Dominic Main | 3/05/2007
Beverly Head’s recent article in the Australian Financial Review investigates the impact that Web 2.0 orientated business interests and models will affect the IT infrastructure demands placed on chief information officers.
The article cites insights by IT experts currently working with Web 2.0 driven IT architectures, who assert that Web 2.0 requires a change in attitude and approach at multiple levels. At the level of the technology implementation itself – and specifically the tools employed for building on-line Web 2.0 applications – the sea-change is said to involve the adoption of low cost open systems such as the Linux operating system, Apache Webs Server, MySQL database, and Web programming language PHP1.
The accompanying comments in the article, regarding the tentativeness of CIO’s in adopting such technologies (referred to using the acronym LAMP) for implementations, references issues that may not be transparent to non-IT specialists.
Open systems are the foundation for many high profile on-line Web sites and portals. There are a significant proportion of Web sites the world over hosted on Apache Web servers and many sites are developed using PHP. However, the open systems in question are often either non-commercial or produced by non-commercial organisations – and this can sometimes make CIOs and managers nervous. Their quality can be exceptional but often they sometimes come with limited or no commercial guarantee or backing, ergo the mention of increased risk in Ms Head’s article.
Another perceived element of risk for busy CIOs relates to the technical support available for such systems. It is sometimes not available in commercial packages. Support for some open systems relies on voluntary contributions by anonymous technical specialists located all over the world. Although there is certainly copious (sometimes commercially published) documentation for open systems, it is sometimes produced by many volunteer authors who are widely geographically distributed. There are usually no bundled training courses and CIOs must rely on talented specialists practiced in the ‘art’ of open systems to perform the work and handle the security and robustness issues.
There are different varieties of open systems too – some are more commercially attuned than others.
The article quotes specialist Tam Vu, CIO of Seek, as describing structured databases as not “sufficient to meet your needs because this is highly unstructured content” 1. This reflects the same understanding that led to the development of XML or extensible markup language – a markup ‘meta’ language that enables the handling of voluminous text based content of widely varying and frequently changing formats. It’s a kind of ‘rapid response’ technology for storing and manipulating content. New content feeds often come thick and fast in contemporary Web implementations, and Web 2.0 requires flexible information storage.
It’s probably not so much that structured databases aren’t up to the task. After all, one quarter of the LAMP platform is MySQL – a structured relational database system. It’s more that structured databases usually take longer to design and build than XML content feeds – and with Web 2.0 and on-line content time is very much of the essence.
Curiously, the article seems to conclude that whilst Web 2.0 CIOs will have to change strategy in such a way that they accept more ‘risk’, they will somehow have it slightly easier than traditional CIOs. This seems paradoxical, especially since the demands upon Web implementations in terms of schedule, security, accuracy and turn around are also just as demanding – if not more demanding – than for ‘traditional’ architectures.
References and Further Reading
1. Head, Beverly. "CIOs Must Seek a Balance between Old and New Worlds." Australian Financial Review Tuesday, 17 April 2007.
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