Novera's JBusiness

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Version Reviewed: 3.0.1
Current Version: 3.0.1

Cup rating system:
4 Outstanding
3 Good
2 Acceptable
1 Poor

Vendor Info
Novera Software, Inc.
Burlington Office Center
25 Corporate Dr.
Burlington, MA 01803
781.270.4422 1.888.NOVERA1
[email protected]

NETWORK APPLICATION servers are ostensibly ugly beasts, and the trendy rewriting of their sundry portions in Java has often created more issues than it has resolved. Enter jBusiness, a new ambitious offering from Novera written entirely in Java-both on the server- and client-side. This particular server package is geared toward customers who want to address all the management issues inherent in the field while still using a simple platform-independent architecture, free of the hassles from "Middleware."

While its versatility is not so readily apparent with its primitive look and feel, it is still the little things in jBusiness that add up to a very competent tool in an emerging market that is predominantly murky and uncharted.

From the horse's mouth, the principle aim of Novera's product is to simplify deployment and maintenance of distributed network applications down to one set of business logic. Moreover, it accomplishes this using platform-independent technology like Java, while still addressing the complexity of large-scale applications. jBusiness uses the widely supported CORBA and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) to handle the intercommunication of components across the network, although it allows for users to deploy pre-existing applications without any knowledge of these emerging technologies. jBusiness Application Servers can run on any UNIX and NT system, as can the applications they deploy-without rewriting any code.

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Novera's jBusiness is divided into three primary elements that install quite easily: the Application Server, the Management Console, and the Component Development Environment. Of these, only the latter two are actual user programs; the Application Server runs as a Windows NT service (or UNIX process) and is the central hub through which all other built-in programs and user-developed applications will interact. Once the installation is complete, however, configuring the system becomes a bit less intuitive.

Novera provides a sizable cornucopia of PDF and HTML files detailing the how and why of setting up each component and building a secure yet functional network, but the interface itself is often too sparse and tedious to navigate through. The awkward usability is in fact a bane that holds throughout the jBusiness suite. Every action, no matter how minuscule, requires using the menus rather than having a toolbar or utility buttons. Most entered values are not checked for validity, and there are no "browse" type functions for selecting many network functions like peer servers and printers. Seemingly simple tasks often take a blind leap of intuition or a glance at the user guide to carry out. Fortunately, these nuances do not detract from the rich features that ultimately distinguish jBusiness as a strong product: its network flexibility and code-free interface automation. Novera uses the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to implement LDAP over TCP/IP networks. The Management Console has the ability to dynamically configure and receive updates on other Application Servers across the network. It also allows for monitoring any and all client activity occurring via the currently selected servers. There is detailed granularity for controlling user access to specific applications.

In addition to the user-created apps, the system comes with pre-built groupware such as an email client, terminal app, and a file browser. The more savvy developer can also set Load Balance algorithms that control where and how much each application is distributed over a network of servers. A long-term advantage is that all system events are logged into a database, which can be filtered, selectively purged, or even accessed through the API for statistical use.

The Component Development Environment showcases one of jBusiness' most astute features: that of automatically generating CORBA and distributed code for pre-built classes to enable their use across the network through the Novera Application Server. This is accomplished in the Network Wizard, which is really not a "wizard" so much as a sparse panel in which a directory can be browsed for files that can be added to a project with their various attributes. Then, on selecting "build" from the project menu, the various class stubs, CORBA/IIOP interfaces, and management components common to all jBusiness applications are built on the fly. There exists a thorough command-line interface for those who wish to automate this process with scripts.

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The other two wizards are quite similar in form, though a bit less of a work-saver for the developer. The Database Wizard can generate JDBC SQL calls from database schemas but is primarily geared toward servicing applications that are already written for the JDBC packages. The Mainframe Wizard will either prove insignificant for developers who are lucky enough to be without those legacy TN3270 machines in their arsenal or a blessing with its ability to link Java code to recorded shell scripts for mainframe terminal sessions. As is to be expected with Application Server products, however, the real heart of the jBusiness development process is in its reusable Java components. If you are willing to commit to the learning curve inherent with any new API, you can develop from scratch using Novera packages that handle everything from time-sharing to threaded network services. The user documentation for this is very concise and readable by today's standards. Although jBusiness currently lacks any sort of IDE (the Component Development Environment is simply the three wizards), Novera has tentative plans to bundle its packages with leading Java Tools such as Symantec's Café.

In practice, jBusiness will take some time to fully learn and adjust to. Which is not to say that it falls short as a usable product by any stretch of the imagination. Being in a market largely occupied by companies and products that require on-site and long-term training and human support, jBusiness is well under par for the course. After all, these particular products are not toys or simple development utilities. With costs soaring high in the quadruple figures, and functionality that will likely be the heart, lungs, and brain of your business operations, jBusiness will require serious commitment and foresight as with any of its contemporaries.

With the enterprise server world rapidly phasing from mainframes toward UNIX variants and Windows NT, it is encouraging to see products that are also phasing from proprietary and often dead languages toward Java. Because of its multi-threaded and object component capabilities, Java was always more promising as an eventual enterprise standard than just a language for Web applets. As Novera continues to prove its scalability and reliability with case stories, its appeal to developers looking to stick to new and open standards will continue to heighten.

Todd C. Zino works in publications and development at the National Software Testing Laboratories. He can be contacted at [email protected].