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XML: Article

It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

Last year marked another significant period in the evolution of new technologies. Some of these evolutions reflect the various changes that we've seen in the economy. We saw Web services gain momentum, but skepticism still looms regarding the business models to which they'll eventually apply. XML has been firmly steeped in the very essence of most forms of data exchange via the Internet. At the same time, traditional mechanisms of data storage and exchange, namely the ERP and the RDBMS technologies, still control the real business tier.

An emerging trend indicates a return to plain Web technologies, as opposed to the development of a thick middle tier that would host the business logic for distributed marketplaces. The economy and failed business models of the past couple of years are driving some of these decisions, as the cost of developing the middle tier is high compared to that of developing applications that use plain old Web server services.

On one of my current projects we're dealing with data transformation using XSLT to generate customer catalogs. After going through the painful process of generating several instances of these catalogs, I find myself dealing with another application that strives to use XML in a situation that doesn't warrant it. XSLT is great for transforming documents; however, if these transformations involve the application of several complex business rules to generate the final output, then XPATH and XSLT probably aren't the best tools for the job. Once again we find ourselves with a hammer, looking for a nail.

Once upon a time, when RDBMS ruled the world, we used to store our data in flat tables. Then along came object-oriented languages and a new way of modeling the real world. Soon came object-oriented databases that highlighted the inefficiencies of converting objects to flat tables and then back to objects again. "Why not store data in a native, intermediate format?" developers asked.

For a short time it seemed that the OO vendors were going to provide the next incarnation of data storage. As we've seen, this initiative didn't last long. In the meantime, XML came along as a new, soon-to-be-ubiquitous technology for formatting data. In one of my previous editorials I tagged XML as the saving grace for OODBMS vendors. If you look at the OODBMS vendors of yesteryear (eXcelon, for example), you'll see that they're all XML server vendors.

However, while XML provides an excellent mechanism to format and transform data, it doesn't offer the best form of storage. Several XML vendors with native XML "databases" are currently trying to offer nonrelational storage for data. This is a viable alternative for some forms of data, such as contracts and purchase orders; however, this will never serve as the ultimate storage. In addition, as compared to SQL, XPATH is very tedious and limited for querying the data. Because the majority of the world's data is still stored in RDBMS systems and XML has become the accepted standard for expressing intermediate data formats, most of the major database vendors offer APIs for extracting data from RDBMS storage into XML documents. Finally, a lot of data schemas are still best suited to a relational model.

As the e-marketplace dream of auctions and exchanges has vaporized, the middle tier threatens to be thinner than expected. The majority of business logic is still driven by ERP systems. Again, ERP vendors are providing APIs for extracting documents into XML for intermediate storage and transformation. And, due to recent developments in technology, ERP vendors are exposing a part of their functionality as Web services.

After the last B2B fiasco, it seems that the tiers of a distributed system remain the same. The RDBMS systems own the data. The ERPs own the business processes. And newcomers XML and Web services have settled into their niches - they are the technologies that complete the picture.

More Stories By Ajit Sagar

Ajit Sagar is Associate VP, Digital Transformation Practice at Infosys Limited. A seasoned IT executive with 20+ years experience across various facts of the industry including consulting, business development, architecture and design he is architecture consulting and delivery lead for Infosys's Digital Transformation practice. He was also the Founding Editor of XML Journal and Chief Editor of Java Developer's Journal.

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