Wrappering Technology Takes Flight Via Williamsburg

Taking a page out of American history that signifies both survival and success, SEAGULL (Atlanta) has announced its "Williamsburg" development project, a plan to develop component-based access to host applications through CORBA, IIOP, XML and Enterprise Java Bean support.

Just as the Williamsburg area of colonial Virginia witnessed first the initial colonization of the United States and later decisive battles in the Revolutionary War, SEAGULL is hoping its Williamsburg project will launch a middle-tier layer of Web-based IT. The Williamsburg project is expected to result in wizard-like tools for "wrappering" CICS, MQSeries 5250 and 3270 programs.

The process of wrappering enables objects to be executed on the host, while a layer of API (Application Programming Interface) is placed around that object, making it "callable" in an object-oriented world, according to Kim Addington, SEAGULL's senior VP of marketing. SEAGULL obtained the technology to make wrappering a reality through the company's acquisition of ObjectShare Inc.'s PARTS for Java development technology in early April.

In essence, SEAGULL is taking host information and putting a wrapper around it with an appropriate API, and now it's available to their own application or other people's applications, says Brian Kalita, senior analyst with the Aberdeen Group (Boston).

"By putting in an API that's generically available to other services or applications, wrappering technology takes away the proprietary nature of objects and provides them with a handle that anything can grab," Kalita adds. "What happens is that people build objects, and those objects are components tied to a given kind of application."

SEAGULL categorizes its development today as host-centric e-business enablement, "where you're taking host systems performing key business processes and making them available in new ways via a digital nervous system," according to Addington. "Increasingly, users are looking to take core business processes -- like placing orders and collecting payment -- and incorporate them in to e-business applications. What you really want is quick application assembly, in direct response to what your marketing, sales or product management people are telling you to do. Java and object technology are going to be the enablers for this."

With the Williamsburg project, SEAGULL is keeping an eye on the emerging middle-tier environment, between the desktop level and the back-end host level. At the top of this paradigm is the desktop level, comprised of what Addington refers to as a "volatile" mixture of Windows, Java, XML, Network Stations, etc. "What we're wanting to do in e-business today is provide access in new ways to the core systems at the base of the paradigm," she says. "What’s emerging in the middle is the mid-tier, the plumbing that provides access to the back-end without affecting host code." Application servers, enterprise application integration and security packages are some of the technologies falling into this middle-tier.

"If you can bring business processes from that base tier into the middle-tier as objects -- which are easily combined with other objects -- that deliver new applications to users, that's where our customers want to go," Addington says. Wrappering, the primary underlying technology of the Williamsburg project, is one aspect of enabling this mid-tier.

For SEAGULL's plans to fly, the user interface needs to be thin client and produce a low-bandwidth data stream. SEAGULL's JWalk product, Addington points out, already delivers this thin-client, low-bandwidth requirement. "We want to leverage our expertise in that area to help people build user interfaces for object-based applications," she says, pointing out that as companies look to service the broadest spectrum of end users, not everyone has a fat-client Windows PC on their desktop.

"Increasingly, you've got Network Computers (NCs) and browsers," Addington continues. "The design has to keep in mind thin-client and fat-client users. The footprint has to be small. Java, for example, is very fat and very processing intensive and very high bandwidth. We're realizing that Java is perfect for the middle tier. It's not so great for the client."

According to Addington, the "beauty of network computing" is that each layer -- back-end, middle and desktop -- can be optimized independent of the other layers. "For most business applications, as we move forward over the next five years, it is most desirable to have an easily downloadable thin client and a very efficient data stream," she says.

SEAGULL's acquisition of ObjectShare's PARTS for Java delivers to the Atlanta-based provider of developer tools and specialized server software a number of new assets, including an experienced Java development team and advanced Java development technology.

Under the terms of the agreement, SEAGULL receives all rights to the intellectual property for PARTS for Java and predecessor products, along with products currently in development to support Enterprise Java Beans and legacy code wrappering. ObjectShare (Irvine, Calif.) is expected to retain the right to independently sell the current commercial versions of PARTS for Java and predecessor products, and continue to provide all maintenance and support to licensees.