EJBs on the AS/400: A Thriving Market Segment

In recent years, IBM Corp. has placed a great deal of emphasis on the AS/400 as a premier Java platform. In keeping with this philosophy, Big Blue has endorsed the Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) specification as the unifying application model and delivery server environment for all IBM platforms. As of this time, however, the computer giant has not yet shipped an EJB-compliant Web application server solution, promising to do so by Q4 1999.

In the interim, a number of vendors have capitalized on Big Blue’s tardiness by releasing EJB Web application server solutions of their own.

The EJB specification defines a transactional, distributed, protocol-neutral, multi-tier component architecture for running server-side business logic written in Java. An EJB server ensures platform neutrality by automatically handling system-level services such as security and object persistence and managing connections with EJB components running on the same or other servers.

According to Dave Butler, VP of marketing with Novera Software Inc. (www.novera.com), EJB support can add tremendous value to an organization’s investment in the AS/400 platform. Novera Software is publisher of j/Business, a distributed application management framework that works in conjunction with a Web application server to create Enterprise Business Objects (EBO). EBOs are standards-based, reusable software components that are endued with EJB and CORBA support and LDAP-based security and management characteristics and which integrate with Web application server platforms.

"We see customers that have AS/400s running both medium- to large-scale business departments, and what’s nice about Java and EJB is that they work with these existing platforms, and customers don’t have to change their underlying AS/400 applications, which are based on a different language and very tightly integrated with the AS/400 platform," Butler explains.

Bob Bickle, a senior VP of product marketing with Bluestone Software Inc. (www.bluestone.com), agrees. Bluestone Software publishes Sapphire, a Web application server solution that features support for EJB. According to Bickle, enabling EJB as an application distribution and development model on the AS/400 makes the venerable IBM system a more attractive design platform for developers.

"What really makes [Java and EJB] catch on in the long run is the fact that software vendors who want to go cross platform can go with Java as their language, and then with EJB the AS/400 becomes an attractive platform because it becomes just one of the many platforms on which these applications could be supported," Bickle says.

For its part, Big Blue has been unequivocal about its endorsement of EJB. In October 1998, for example, IBM unveiled a broad set of EJB-related plans for its WebSphere family, positioning EJB as the gluing technology that will facilitate and unify application design and delivery across IBM’s different product lines. "EJB will be the unifying application model and delivery server environment for the WebSphere family," said Nigel Beck, program director for marketing management for IBM’s WebSphere product line, at the time.

The EJB solutions of both Novera Software and Bluestone Software have thrived in the absence of a commensurable offering from IBM. This may soon change, however, as Big Blue is expected to introduce EJB support into its WebSphere family of Web application servers by Q4 1999.

While Novera Software’s Butler and Bluestone Software’s Bickle acknowledge that IBM’s absence has created a window of opportunity for their respective companies, both insist that the appearance of an EJB-enabled WebSphere environment won’t spell the end of third-party EJB server solutions.

"We’ll solve specific problems better than will IBM, and not only do we offer an EJB server, but the EJB's that we produce can actually run with other EJB servers," Bickle maintains. "If IBM customers become enamored with the WebSphere EJBs, our EJBs can actually run in [the WebSphere] EJB server and provide a solution for those customers. We actually provide a synergistic path for what IBM is doing."

Novera Software’s Butler is equally as pragmatic. "Our strategy is that we partner with products like WebSphere and other Web application servers in that we add value on the back-end," he explains. "j/Business is actually an application integration complement to the WebSphere product line, and we take care of the application integration problems in the enterprise and then provide a quick way to connect to WebSphere in other environments."