WaveMaker ports graphical development to the cloud

The advent of software as a service has been a mixed blessing for IT executives. On one hand, by allowing business users to provision applications without the involvement of IT, SaaS has relieved a degree of pressure on the IT department’s time and resources.

At the same time, that loss of involvement can be seen as a threat to the IT department’s ability to secure, manage and integrate business-critical data.

But even before this quandary has been resolved, it looks like it may be about to intensify, as a new class of cloud-based software development tools promises business users the ability to develop their own custom applications with minimum input from IT.

WaveMaker is one example of this new class of tools. CEO and founder Chris Keene compares the product to PowerBuilder, a graphical development environment popular in the 1990s that allowed users to build applications
by dragging and dropping boxes in a window.

Indeed, WaveMaker was born when the former CEO of the company behind PowerBuilder, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mitchell Kertzman, approached Keene with the idea of “PowerBuilder for the cloud”. “We started three years ago to build that vision,” explains Keene, also something of a Silicon Valley veteran having sold his former company, Persistence, to Progress Software in 2004. “The spec was really to create a very easy-to-use, high-productivity development platform for cloud computing.”

WaveMaker uses a similar drag-and-drop interface to PowerBuilder but adds the ability to deploy the application to a cloud computing platform, whether that is an internal, private cloud or one of WaveMaker’s public cloud partners, which include Amazon, Rackspace and IBM.

The typical users, says Keene, are “business developers, power users, people who are not necessarily web development experts but who want to be able to develop web-based systems”. The platform is best suited to building form- or data-driven applications, he adds, which accounts for the majority of business requirements.

WaveMaker is not the only company that links a graphical development environment to cloud computing platforms. Microsoft’s Visual Studio, which uses a similar drag-and-drop interface, now natively supports
the software giant’s Azure cloud computing platform.

One point of differentiation from Visual Studio and Azure is WaveMaker’s open source nature, says Keene. The product, which is free to download but with paid-for support and an ‘enterprise edition’ available, is itself based on open source Java development tools.

“That gives us a lot of leverage,” says Keene. “We find a lot of adoption in government, where they like to use open source and get commercial support if and when it is required; and we get a lot of adoption from enterprises, where they’re looking for development platforms based on open standards.”

WaveMaker customers include US retail giant Macy’s, which has used the tool to build a customisable front-end for its internal online reporting systems. “Macy’s has a number of custom reports, but they would need a developer to provide the appropriate parameters,” Keene explains. “They used WaveMaker to build a front-end to that reporting system and now any Macy’s employee can use it.”

Other customers include technology consultancy SAIC, which uses WaveMaker as an alternative to training employees up on the vast array of web development technologies. “They found that getting developers up to speed on WaveMaker is much faster than getting them up to speed on the technologies you need to build web applications.”

But while it does have uses for software developers, Keene hopes that WaveMaker will help to extend the ability to build cloud-based applications beyond the development profession. “We believe that the real transformational aspect of cloud computing is that people who today couldn’t imagine deploying web applications will be able to do so on the cloud,” he says.

That includes business users within companies. “This is the logical extension of SaaS,” says Keene. “SaaS allowed business units to buy functionality without having to go through IT, but the functionality they could get was modular: it was either CRM or finance, etc.”

“Cloud computing development platforms allow business units to provision their own custom functionality as easily as they provision something like Salesforce.com,” he adds. That could be just the thing to unlock the productivity of the business or it could be yet another nail in the coffin of the IT department’s dominion over business systems. It may well be both.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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