Put to the Test: Nexaweb Enterprise Web Suite 2.0 - InformationWeek

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2/11/2008
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Put to the Test: Nexaweb Enterprise Web Suite 2.0

This clean, uncluttered development platform is purpose-built to deliver enterprise-class rich Internet applications, mash-ups and composite apps. Is it elegant in its simplicity or just plain simple?

For a relatively new and small company like Nexaweb that has chosen to make enterprise software development its domain, the concern isn't about the elephant in the room, it's about living in the elephant compound. The elephants are, of course, industry giants such as IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, companies with gargantuan stacks of software development products and services. Nexaweb is not going to compete in the stack business. However, it does have advantages such as not having a legacy to accommodate, and there are plenty of viable industry standards to use as building blocks.

When you investigate Nexaweb Enterprise Web Suite 2.0, you get a sense that it was created de novo by a group of smart people who studied the requirements for building robust, rich-Internet-application-style enterprise applications (like plenty of scalability, security, and data access), and who considered the available standards and commonly used tools (Java, JavaScript, Ajax, XML, SOA, etc.) They then set about piecing together what they viewed as a simpler, consistent, mostly familiar, and efficient whole. It's an ambitious undertaking, not yet fully realized, but already distinguished enough to warrant (and get) attention from enterprise shops.

PROS
• Uncluttered, unified suite doesn't suffer from the piece-part, grab-bag syndrome common to many legacy portfolios..
• Data framework approach supports a wide variety of external data handlers in JSP, JSTL, Struts, XSTL, or MVC.
• Pre-built components are geared to Web 2.0, rich Internet application, SOA and mobile applications.
CONS
• Implementation of the Eclipse Workbench lacks polish.
• Lacks some of the well-integrated, feature-rich application management machinery available from big competitors.
• Some might interpret the desirable simplicity as a lack of depth.

Keeping it Comprehensible

Compared to most of the competition, Nexaweb manages to look uncluttered. For starters, there is no bewildering array of products; Nexaweb sells the Nexaweb Enterprise Web Suite, and for practical purposes, that's it. The suite has two pieces: Nexaweb Platform, which is the deployment and management framework for Nexaweb applications, and Nexaweb Studio, an Eclipse-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for creating the applications. It's possible to create Nexaweb apps without Studio — a function of Nexaweb's consistent use of standards — but you'd lose much of the efficiency of working within the Nexaweb platform.

I tested the Nexaweb Platform in three server/hardware configurations and found the installations to be smooth, requiring surprisingly little post-install tweaking. Some of this is probably the result of using standards, coupled with relatively tight control of client, communication, and server. These key elements within Nexaweb are easy to describe:

Universal Client Framework — Despite the name, this isn't all things to all developers, but it does make it possible for developers who prefer Java, JavaScript, or Ajax to work on Nexaweb apps. The hitch is that they must learn Nexaweb's declarative language, NXML (Nexaweb XML), to produce the UI and wrap the other code. Adobe does something similar with its MXML; using an XML derivative has advantages in an environment where it's important to modify code on the fly. In Nexaweb's case the DOM (Document Object Model) houses the NXML and provides the commands for the local browser.

Internet Messaging Bus — For client/server interaction HTTP leaves much to be desired, such as the ability to do data-push or publish-and-subscribe. Nexaweb includes the Internet Messaging Bus (IMB) as its way of providing these features and guaranteeing reliable messaging. Nexaweb keeps it simple, for example riding the http channel through port 80 so that it can be instantly compatible with most firewalls.

Enterprise Data Services — The server side of Nexaweb is a Java Servlet residing in a J2EE Application Server. I tested it with Apache Tomcat 5.5, JBoss AS 4.0, and IBM WebSphere Application Server 6.1 and found the combinations easy to install. As advertised, Nexaweb plays nice in the J2EE environment and allows the normal access to the available services. For data access, Nexaweb provides its own services using either JDBC or SOAP/REST, beefed-up with support for large datasets, clustering, and failover.

An interesting innovation is the use of Nexaweb XML to first create the data presentation UI and then, through a data framework plug-in, asynchronously handle the data going to or from the client. Ajax works this way and users find the approach more responsive. The data framework approach also makes it possible for Nexaweb to support a wide variety of external data handlers in JSP, JSTL, Struts, XSTL, or MVC. Nexaweb's Enterprise Data Services do most of the setup for delivering data to the client-side data framework, such as converting data to XML or POJO format.

If these key elements are the enterprise beef, the sizzle is Nexaweb's orientation toward Web 2.0, RIA, and services-oriented architecture (SOA), which is to say that many of the pre-built components are meant for these kinds of applications.

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