let's talk about the challenges and how they can be solved. While Enterprise RIA does convey substantial advantages (vital to maintaining competitiveness), these benefits come at a price: complexity.

The Development ‘Wall' - Unexpected Complexity
For enterprises at odds with the concept of their assets sitting in the cloud (implied by Platform-as-a-Service), the only available way of acquiring an RIA-build capability was, until recently, to do it yourself using a toolkit from a Client RIA Platform.

While CIOs may rightly be attracted to the concept of Enterprise RIA and want to experiment and gain hands-on experience in their organizations, they must understand the implications of RIA platforms that are client-side only. Beyond the great-looking rich user interface - let's call it the tip of the RIA iceberg - there's far more to consider. Beneath the surface of the client is a multitude of complex moving parts that can become a major development stumbling block that ends up killing expectations, forcing CIOs to shelve the project and give up on the promised benefits. Bad news if you want to improve your services and give your enterprise the support it needs to compete in the present business climate.

Below the Surface: The Coupling Challenge
A client/server application involves a fairly simple architecture, relying on a permanent connection between the server and the client. With a tightly coupled design, there is no need to explicitly manage or preserve various logic states. Conversely, web applications, which centralize their processing on the server, leave the client essentially decoupled, or loosely coupled. As long as web applications feature short and simple logic processes, and a limited richness of interactivity, they can usually be implemented with standard Web architectures and simple session management. Typically, if you leave a particular Internet session without terminating it, you end up losing your former page and having to start again.

As bandwidth has steadily increased, more resources are now available for web applications, bringing us closer to the level of the client/server or LAN interaction styles with technologies such as AJAX. We see this in apps such as Google with the "Google Suggest" function that brings up popular search terms as you type in every successive letter of your search word into the search field.

But while this may be fine for browsing purposes, broadband Internet is not sufficient for tightly coupled business applications having tens of interactive fields per screen. To get around this limitation, RIAs have to partition processing between the server and the client. so you end up working with two physically separate and logically dependent logic sets running in tandem on both the client and the server. While smarter, the client now requires constant instruction sequences from the server in order to do its share, and to keep the session coherent requires sophisticated state and session management. While traditional client/server apps only needed the skills of a business developer, if you want to develop a non-hosted RIA using a client-side platform, you need to add a system programmer to your team, adding considerably to the TCO of the solution.

The ‘End-to-End' Way
There is now a new breed of end-to-end RIA platforms that can provide a comprehensive answer to this RIA iceberg challenge. They can be used either onsite or as a hosted Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), providing the choice "to be or not to be" in the cloud. The key difference is that this type of platform provides all the parts of the solution - including the hidden part of the "iceberg" - without you needing to develop it separately. Hence "end to end." All that's really needed is to describe the application's business logic and design the compelling user interface, and the platform then takes care of the rest, similar to what the hosted PaaS do - but without being limited to hosting and while giving users the choice in how they deploy.

With an end-to-end solution, navigating the Enterprise RIA challenge was never easier and the rewards never made more sense: businesses using RIAs can now offer their software users an experience surpassing the richest client/server applications, plus the incredible fact that the application is available over an HTTP connection, thus ensuring that employees and partners can use fully functional applications wherever they happen to be. It is a win-win scenario for enterprises, ISVs and their customers.

More Stories By Regev Yativ

Regev Yativ is President and CEO of Magic Software Enterprises Americas. He is responsible for the company’s business operations in the Americas (North America, Canada and Latin America), and is based in the U.S. Before this he served as Magic Software’s managing director in Europe and Japan, significantly growing those regions. Yativ holds a BA from Israel’s Tel Aviv University.

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