Will Java emerge as the architecture of our e-commerce future? Spurred by the phenomenal growth in Web-based transactions, the e-business community is searching for a model that will both simplify development and support the massive volumes and complex transactional requirements of an enterprise-class Web operation. It's a serious challenge, and one that is producing a number of truly extraordinary results.
In our most recent series of WebWorks columns, we discussed the relative advantages of using various TP monitors and object broker technologies to build and manage e-commerce sites. But no discussion of enterprise information systems would be complete without addressing what many see as the foundation of our e-business future Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs) and the Java Application Server.
A Java World
Java is, of course, the object oriented programming language running under the "write once, run anywhere" paradigm. Originally created to program small household appliances, Java has evolved significantly, now running on millions of Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) and providing a portable, scalable and increasingly popular foundation for Web development.
Java employs reusable bits of code called JavaBeans which developers combine with application logic code in a Java interactive development environment (IDE). Commercially available JavaBeans provide various e-commerce, user interface or security functions; and developers simply drag and drop various components to assemble a JVM-compatible application.
Now an entirely new form of Java solution, called Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), is reshaping the way companies approach the development of complex Web sites and e-commerce systems.
Enterprise JavaBeans extend the Java interface to the multitiered environment, using pre-developed JavaBean components to support server components running in an application server. An element of Sun's Enterprise Java platform, the EJB approach supports application development in an object oriented, enterprise-class architecture.
In many ways, the individual EJBs function much like services in the TP monitor environment or like objects under the CORBA architecture. The EJBs contain business logic and create a seamless, optimized execution environment between clients and server-side applications such as databases, security and directory services, CORBA and TP monitors. EJBs give developers access to a standard set of Java APIs and can be used to control database connectivity, state management and complex electronic transactions.
New Application Servers
The Enterprise JavaBean approach delivers much more than mere functionality. Because while individual EJBs are performing their designated tasks, the EJB technology also creates a very potent and flexible application server solution. Much like the way in which ODBC created a vendor neutral-layer between clients and databases, Enterprise JavaBeans deliver a high-level translation layer for Web-based e-commerce systems.
Sometimes called a Java-enabled Web application server, the Java application server combines existing OLTP solutions with newly created distributed object technologies to deliver a very powerful, scalable execution environment for Web-driven applications. The Java application server maps remote services and components into this rich local runtime environment.
In the Java world, clients invoke applications using the native Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI) interface. RMI currently transfers requests using the Java Remote Method Protocol (JRMP), and in the future will support the industry-standard Internet InterORB Protocol (IIOP). So clients can talk to server applications using CORBA IDL or COM/CORBA running over IIOP, through a rendered ActiveX control or from a browser via a servlet running on an HTTP server. And more ways to invoke Java applications are being developed all the time.
Java application servers have, in effect, combined the robust capabilities of the Web, advanced database systems and network-ready software. The result is an environment that is ideally suited to support the challenging requirements of high-volume, distributed, mission-critical Web and e-commerce applications.
Many industry observers now see in EJB a more elegant and practical solution to the challenge of building an e-commerce site. By managing and "hiding" many server-side issues, the Java application server environment measurably reduces the complexity of developing e-business enterprise applications. This reduces the time and cost of Web development efforts and allows developers to focus on creating more efficient and productive business logic.
Because the EJB approach employs standardized APIs that are essentially platform-neutral and vendor-independent, companies can fully leverage their existing enterprise services and infrastructures. Enterprise Java also delivers truly impressive portability. A company that currently uses Oracle/Encina could, for example, migrate to a new system and automatically use Orbix/Tuxedo without the need for complex and costly porting.
The Enterprise JavaBean technology provides a high-throughput, scalable architecture that is ideally suited to meet the needs of enterprise-class applications. EJB can support multithreaded and multiprocessing systems and can be scaled easily by adding components to a distributed, multitier system.
By separating middleware from business logic, the Java philosophy vastly simplifies portability, interoperability and application maintenance. Vendors are now also supplying application servers in a growing range of configurations. Some are designed to provide very basic Web-based performance, while others are written for high-level, high-volume integration projects that coordinate distributed transactions across multiple back-end systems.
Java must still overcome certain technical hurdles and the not-insignificant resistance of Microsoft and other competitors. But given the clear advantages of this solution, Java may well emerge as the core technology of the e-commerce revolution.
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