This is part 3 in a series of posts publishing extracts from a forthcoming Adobe whitepaper – see the first entry in the series for background information and links to the other posts in the series.
Whilst we might think that RIAs are enabling an entirely new category of application – delivering desktop-like experiences over the web – within the enterprise environment there have already been numerous approaches to providing the mobile workforce with access to the same line-of-business applications and enterprise data used by office-based employees. The excerpt from the whitepaper below highlights the issues often experienced with these existing technologies and outlines the advantages that Rich Internet Applications provide when organisations need to provide remote access to corporate data and systems.
In the next post we’ll take a look at some of the development considerations and best practices that should be followed so as to ensure successful deployment of a RIA within an enterprise.
The value proposition of RIAs compared to existing technologies
“RIA technology has not arrived in a vacuum. For years, users have been trying to access corporate data and applications from remote locations such as the home, hotels, or on the road. Developers are always looking for new and better ways of delivering applications and improving functionality.
For many organizations the move towards RIA is an extension of their existing outreach through web-based applications and is driven by a need to reduce the cost of supporting users whether they are office-based, mobile, or home workers. Supporting these users has not been easy with existing technologies.”
Virtual Private Networking
“Companies frequently employ a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow users to connect securely to the corporate network and access applications and data. VPNs create a secure link between the user and their office by encrypting traffic sent over a public network.
With VPN tunnelling, the challenge was managing access from hotels, which have often charged more for IP addresses that would allow the use of VPNs. Then there was the technology itself, which often differed from one security provider to another, forcing companies to rip and replace hardware to get a working solution. With the introduction of Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPN, these problems have been largely eliminated, but not every company uses SSL VPN or has a single provider of firewalls or security products.”
“Thin clients, which run the application on the server and keep the data on the corporate network, are another widely deployed option. Access is through a web browser to a remote desktop inside the office.
Thin client technology has been successful in many areas, but it is difficult to size servers appropriately, leading to performance degradation. In many cases, load-balancing clusters, which can be both expensive and technically challenging, are required. A more important issue is the limitation of the types of applications that are suited to this approach. While many promote thin clients as personal desktops, in practice, the shared processing and resource space means that graphic intensive applications and those with large memory or processing requirements are often difficult, if not impossible, to access via thin clients.”
Web applications and portals
“Web applications and portals were designed to make life more flexible for the IT team and to take advantage of near universal access to the Internet. While eliminating overhead of installing applications locally, web applications and portals come with a loss of the rich functionality that desktop applications possess.
Developing web applications and portals that behave consistently across different browsers and browser versions has been another struggle.
Response times and performance depend heavily on the ability of the server to manage the number of users and their requests. Security is an even bigger challenge. With the number of malware threats constantly on the rise, there is a persistent risk of usernames and passwords being captured and of infected data being sent to the server. These threats show no signs of subsiding even though there are now standard security approaches in place.”
“Remote desktops through the use of virtual machines (VMs) are the closest to a controlled desktop. The first challenge here is getting users familiar with the technology and the fact that the remote desktop is different from the local desktop. Also, because the remote desktop is a client on top of the local desktop, deployment is limited to machines that can run the VM client and have sufficient memory and processing capability. There is no synchronization capability for remote desktops meaning that they have to be copied to protect them. This takes time, as the size of a VM is substantial. While in the office and connected over the LAN it is not too onerous, but for mobile users synchronization with corporate computers is impractical. Using USB devices opens up security problems and puts the data stored on them at risk. Until providers create a viable synchronization technology this is not a remote-user-friendly solution.”
The RIA advantage
“The limitations of all the approaches listed above have understandably delayed the adoption of new technologies. Rather than embrace technology, many users find themselves shaping the technology, something they don’t have time for. This has a cost implication for the business. If users are unsure about an application or if the perception is that it hinders rather than helps, they will not use the technology.
If the application has problems with stability or there are differences between the user interface depending on how the application is accessed, then support calls increase as users look for features that are either missing or in a different place. All of this has a financial impact on the business, including wasted money and time in the development process, increased support costs, and lower productivity.
RIAs provide a way to deal with the problems of these earlier approaches. They use local processing resources in the same way as a traditional desktop application while eliminating the desktop application’s biggest problem: frequent patches and changes.
RIAs are lightweight and delivered on demand, just like web-based applications. The UI components available to RIAs make them more intuitive and useful than traditional web applications. There are no large files to synchronize, as with VMs, and the local processing removes the resource problems of thin clients.
By allowing users to combine RIAs in their own workspace, the flexibility of portals is achieved with the advantage of cross-platform support and the ability to use local processing and memory. The local cache allows key data to be downloaded and stored, accelerating form input. Data can then be synchronized in burst mode, creating short bursts of network traffic, reducing the effects of network latency which can slow web applications.”