Introduction It’s a jungle out there! Fueled by the ever-increasing demands of sophisticated IT organizations for better ways to deliver more and more applications to their users and by a historically high level of innovation by software vendors large and small, a whole raft of new application delivery strategies, technologies and specific products have appeared over the past few years, with more arriving seemingly on a weekly basis. Some are refinements of existing tried-and-true concepts, others are more revolutionary in nature, and all are competing fiercely for your attention and adoption as an IT decision maker. The problem is that, taken individually, almost every one of these products may appear to offer a unique and all-encompassing approach to application delivery unrelated to any other, and their authors understandably make little effort to dispel that notion. You therefore find yourself faced with the false dilemma of committing to one product and to the strategy that it represents, praying that the technology provider’s belief in the universal applicability of its product turns out to have been deserved, both now and in the foreseeable future.
The reality is quite different, and it will be the goal of this article to present a simple framework into which all modern application delivery strategies can be placed. Furthermore, by breaking down each strategy into its constituent elements along three independent “dimensions”, the article will attempt to support the claim that not only do the various strategies (we identify 12 of them) share certain underlying characteristics, but also that the addition of a relatively small number of technologies to your existing IT arsenal is sufficient to take advantage of every one of the identified strategies without fear of limiting your ability to tackle each application delivery challenge in the most appropriate manner. Part II of the article will address specific criteria that can be used to decide which of the ingredients described here should be combined to arrive at the optimal strategy in each situation.
Before we get into our “Dimensions of Application Delivery”, now might be a good time to define what we mean by application delivery. We start from the premise that, leaving aside back-office functions (automated customer statements, etc) and server-side components (mail servers, database servers, etc), the primary and most visible function of a modern IT organization is to provide its end-users with access to individualized combinations of specific job-related applications or, said differently, to give them the ability to use said applications. This we equate with delivering applications, a neutral term that is meant to imply nothing about where the applications run, how they get there, how the user interacts with them, etc.
So, with these preliminaries out of the way, let’s carefully step into the jungle and start making sense of the elements that make up an application delivery strategy.