IBM’s New Component Model

Component development is today’s Holy Grail, just as object technology and CASE were the sacred relics of IT development cycles past. Component development appears easier to achieve than the previous saviors of applications development, especially with today’s evolving message-oriented distributed systems architectures. The promise of greatly increased programmer productivity, code and component reuse, application consolidation, and plug-in/plug-out would be wonderful for enterprise budgets and plans. However, the roadmap for achieving enterprise application-class component development is by no means self-evident. A traditional partner for such projects is IBM, and IBM has been marketing its capability to partner and assist enterprises in achieving world-class component architectures for years. But recent events indicate that IBM is possibly two years away from delivering on its marketing pitch: The question now becomes, “Does IBM provide the platform of choice?”

Following IBM’s decision to embrace Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) as its component-based delivery standard there has been a battle going on within IBM’s software ranks as to how best to deliver added value, especially as the EJB platform was not invented at IBM. There have clearly been differences of opinion on how open the platform should be, whether WebSphere Advanced or Enterprise Edition was going to be the flagship platform, whether ORB or XML was going to be the primary communications medium, whether they should emphasize fine-grained components or cross-grained components, what application integration and development tools they would offer, what industry frameworks they would offer, and whether their primary target would be the development community or end-user organizations. Over the last nine months we have seen the pendulum swing back and forth, from leaving the earlier San Francisco initiative, to consolidating industry groups into the Software Group, to today essentially reannouncing a migrated San Francisco as the basis of the new WebSphere Business Components Architecture.

 If this is true, the questions the user community has to answer for itself are:

  • What competing component technologies are in the market place and who are the likely winners? Can one pick an essentially vendor-neutral architecture so as to hedge one’s bets?
  • Is the technology mature enough to plan the development of a component architecture solution?
  • Is the technology mature enough to begin development and deployment of comprehensive component-based solutions?
  • How do we evaluate whether and/or when to embark on a component-based development (CBD) initiative?
  • What is involved in building a persuasive business case for an enterprise CBD initiative?
  • What is involved in launching an intelligent pilot, that will assist the enterprise in determining how best to proceed?
  • Are their sufficient vendors in the marketplace to assist in the design and implementation of a CBD environment?
  • Are their component vendors with components to be mixed and matched for my selected environment? If not today, when?
    All good topics for us to review in coming column. Write me an e-mail to let me know what is on your uppermost on your mind!
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    IBM has gone from a completely cross-grained business component model to the recently announced combination architecture including fine-grained base business components and cross-grained advanced components. The base components would be delivered in a “white box” format, in which it’s expected that they would be modified by developers. The advanced components would be delivered as “black box” components that would not be modified internally but rather accessible through publicly defined interfaces. The advanced components (AC) are divided into two types: Business Content and Advanced Technology.

    There also appears to be more tools than previously discussed. In addition to the UML Modeling tool (Rational Rose) and the newly named WSBC AC Generator, there is also a flow modeler (WSBC AC Flow Modeler). Additionally, where before there was an application that provided the governor that determined which component to invoke in order to achieve which part of a complete business process, it is now the Flow Modeler that achieves this goal.

    The former San Francisco objects are being implemented as Base Components. The first release of WebSphere Business Component Architecture is slated for December. It is still not clear exactly what will be included in this release, and given the changes that have occurred so close to release date, one can only assume that the functionality that will work is that which is being migrated from San Francisco, and that the earlier discussed functionality will not be ready to be deployed.

    Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. mbuchner@astech.com