Three for the e-commerce road
- By Jack Vaughan
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 neutral."
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 said.
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,"
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 enterprise deployment."
Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.