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Author's profile photo Alan Rickayzen

Alloy: Composite? Crossover? Or what?

Last month I was lucky enough to rub shoulders with what must be one of the largest and geekiest communities out there – Lotusphere – a hot mix of Lotus developers, admins, integrators and evangelists. And boy that energy is welcome jolt when you’re thinking about what comes next, now that the Alloy announcement is out and the Alloy: Bonding SAP with Lotus Notes.

Lotusphere starts off loud (ESPN bar), gets louder (blue men at the keynote) and finishes even louder (several thousand attendees singing Beethoven together at the end) but there are plenty of quiet moments in between while you brain wrestles with possibilities that your breakfast neighbor/speaker/meet-the-developer-corner is giving you.

For me, that was the most exciting part. We built Alloy and thought we knew what we’d built – but seeing virtuosos demonstrate what you can do on top of it was a bit like a customer picking up the keys to her brand new sports car and driving straight up the sides of a skyscraper. Did we build that? Wow!

Highlight for me was Brent Peters, VP of Lotus development, leading the meet-the-developer session just before close. He stands at the pult, fielding all the questions the 4000 session participants wanted to throw at him (supported by a band of 20 experts in all the different areas of Lotus).  Technical questions from solitary admins, strategic questions from organized communities (iMacs being waved in the air)… you name it. 

One of his answers, (don’t expect me to remember let alone understand the question) mentioned Alloy as an example of how new dynamic capabilities were making their way into the Lotus development environment. At SAP we’re used to that (take Web Dynpro…) but here was something different. At the heart of Lotus is the personal information management (PIM- mail, calendar… ) driving the collaborative information management (CIM? – Sametime, Quickr, Connections) and right in the heart of all this is SAP, courtesy of Alloy.

That’s a far cry from the traditional forms-based approach of building applications using Domino Designer where for years customers and integrators have created forms-based applications that link to a particular configuration of an SAP system, and then struggle to keep that in sync with changing business needs, upgrades and even patches. Alloy is development from within.

So I’m wondering, is Alloy a composite or is it something different? And is there a name for this? Traditional composites (I’m no expert so I deserve to get badly flamed on this) involve choreographing Web Services and juxtaposing a user interface (or generating one) on top of this using the UI technology of choice.  What alloy does is morph two business environments together. It morphs the collaboration software of Lotus Notes (thick client) with SAP business capabilities (thick business requirements) in such a way that they are not just integrated but, well, morphed.

That’s a statement I make based on accompanying the development process development process.

  • Yes, the product could not be built without having SOA support of SAP’s Business Suite (that’s why the Business Suite Enhancement Pack is needed).
  • Yes, the product could only be built successfully with Lotus development and Lotus tools creating the UI (a question of expertise)
  • But No, it would not have worked if SAP had thrown the Service Interfaces to IBM and said “now build the UI”.  

Alloy could only be achieved by morphing the common knowledge of both companies in a tightly coordinated drive. The Alloy UI blends virtually unnoticed into Lotus Notes. The business content, too. But the business behaviour and capabilities and ability to reflect business change is the SAP influence of the UI – something that could not be achieved by WSDL, SCA, even my beloved BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask. You-name-it, signatures and standards alone won’t give you this type of application.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that Alloy is a different breed of software, something like crossover music (little “O”) but by no means middle of the road. Something that really takes IT and those that use it one step beyond.

When I next get some time free for writing, I’ll describe how a Lotus Development Manager showed me on his laptop how he could use other Lotus capabilities to, well, drive Alloy up the sides of a skyscraper and down again without a scratch – figuratively speaking.



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