BI Leaders Drive Java Standards

A group of BI powerhouses have joined forces in two competing organizations with the same goal: to reduce the pain of building BI solutions with Java and Java-related technologies.

The controversy generated by the so-called Java Tools Community (JTC) is having its impact on business intelligence. Some of the biggest movers and shakers in the JTC—its ten member companies include Oracle Corp. SAP AG, and SAS Institute Inc.—are also strong BI competitors.

Ironically, all three companies are also members of another development tool initiative, called the Eclipse project, that some see as a competitor to the JTC. The reality, say representatives from SAS and Oracle, is that both initiatives will help to reduce a lot of the pain when building BI applications using Java or Java-related technologies.

First thing's first: What is the JTC?

Simply put, it's positioned as a complement to the Java Community Process (JCP), which fosters the development of Java standards. Its backers position the JTC as an initiative that focuses exclusively on Java development tools, where interoperability problems are legion.

In the BI space, for example, Oracle Corp. markets its own Java IDE—JDeveloper—SAP sells a tool for building Java connections (called Java Connector, or JCO) to its applications, and SAS offers AppDev Studio, a Java IDE. Needless to say, there's little (if any) interoperability between these development tools.

The controversy stems from the JTC launch, which occurred without explicit backing from two of the biggest players in the business—Borland Software Corp. and IBM Corp. Just as important, some industry watchers have also suggested that the JTC represents a competitive threat to the open-source Eclipse development initiative, which describes an effort to create both an IDE framework as well as IDE support for many different languages, including Java.

Not surprisingly, IBM has been involved with Eclipse since its inception—Big Blue more or less kick-started Eclipse as a viable concern when it donated about $40 million worth of code back in 2001—and is closely identified with Eclipse to this day. To add more fuel to the fire, prominent JTC-backer Sun Microsystems spurned Eclipse in December of last year, opting not to join the effort's industry consortium after more than two years of courtship.

For his part, Rich Main, director of Java development environments for SAS, says that the "controversy" in this case has been overblown. SAS is a member of Eclipse's industry consortium, and is also the largest independent BI vendor in the JTC. Far from being competitive or redundant, Main thinks that both organizations complement one another very nicely.

"We want the Java Tools Community to be the kind of forum where customers can get together with these vendors and talk about what are their problems, what are their pains when they're trying to deploy these mission-critical business intelligence applications on Java, and focusing on how to drive that down into the standards," he comments. Main notes that Eclipse, on the other hand, is first and foremost a tools organization—the Eclipse IDE framework can support many languages other than Java—and "is focused on implementing world-class tools."

SAS expects that its membership in both organizations will help it to resolve many of the pain points experienced by its customers as they work to integrate SAS' BI applications with conventional and Java applications. "Today, we produce SAS AppDev Studio, which is an application development suite for building BI applications. It has Java tooling in it, but we end up spending a lot of time creating additional Java tooling to make up for deficiencies in the design time standards within Java, rather than focusing on solving real BI problems for our customers," he points out. "We're bleeding because we're trying to solve the problems that we shouldn't have to try to solve."

To that end, Main says that SAS will offer plug-ins so that users can tap the Eclipse IDE, instead of SAS' AppDev Studio. Current AppDev users have little to fear, however, he says: SAS will continue to support its homegrown Java IDE into the future. "What we do want to do is, along with keeping our current customer base satisfied, we've always been looking, is there an IDE there that's open enough and powerful enough that we can leverage so that we can start shipping plug-ins for that IDE? So we'll continue to deliver our product and we'll now include plug-ins for Eclipse. Ultimately, we may find other ways of deploying that technology as well."

At the same time, Main points out, the work done by the JTC to define interoperability standards among competing Java IDEs will benefit SAS' AppDev Studio, as well as tools from Eclipse—although the open-source development project's board hasn't yet committed to working with the JTC. Toolmakers Borland and IBM can also choose to support the JTC APIs, if need be.

Like SAS, Oracle and SAP are Eclipse members who are also on board the JTC flotilla. Ted Farrell, chief architect for JDeveloper with Oracle, says that his company joined Eclipse to ensure that applications written in the Eclipse IDE work properly when deployed in Oracle environments. "We want to help anyone, in any environment, build to the Oracle run-time, even if it's not our tools, so for other IDEs, like Borland's JBuilder and Eclipse, we want to make sure that users who have chosen those runtimes and not ours still have a good experience building to the Oracle Application Server and Oracle database," he explains.

What is called the JTC originally grew out of Java Specification Request (JSR) 198, which sought to define standard APIs through the Java Community Process so developers could write extensions to multiple IDEs. The upshot, again, is that support for these APIs can be incorporated into the Eclipse IDE, as well as into tools from Borland and IBM.

In the end, says SAS' Main, it's all about solving problems. "This isn't an us-versus-them kind of thing, or a Sun-versus-IBM thing, or anything like that. This is about leaders in the enterprise space—the SASes, the SAPs, the Oracles—saying we've got real problems that we need to solve, and this is the way that we can bring customer input into the Java Community Process."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.