Sun, OMG building EJB-CORBA platform for app servers
The Object Management
Group (OMG) and a band of key vendors have moved to build specifications
for a standard
application server platform that should hide complex "plumbing"
issues from corporate users, software suppliers and systems integrators.
According to OMG officials, the standard platform will incorporate
the OMG Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and the
emerging Enterprise JavaBean (EJB) component model created by Sun
Microsystems Inc. with a little help from the International Organization
for Standards (ISO) and Java allies like IBM and BEA Systems Inc.
CORBA and EJB both promise portability across multiple platforms.
EJB carries that Java "write once, run anywhere" promise,
while the OMG object request broker is used to integrate multiple
systems. Together, said Richard Soley, chairman and chief executive
of the OMG, EJB and CORBA create a system that is "language
neutral, operating system neutral, machine neutral and platform
Though many observers had expected CORBA and EJB to compete for
corporate mind share early on, the OMG plan has the backing of Sun,
the prime architect of EJB specifications. EJB could have stood
alone as a component standard, but the coupling with CORBA enhances
it significantly, said Anne Thomas, an analyst with Patricia Seybold
Group, a Boston-based consulting firm.
Thomas noted that Sun has never planned to build a substantial
EJB infrastructure, deciding to limit that work to RMI, "a
simple mechanism for distributed processing in a Java world."
CORBA extends interoperability to far more systems than RMI, she
Stu Stern, director of Sun professional services for the North
American field organization, said his group views "CORBA as
a lower level protocol, but it is an excellent technology for getting
from one process to another without having to worry about the underlying
technology. There are a lot of issues that CORBA doesn't provide
out of the box, and EJB can take care of that."
The obvious target of the combined effort is Microsoft's COM+ component
architecture, though OMG and Sun officials downplay any competition.
Even some experts note that two component standards are inevitable
-- Microsoft for Windows-only sites and CORBA-EJB for heterogeneous
high-end sites. "Most of the companies I talk to don't even
compare the two," said Paul Harmon, a prolific author on emerging
technologies, senior consultant with the Cutter Consortium, an Arlington,
Mass.-based consulting firm, and director of education and communication
with Genesis Development Corp. "They either use MTS because
they are all Microsoft, or they use EJB and CORBA for multiplatform
systems," he added.
A CORBA-EJB marriage is a natural progression for an
application server business that continues growing at breakneck
speed, said Harmon. "The two technologies [CORBA and EJB] are
complementary. If one of them wasn't created, the other would have
to create it to fulfill the promise," Harmon said, contradicting
an early though quickly fading perception that EJB and CORBA are
competitive. "CORBA and Enterprise JavaBeans are not competing
in the application server market. It's just the opposite -- Enterprise
JavaBeans wouldn't work right without CORBA."
Observers note that most of today's application server
systems are or soon plan to incorporate both CORBA and EJB technology.
For example, Inprise Corp.'s VisiBroker 4.0 ORB offering, due out
this summer, will implement CORBA 2.3, IIOP and an EJB layer sitting
on top of the full product, said Andreas Vogel, a strategic technical
advisor at Inprise. "When we look at CORBA and Enterprise JavaBeans,
we saw that the two things coincided very nicely," he said.
"CORBA is a good technology for implementing EJB. It's a very
good fit from our perspective."
Iona Technologies Inc., Cambridge, Mass., is already at work integrating
its ORB and Enterprise JavaBeans, said Senior Product Manager David
Clarke. The project has not been as difficult as anticipated, he
said. "There has always been synergy between the EJB standard
and the CORBA standard," Clarke said. "We're building
a CORBA container and finding it easy to host EJB."
Observers say the two models must continue on the integration path
in order for both to survive. "I believe there's only room
for two server-side component models," said Vogel of Inprise.
"There will be COM+ for the Microsoft side, so there is room
for one more component model." Vogel predicts that the second
model will incorporate Java and thus EJB. "While EJB and CORBA
are the contenders here, EJB has all the mind share. I believe that
CORBA components will become a subset of EJB, adding features for
Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.