Iona Brings Component-Based Development to AS/400

In the world of distributed computing, two component architectures continue to vie with one another for supremacy, the Component Object Model (COM) from Microsoft Corp. and the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), sponsored by The Open Group. Until recently, the mere existence of distributed component-based development may have meant very little to most AS/400 administrators, but thanks to the efforts of Iona Technologies P.L.C., AS/400 managers may soon be all agog over the possibilities of COM and CORBA.

In late February, Iona (Cambridge, Mass.) officially announced its Orbix family of middleware products would support the AS/400e platform. Accordingly, Iona positioned its Orbix-on-the-AS/400e as a boon for the IBM midrange platform, indicating that because of the integration with disparate operating environments afforded by its Orbix middleware products, the age of standards-based application integration was at hand for the AS/400.

"By extending Orbix support for AS/400, we are enabling organizations to leverage their IBM AS/400 platform for the creation of integrated enterprise applications," says Clare Dillon, product manager with Iona Technologies.

The premise of component-based development is simple: Using a component architecture, programmers can build new applications by snapping together existing components and objects, whether they've already built them or purchased them discretely or as part of a separate application. Together, these components can work to perform the function of an application. To ensure that disparate components can coexist with other components within an application, developers build components in compliance with an established component object interoperability architecture, such as COM, CORBA or, increasingly, Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB).

Not surprisingly, component-based development grew out of the client/server world, where distributed computing is the name of the game. But component-based development can be a boon to both AS/400 and mainframe development efforts, because savvy developers can wrap "legacy" applications in component shells and link them to newer, "sexier" client/server applications. In this model, the new application itself does not have to know anything about what is under the hood of the legacy application, making it a much easier task to integrate AS/400- or mainframe-based applications with the newest in client/server development technologies.

While many vendors have staked out starkly defined positions in the debate over COM and CORBA, Iona Technologies has been working to bring the two standards together. Although it initially made its mark by introducing OrbixOTM, a CORBA-compliant middleware suite, Iona reached an historic May, 1997 accord with Microsoft in which both vendors agreed to work together to ensure the integration of Iona Technologies' OrbixOTM with Redmond's own Transaction Server product.

Microsoft's support is key in this regard because COM is the default component-based development model on most enterprise PCs, many of which run a Microsoft-based client operating system.

"Anyone who wants to create an application available in a Windows environment now needs to provide some sort of interoperability solution [between COM and CORBA]," agrees Mike Gilpin, a senior analyst in research services with < a="" href="">Giga Information Group.

Given the breadth of Iona Technologies' product offerings, as well as the company's proven track record of interoperability among disparate systems, Tom Jarosh, general manager of IBM's AS/400 division, sees the availability of Orbix support for the AS/400 as a tremendous opportunity for Big Blue's midrange stalwart.

"The arrival of the Orbix product family enables AS/400 customers to take advantage of Iona's support for diverse enterprise IT resources," Jarosh comments. "With the power of AS/400 for enterprise applications, customers can now leverage existing applications and solutions to take advantage of cross-platform best-of-breed solutions."