EJB and CORBA go hand-in-hand

Love and marriage. Peanut butter and jelly. Enterprise Java Beans and Common Object Request Broker Architecture.

One of these things may not be like the others, but according to the Object Management Group (OMG), Sun Microsystems Inc. and a slew of application server vendors, the CORBA and EJB standards simply go together.

Worried by a lingering misconception that Sun’s EJB, a standard-in-progress meant to help developers write distributed, object-oriented business applications in Java, and OMG’s CORBA, designed to help objects operate in heterogeneous environments, are in competition with one another, the Object Management Group held a press conference earlier this month to demonstrate that the two standards work hand-in-hand.

“It’s our contention that an application server (for example) is exactly defined by a system that uses EJB and CORBA, and offers those services to the ISV and the end user,” said Dr. Richard Soley, chairman and CEO of the OMG, an organization founded by software vendors, developers and end-users to promote distributed computing.

“[The standards have] the business benefit of allowing you to build new interfaces to legacy transaction systems and other assets, especially Web front ends.” The standards also let users take advantage of services that the enterprise already runs, he added.

Because Java provides portability through its “write once, run anywhere” mandate, and CORBA provides interoperability, the two are a natural fit, Soley said.

Edward Cobb, technical director with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based BEA Systems Inc., said his company’s application server hinges on the two standards.

“The key thing about interoperability in terms of a Web application server is you need not only a programming language that provides portability…but you need an infrastructure that enables interoperability and transferring of information between instances of these applications.

“Java is the ultimate portability object model standard, and CORBA is the ultimate object model standard.”

BEA is not the only vendor relying on the two standards. Paul Harmon, editor of Component Development Strategies, a newsletter geared to the component development industry, said a recent survey of 12 commercially-available application servers revealed that all of them support CORBA.

Though CORBA and EJB don’t compete with one another, the two standards may find themselves competing with Microsoft Corp.’s evolving Microsoft Terminal Server (MTS) and Component Object Model (COM), Harmon said.

“But even here I don’t think there’s too much of a contest,” he said, since those running in a strictly Windows environment will naturally favour MTS and COM, while those in heterogeneous environments will be more attracted to EJB-CORBA.

MTS is Microsoft’s distinct take on the application server, which includes several features taken from Windows NT, including transaction, messaging and directory functions, as well as COM.

While CORBA and EJB may indeed be the dominant platform for application servers, Sun, OMG and application server vendors will have to prove to developers that the two standards can help the enterprise run more efficiently and clear up the confusion that obviously surrounds them, said Karen Boucher, executive vice-president with IT research firm The Standish Group in Dennis, Mass.

“At this point, the vendors are really hot for EJB, but we don’t see a stampede of users coming and asking for servers that are EJB compliant,” she said. “You hear a lot of talk about corporate-wide interoperability, and it’s a lovely concept…but the fact is, CIOs are busy people [and] they have certain projects that have to get out, and they’re not thinking of interoperability of this grand corporate-wide solution, because they just can’t do it.”

The idea that CORBA and EJB compete can partly be attributed to Sun, which initially may have wanted to reinvent all the functions now handled by CORBA. Sun has since retreated from that position, and supports what Boucher calls a “natural synergy” between the two standards.

Boucher said the application sever market is still young, and despite the impressive number of vendors doing work in the field, “none of them have really matured enough to the point where they’re appropriate for mission critical applications.”

That should change in 2000, when more serious application server contenders emerge in the market, she said.