"We can take matters into our own hands," says Tom Lantry, the Web team leader and technical product manager for the Apache program at Union Pacific Railroad, an operating company that's part of the $11.9 billion Union Pacific Corp. in Omaha, Neb.
The Apache servers are the front end for most of Union Pacific's major customer applications, including car tracking, car ordering and billing. These applications and the company's intranet run on BEA Systems' WebLogic servers, and Union Pacific is integrating its existing Microsoft Windows NT Server and mainframe applications with the Web servers and gradually converting its mainframe applications to browser applications.
While Union Pacific's switch to open Web technology has indeed liberated its developers, it's frustrated them at times, too. A custom module written to solve one problem can sometimes trigger another: When developers testing the Web applications in a lab tried to access applications on the intranet--including one that traces new Union Pacific vehicles, which required user authentication--they got "page cannot be found" errors instead of the application. That's because the proxy servers written earlier by the IT team to support the two versions of WebLogic on Union Pacific's servers were automatically changing their user IDs and IP addresses to server IP addresses.
"So when the request for the application went back to WebLogic, it couldn't authenticate to it," Lantry says. The application servers didn't recognize the altered IP address, user and host names, so you couldn't access the applications.
Union Pacific had to write a custom Apache module that makes sure the correct user, host and IP address information shows up instead. "You have to know how to code for Apache," says Lantry, who wrote the module. "It's pretty involved."