How seriously do you take your infrastructure? Are you worrying about it too much as opposed to too little? The infrastructure in question isn’t the straightforward hardware and networking base, which, thanks to commoditisation and open systems, is much easier to change and improve than previously. What we have in mind here is the more crucial software and services infrastructure you depend on.

On the one hand we have all those young Turks out there feverishly cooking up Web 2.0 – a move which has implications for all sorts of IT people. At the other end of the same spectrum, we have the major City institutions that haven’t upgraded some of their core banking systems since they were developed in the 1970s.

Buzz words

But back to Web 2.0. If terms like tagging, mashups, Representational State Transfer (REST) and site names like Del.iciou.us make you think of cakes not social networking, chances are you haven’t engaged yet with this whole Web 2.0 thing. If so, don’t stress – the concepts aren’t that hard. The basic message is that we are moving from a static web – of catalogue pages and documents – to a dynamic web, one based on applications. Of this, web services are going to be just one element since application program interfaces (APIs), as ways to link sites and data, are proving just as popular.

An example of the former is some of the work Amazon is doing. It is making it as easy as possible for third-parties to set up online sites that basically are Amazon.com but tailored by the middle man.
For example, you go to a website to buy a new flat screen TV, work through the system which is all Amazon technology, then the guy takes a cut for getting the business through his particularly pretty or local access point. An example of the API approach is the more off-beam site like www.chicagocrime.org. Map data is being mixed up with local police reports to create an interactive display of what crimes have been reported where.

All interesting stuff but is it all just hobbyists amusing themselves? A responsible CIO must take the longer view. It’s at this frontier that new technologies, like microformats – a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards – are being trialled. If a more interactive web starts happening, then your marketing staff and younger customers will soon start wondering why your site doesn’t do the same.

Potentially this could have real implications for a web and IP-based infrastructure as well as any web services initiatives you may be planning.

Built to last

The CICS/Cobol programmer who wrote many a big bank’s core banking system probably didn’t have anything like a long term view when he sat down with that shiny new mainframe way back when. Yet so precious has that intellectual infrastructure proven to be that CIOs dare not mess with it all these years later. Actually, they do and have: witness 30 years of spaghetti code additions and overlays so that the Y2K process barely had any impact in practical terms. The result is a systems ‘architecture’ people just add on to randomly. “Let’s squeeze that CRM in here or how about bunging an online banking application in that space?” That makes it sound a perverse waste of time when the reality is those systems are so critical that replacing them is impossible, unless you really do fancy a lung-heart transplant while at work.

Few organisations will have been as hemmed in as the big banks though and have less of an excuse for preserving code well beyond its sell-by (or effective maintenance) date. Packages and other ways to ‘modularise’ the problem can be of great benefit here.

We asked if we are worrying about this too much. The answer has to be for most organisations Web 2.0 is not a critical issue as yet – but where you are with core systems almost certainly is. When the last Baby Boomer programmer retires you may think back on that statement with some chagrin.

Web 2.0 is not a critical issue as yet – but where you are with core systems almost certainly is.