Middleware leader Iona takes Java seriously

Find out why Java developers in the enterprise should look at Iona's Orbix products

February 5, 1999 Java developers who bridge enterprise systems together have good reason to keep tabs on Iona, the current leader in middleware technology. At the second annual Iona user conference, Iona World, Iona officials promised great benefits to developers by proving its commitment to Java connectivity and support. Iona also announced the latest release of its Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) middleware product, Orbix 3; the latest release of the Object Transaction Monitor (OTM), OrbixOTM 3.0; the recent acquisition of EJBHome Limited, a UK-based maker of Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) development tools; an agreement with Sun Microsystems to join the Java Community Licensing Program; and more information on OrbixWeb 3.1, the affordable tool that allows Java developers to access applications written in common enterprise languages like C++, Cobol, and PL/1.

C3 middleware architecture

The Dublin-based middleware company offers several products for IT departments and consultants to use when bringing together back-, middle-, and front-office technologies. All of Iona's products follow its "C3" vision of middleware architecture: containers, which provide the specific type of application involved, such as security, transactions, database management, messaging, or naming; components, which serve as the development layer of the model, typically involving Java, C++, or mainframe legacy programming; and connectors, which are large-scale, often proprietary solutions such as Microsoft or Oracle back-end software, like an ODBC database or SQL server, as well as mainframe and minicomputer database applications.

Iona's C3 architecture provides a model for any

The C3 vision may give developers the impression that Iona's products are easy to use and implement, but even David Clarke, director of research and planning at Iona, admits that implementing middleware -- from any vendor -- has never been easy.

"Most promises by middleware vendors are overblown," Clarke explains. "Most developers assume that you can either fire up vi or emacs and create your own solution or install a magical application out of the box that takes care of everything. The truth is that successfully implementing middleware is somewhere in between, and Orbix is therefore a work in progress." Iona users agree that Orbix doesn't make impossible things easy -- it just makes them possible, Clarke says.


Following the C3 architecture model, OrbixOTM 3.0 fully integrates Java -- the component -- into the container by supporting Java Names, Secure Socket Layer (SSL) V3.0, Object Transaction Service (OTS), Java management libraries, and the interaction of Java with OrbixEvents (the implementation of the CORBA Event Service Specification) and Orbix Wonderwall (Iona's CORBA-compliant firewall access control). Specifically, this means Java developers can use multithreaded Java names, Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP), typed events, the Java management graphic user interface (GUI) and Interface Definition Language (IDL), both client and server transactions, and more. Skilled Java developers could, in less than a year, set up a robust and customized e-commerce transaction system with the reliability of a legacy system on the back end and the convenience and flexibility of Java-based administration on the front end.


Iona's commitment to serving the Java development community was sealed by its recent partnership with the Sun Microsystems Java Community Source License program and its acquisition of EBJHome Limited. If you're familiar with EJBHome, you already may have downloaded its EJB development kit, which is provided at no cost to the enterprise development community. Iona officials promised to keep EBJHome's Web site up and running and to continue to provide its free products to the public. In keeping with the "pure Java" model of Java development tools, there will be no EJB application protocol interfaces (APIs) to contend with, nor the need to work with foreign IDLs. Currently using Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI), Iona developers are working on getting EJB to run encapsulated in Orbix over the Internet. Full EJB integration into the Orbix line of products is expected in April.

How Java fits into the big picture

Support for Java in Iona's products will only increase, according to Annrai O'Toole, chief technical officer at Iona. O'Toole sees a massive shift from using Java to develop client-side applications to using it to develop server-side applications, which he believes is the "second wave" of Java development.

O'Toole explains, "I predict that Java will soon become the server-side application programming language of choice." He also believes that Java is currently and will continue to be the GUI development language of choice, which makes OrbixWeb ideal for accessing to existing back-end systems using IIOP.

Scalable solutions

Iona offers several solutions depending on the needs and budget of a company. Companies with very complex system-integration challenges will benefit from the main Orbix product.

CreditSuisse, one of the top 50 corporations in the world, faced such a challenge with a plan to set up worldwide secure Internet banking that would allow, for example, a customer in Brazil to open and manage an account in Switzerland entirely over the Internet. CreditSuisse has an existing PL1 legacy application on a mainframe that has been working reliably for years; in order to leverage this system, the IT developers used Orbix to bridge it to a Java-based client that customers could easily access through a Web page. CreditSuisse was able to deploy this project within one year.

Orbix costs anywhere from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars for use with legacy technology, which comes complete with consultants and training classes.

"Ninety percent of the problem is writing the infrastructure," O'Toole explains. Using Orbix allows developers to focus on the remaining 10 percent, which is the "fun stuff": customizing the enterprise solution to a company's needs.

OrbixWeb is a much more affordable solution; at 00 per developer license, even small business operations can fit it into their budgets. OrbixWeb helps bridge three-tiered forms-based applications together. While companies can integrate a rather simple system without OrbixWeb, developers may be enticed by its money- and time-saving potential. If the middle piece of the three-tiered system is a database, for instance, then OrbixWeb can be used to serve more users without upgrading or purchasing more database licenses and servers. It also can allow different types of access to different clients without relying on the limitations of the database application.

So far, developers are pleased with OrbixWeb. Paul Turner, director of western region professional services at Genesis, a transition management and enterprise component architecture company, is using OrbixWeb to transition one of his client's C/C++-based systems to a peer-to-peer, fully Java-component-based architecture. Turner says that until the release of OrbixWeb 3.1, the product was at times frustrating due to various bugs. These bugs, says Turner, have been eliminated with the release of 3.1, except for one annoying problem: the failure to systematically deal with spaces in names, identifiers, and strings. OrbixWeb follows the traditional Unix approach to dealing with names, which means names generally do not contain any spaces. If OrbixWeb parses a space, it simply truncates the string following that space. Since developers increasingly are relying on Microsoft Windows products -- which often encourage the use of spaces in names and strings -- this simple design oversight can create a lot of frustration. Turner gets around the problem simply by avoiding the use of spaces altogether. "Other than that, I'm happy," he says.

The affordable OrbixWeb product provides an intuitive interface for managing Java within a middleware structure. Click for full size image 42K.

Turner had looked at Iona's leading competitor, Visigenic (now owned by Inprise, the company formerly known as Borland), and its VisiBroker For Java product to bridge together Java and CORBA. Genesis's client, however, decided to go with OrbixWeb. Since Inprise recently acquired VisiBroker, however, Java/CORBA developers may be pleased with VisiBroker's compatibility with Inprise sister products, such as JBuilder, C++Builder, Delphi, and InterBase, as well as integrated support for the Java Transaction Service (JTS), SSL, the VisiBroker Gatekeeper firewall access control, the OS/390 mainframe environment, and the Inprise AppCenter, an application management tool for CORBA-based enterprise systems.

Third-party support

Java development leaders recognize the importance of Orbix-compliance in their products. Symantec provides support for Orbix in its Visual Café for Java Enterprise Suite product. The Orbix features are not part of the default installation, however; users must, at no additional charge, install two separate components after Visual Café is on the development system.

Some developers might even say that Iona technology is "meta-middleware," meaning that system integration consultants and product manufacturers use it invisibly in products for their own clients.

Progress Software is another company that seamlessly uses Orbix in its products. Progress implemented Apptivity, a visual development environment and component framework that relies heavily on Iona technology, in Yahoo!'s personalized advertising vehicles. Neither Yahoo! nor Yahoo!'s users care that Orbix is anywhere in the system, explains Peter Chang, manager of Apptivity systems engineering. A good way of telling that you've used Orbix properly, then, is if your customers are completely unaware of its existence in their systems.

According to Iona officials, the company currently is the world leader in middleware and CORBA products. This claim in and of itself doesn't say much, though, because the area of middleware development is relatively new and there isn't a lot of competition. With that in mind, Iona admittedly has had the difficult task of designing architecture and applications that make it possible to connect any one type of object to any other, involving such complex tasks as maintaining security, sending and organizing transactions, messaging, and more. Within a short period of time, Orbix and other Iona products have swiftly become the middleware products of choice among midsize and large IT organizations, and with Iona's increasing commitment to Java, Java developers cannot afford to ignore the potential of its products.

An 11-year veteran of the Internet and former Internet technology consultant, Mariva H. Aviram is an independent writer covering the high-tech industry. Mariva's published works include articles in C/Net, NetscapeWorld, and InfoWorld. Mariva is also the author of XML For Dummies Quick Reference, published by IDG Books Worldwide in May 1998. For more information, visit http://www.mariva.com/.

Learn more about this topic

  • General information about Iona http://www.iona.com/
  • Information about the Iona World conference http://www.ionaworld.com/
  • Specific information about OrbixWeb, including an overview, information on Orbix Wonderwall, real world projects, white papers, and pricing and availability http://www.iona.com/info/products/orbixweb/
  • Search or browse the Iona knowledge base for information on Orbix, OrbixWeb, Wonderwall, OrbixOTM, OrbixOTS, OrbixNames, OrbixEvents, OrbixSSL, OrbixManager, GUITools, and more http://www.iona.com/online/support/kb/
  • Free Enterprise JavaBeans support and information at EJBHome http://www.ejbhome.com/
  • Read about Symantec's partnership with Iona http://www.symantec.com/press/n980831b.html
  • If you want more information about CORBA, an excellent jumpstation is the CORBA and OMG Information Resources Web page http://www.acl.lanl.gov/CORBA/
  • Find in-depth discussions and explanations of the Java-CORBA interface in the January 1999 edition of Application Development Trends -- read the "CORBA in the Age of Java" features http://www.adtmag.com/
  • Start with Max Dolgicer's "CORBA and JavaMarriage or just serious dating?" http://www.adtmag.com/pub/jan99/fe101b99.htm
  • An excellent white paper (available in print form only -- contact Oracle) on incorporating Java in the enterprise is Rakesh Dhoopar's "Deploying Enterprise JavaBeans in the Oracle ServerManaging Your Database Environment," published in January 1999.
  • Get more information about Iona's products at the Iona WebStore http://www.iona.com/online/webstore/
  • Check out Iona's main competitionInprise VisiBroker http://www.inprise.com/visibroker/