IBM Makes Pitch for Enterprise Java with V4R3

The V4R3 release of OS/400 spotlights the AS/400 as a premier Java enterprise application development platform.

The new version features tuning improvements to the AS/400's integrated run-time Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and an updated Java Developer's Kit (JDK), new visual components in the AS/400 Java Toolbox, beefed-up Java servlet support, and updated San Francisco application business framework support. With this upgrade, IBM officials are practically betting the future of the AS/400 on Java, and the enhancements to OS/400 are designed to let more AS/400 developers use the platform as a Java application server.

"We think the AS/400 provides the reliability and scalability that UNIX and NT do not, and this release of OS/400 makes it an easier target for Java developers to access the platform," says John Quarantello, IBM's AS/400 Java marketing manager. "AS/400 developers will be migrating to Java over the next five years to create Web-enabled applications for the Internet, intranets and extranets. RPG and Cobol are not going away, but developers are creating more and more new applications using Java."

IBM threw its considerable weight behind the Java language in February's V4R2 release, with native support for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and Java Development Kit (JDK) on the AS/400. In V4R3, the Java Development Kit (JDK) is now compatible with Sun's JDK 1.1.6, and this, along with improvements to the integrated JVM, will allow Java applications to run up to 50 percent faster than they did on V4R2, explains Quarantello.

With V4R3, the AS/400 Toolbox contains JavaBeans that offer users visual components for developing database applications. The Toolbox provides pre-built graphical user interfaces to ease the task of building Java applets for SQL querying executed through Java Database Connectivity (JDBC).

IBM has also made V4R3 compatible with version 1.3 of the reusable Internet-enabled Java-based application business framework known as San Francisco.

According to Quarantello, the San Francisco framework provides "up to half the code for many mission-critical applications, such as accounts receivable and general ledger. That means our business partners don't have to deal with the operating systemís plumbing, but can instead concentrate on adding flexibility to their applications."

Steering Java Development to the Server

IBM took a bold step toward legitimizing server-based Java when it developed its JVM specifically for the AS/400 architecture, based on the Java specification rather than on Sunís own JVM, says Gary Mullen-Schultz, a Java consultant with IBM's Partners in Development program.

"Sun's JVM was not originally designed to do server applications, and the company has more recently begun to address that, but the AS/400 JVM was designed from the ground up for server-side Java and OS/400," he says.

The enhanced Java servlet support in V4R3 is a logical next step, allowing developers to move Java application logic from the client to the server. Recently, the lionís share of Java development was "fattening" the client, continues Mullen-Schultz, thus going against the grain of one of the tenets of Java's thin-client model.

David Andrews, managing partner at D.H. Andrews Group in Cheshire, Conn., says IBM "did the sensible thing" by including the JVM within OS/400's machine code.

"That, combined with the AS/400's 64-bit architecture, gives them a huge performance advantage over many platforms because any code that arrives at the hardware will automatically run in native mode. No other vendor can claim that," says Andrews. "The disadvantage of developing their own JVM is that they have to update it in a timely fashion as Sun updates the Java specification, but IBM has the resources to do that, and they've done it in V4R3."

He adds that the AS/400 is ready to run Enterprise JavaBeans components -- reusable Java components that handle common low-level software tasks such as sorting transaction priority and interfacing with TCP/IP --as they are introduced.

"The race is on to support server side Java in the form of Enterprise JavaBeans, and with OS/400 V4R3, the Java infrastructure is in place. IBM has an incredible opportunity with the AS/400 if Java becomes the most popular language for building enterprise applications because they'll offer the best performance of server-side Java," Andrews says.

D.H. Andrews Group will publish a report for IBM next month called "Perfect Together," explaining why the AS/400 and Java fit together so well.

IT staff at AS/400 shops with Java applications already in place agree that the server's horsepower alleviates Java's performance problems and centralizes troubleshooting and application management.

"When the meat of a Java application is on the server, we can put the thinnest client possible on our desktops as a Web browser on a Windows PC," says Gary Lagarde, senior technology specialist at Reynolds Metals Co. in Richmond, Va. "In addition, we can use Java components to call existing RPG programs so they can be reused. Also, if there's a security break-in there's only one place that you'll find it, which means quicker resolution to the problem."

The company provides database access to its AS/400 servers via a Web browser to provide information to internal users and external customers. Lagardeís group has been testing Java on the AS/400 for the past 18 months.