The Object Management Group (OMG) standards body is promoting its model-driven architecture (MDA) as the way to insulate enterprise applications from the evolution of web services standards.
MDA is the first complete integrated development environment standard created by OMG, and accommodates systems that operate across multiple companies, which is the primary focus for web services.
Andrew Watson, OMG vice president and technical director, said: "MDA is the solution to a problem we've seen over the last two years created by the move towards web services.
"Early adopters and visionaries with middleware do not have a future-proof way of developing applications for interoperating with partners."
The architecture separates the specification logic from the specific middleware or operating system that is used to implement it.
It builds on the well established OMG standards of universal modelling language (UML) for application design; XML metadata interchange for storing and exchanging UML models; and Common Object Request Broker Architecture, the widely-used object-oriented middleware standard.
German-based modelling and development company Interactive Objects was the first to implement an MDA standard integrated development environment.
It demonstrated version 3.0 of its ArcStyler product at last week's European Object Oriented Programming Fair in Munich, and will release it in March.
"MDA attacks the problem of web services still being a primordial soup that will change rapidly," said Richard Hubert, chief executive at Interactive Objects. "It also solves the Tower of Babel of different operating platforms and languages for in-house systems."
He explained that the UML design is automatically generated into the appropriate middleware by an ArcStyler middleware cartridge, for instance Java 2 Enterprise Edition or XML plus Cobol on Microsoft .Net. When a standard was updated a replacement cartridge would be slotted in.
Tim Jennings, research production director at analyst Butler Group, said: "I think MDA will be widely adopted because it is technically neutral and its UML aspect is very widely adopted.
"But it needs a wider range of tools [than those so far offered by Interactive Objects] and some may be reluctant to add another layer into the development process."
He added that web services was a classic example of where to use the MDA concept.
"It is really impractical to use web services inside the enterprise," said Watson. "Since the early 1990s organisations have used middleware more and more, but the detailed requirements are different [to web services] and you can't really recycle them."
But web services middleware is designed to cross boundaries between companies with loose coupling between the communicating applications.
Ironically, early trial implementations of web services have been in-house, partly because appropriate security standards are missing at present.
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