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OMG members met in Denver, Colorado, the week of March 6-10, 2000. In this column I'll summarize as many of the various efforts that progressed as space permits.

Brief Background on the OMG
CORBA and Java enjoy a special relationship. Although CORBA defines an environment in which many languages interoperate on an equal footing (including Java, of course), when you get beyond basic interoperability you find that - because of the similarity of the Java and CORBA object models - Java enjoys advantages that other languages don't:

  • The reverse Java-to-IDL mappings that turn Java RMI objects, as if by magic, into CORBA objects.
  • The isomorphic relationship between basic-level CORBA components and EJBs.
Because of this similarity, new developments in the CORBA world help move the Java world along too, and Java developers need to keep abreast of developments at OMG as they move along.

While almost everyone knows that the Object Management Group (OMG) produces the CORBA specifications, they don't necessarily know, for example, that OMG produces specifications in many other areas, ranging from analysis and design - the Unified Modeling Language (UML), the Meta-Object Facility (MOF), XML Metadata Interchange (XMI) and the new Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM) - to the CORBA infrastructure and domain (that is, vertical market) specifications in healthcare, finance, telecommunications and more than a half-dozen other areas.

OMG specifications are produced by the members, not by staff, with most of the cooperative work happening at member meetings. OMG meetings are a big deal. Because of the way the OMG technology adoption procedure encourages consensus-building among the large number of task forces working in different areas, the meetings typically attract 500 to 700 people for a full week and take place five times a year in various locations around the world. To take full advantage of this "face time," members do a lot of preparation between meetings: documents are drafted and shared via OMG's document server, and discussions take place via e-mail, teleconference and occasionally even in small groups that get together in person between meetings.

No longer able to fit into five weekdays, the meetings themselves now start on the Sunday before with tutorials and meetings of smaller groups. During the week itself, many people get together at breakfast time to get an early start, while informal contacts continue through dinner and into the evening. (The bar is a favorite place for evening get-togethers; at a meeting in Dublin recently one wag suggested that OMG really stood for "Order More Guinness!")

At the meetings new technology adoption efforts are started and existing ones either progress or conclude with the adoption of new specifications. Because each meeting produces a lot of milestones in a wide range of areas, a postmeeting wrapup provides a good opportunity to summarize OMG efforts to nonmembers; every reader learns the areas where standards-compliant products will appear on the market not far in the future, and some (you too, perhaps?) will become interested enough to come to one of OMG's next meetings. If you already work for one of the nearly 800 member companies (listed at www.omg.org/cgi-bin/membersearch.pl), you can register for the meeting at OMG's Web site and just show up; if you don't, you're invited to attend as an observer - just send me an e-mail ([email protected]) for an invitation.

New Technology Adoptions
Because new specifications are the most newsworthy developments, let's start at the end of OMG's process and work our way around to the beginning. To ensure OMG member consensus, every technology adoption concludes with a series of four votes. These votes can't start until the submission/evaluation process has concluded and the proposed specification has stabilized; even if you're not an OMG member, you can download and read the likely future specification in its final form at this stage. At the meeting the task force that initiated the adoption votes to recommend adoption, the architecture board certifies that the submission is consistent with OMG's Object Management Architecture, and existing specifications and the responsible Technology Committee (either Platform or Domain) starts an e-mail poll of its members - including those who aren't present - lasting for about eight weeks. When the Technology Committee vote concludes, a final vote by OMG's board of directors formally declares that the submission is an official OMG-adopted specification.

New Technology Procedure
At the Denver meeting, four new technologies passed through task force and architecture board votes and started votes in the technology committees. They are described as follows.

Common Warehouse Metamodel
Data warehousing improves business decisions by facilitating access to timely data. To make the best use of data warehousing, companies must integrate data from multiple warehouses across their enterprise, but inconsistencies in the data model from one warehouse to another make this difficult. Because these inconsistencies result from real differences in requirements from one business unit to another, it's not possible to standardize on a common data model for data warehousing. However, by defining a standard for interchange of information about data models, termed warehouse metadata in the specification, OMG's new standard for a Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM) provides standard ways to run processes that integrate data from multiple warehouses. Coming from OMG's Analysis and Design task force, this specification builds on UML and the MDF rather than on CORBA. Modeling and Metamodeling, although recent additions to OMG's suite of specifications, are crucial to the kind of large enterprise applications that CORBA does well and so receive a great deal of attention.

Clinical Image Access Service
CORBAmed, OMG's task force for healthcare, recommended adoption of a Clinical Image Access Service (CIAS) that standardizes access and retrieval of clinical images for nondiagnostic use. Jointly written and submitted by Siemens Health Services and Philips Medical Systems, the new specification provides an important supplement to the well-established DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine) standard that covers diagnostic image transfer.

Electronic Commerce and Telecoms
In addition, the Electronic Commerce Domain Task Force recommended a specification for a CORBA-based Public Key Infrastructure, and the Telecommunications Domain Task Force recommended a specification that supports telecom network management with file transfer functionality.

File-based functionality is a standard part of telecom network management systems, making use of FTAM or FTP interfaces. This specification defines a single set of IDL interfaces providing a CORBA view of the files that's the same regardless of whether the underlying files are FTAM- or FTP-based. Even though it abstracts the complexity of the various underlying file systems into a single set of interfaces, it's not a generalized File server application.

Maintenance Revisions
Maintenance revisions get a lot less press than new specifications, but at OMG these important efforts get a lot of attention and work and go through the same voting process. At the Denver meeting eight revisions passed through task force and AB votes. They covered CORBA interoperability, mappings from IDL to Java and C++ as well as from Java to IDL, the Firewall specification, the Distributed Simulation Facility, Workflow Facility and, in the telecommunications domain, CORBA/IN Interworking.

Board of Directors Actions
The board of directors vote that concludes the process is on the one hand significant - it's the step that actually creates a new specification - and on the other hand somewhat anticlimactic, because everyone has known what the standard would be for months. In fact, because people are so anxious to find out about new specifications, OMG typically announces important new specifications during their TC vote without waiting for board confirmation. Nevertheless, this remains an important formal step, and a large number of new and newly revised specifications were created by the board when they met in Denver. These included Enhanced View of Time, Fault-Tolerant CORBA, Portable Interceptors (that enable security and technical functions), Management of Event Domains and a level 2.0 revision of the Ada language mapping. The board also ratified the 1.0 version of the Interoperable Naming specification, Revision 1.7 of CORBA security, and maintenance revisions of the Currency specification and the Person Identification Service (PIDS). Once specifications pass this final vote, they appear on OMG's "Newly Adopted Specifications" Web page (see www.omg.org/techprocess/meetings/schedule/tech2a.html).

Architecture Board Member Election
With two technology committees and 11 task forces creating specifications, OMG members realized years ago that the adoption process needed to ensure consistency across the wide scope of the specification landscape. To do this, OMG created an Architecture Board composed of 10 representatives elected from OMG's member companies and chaired by Andrew Watson, OMG's technical director and vice president of architecture. Technology adoptions kick off with the issuing of a Request for Proposals (RFP), which is the requirements document for the new specification. Before any RFP can be issued, the AB must certify that its requirements are consistent with OMG's Object Management Architecture (OMA) and all existing standards. In a similar step at the end of the adoption process, the AB must certify that the about-to-be-adopted specification conforms, in its own right, to the OMA and is consistent with existing standards.

The 10 member representatives on the AB are all volunteers who devote at least 20% of their time (and frequently more) to these duties. Since AB members serve only two-year terms, at least five seats come up for election every year. Resignations and job changes occasionally necessitate additional elections beyond these. (Each seat is assigned to an individual as a representative of his company, so members must resign when they change companies even if they move to a company that's a member of the OMG.)

At the Denver meeting OMG held an election for seven AB seats: reelected for two-year terms were Tom Rutt of Lucent Technologies, Jishnu Mukerji of Hewlett-Packard and Dave Frankel of Genesis Development, Inc. Newly elected for two-year terms were Peter Walker of Sun Microsystems, Inc., and Michi Henning of Object Oriented Concepts, Inc. Finally, Sean Baker of IONA Technologies Plc and Jeff Mischkinsky of Persistence Software Inc. were elected to one-year terms, filling positions vacated by members halfway through their terms. Continuing on the AB for another year are current members Carol Burt of 2AB, Inc., Sridhar Iyengar of Unisys Corporation and Nilo Mitra of Ericsson.

New Domain Technology Committee Standards Efforts
The Domain Technology Committee develops standards in vertical markets. The DTC has the business world well covered with nine task forces in nine domains:

  • Business Objects
  • Finance and Insurance
  • Electronic Commerce
  • Manufacturing
  • Utilities
  • Telecommunications
  • Healthcare
  • Transportation
  • Life Science Research
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) represent other technology areas including Human Resources, Retailing, Customer Relationship Management, and Space and Satellite Science.

Although all nine task forces are currently working on technology adoptions (and most are working on several at once), only one, the Life Science Research task force, which issued three new RFPs, started new work at the meeting. The following section describes each of them and shows how CORBA and domain knowledge come together at OMG to define services with a unique advantage.

Chemical Structure Access and Representation
Chemical compounds are the basis for biotech research, so you might figure that workers in the field had solved the problem of storing and retrieving information about chemical structure years ago. You'd be right if you figured that the problem had been solved many different ways, but wrong if you thought there was one common way, either standard or even commonly used. The newly issued RFP for a Chemical Structure Access and Representation facility will standardize OMG IDL interfaces to access, represent and manipulate both individual 2D chemical structures and collections of structures, such as structure databases, lists and virtual libraries - all commonly used in current research.

Gene Expression Data
The second RFP will standardize computer representation and manipulation of gene expression data. Gene expression, a complex process that starts with transcription of the gene by a messenger RNA, proceeds through the production of protein defined by the gene and ends (typically) with the catalysis of a chemical reaction by the protein. As you might expect, scientists who study gene expression collect a lot of data in a lot of different forms and formats and analyze it using clever tools that, today at least, don't interchange data with one another. This RFP will define a set of interfaces, data structures and services that will allow gene expression systems to exchange data and, later, serve as a common basis on which advanced facilities and services can be built.

Entity Identification Service
Finally, in the field of Life Science Research scientists deal with countless numbers of things with attributes, filed away neatly in databases where they have to be identified with some degree of certainty in order to be retrieved and worked with. This is similar to the person identification problem solved by CORBAmed's PIDS specification, although not a precise analog. (The RFP points out both the similarities and differences between what it seeks and what PIDS provides. If the PIDS facility were suitable, the Life Science work would just use it and not define a new specification with duplicate functionality.) The Entity Identification Service will provide matches and confidence levels using a standard set of interfaces, useful in many ways both inside the Life Science suite of standards and outside it in other OMG task forces' work.

If your company wants to help write these new specifications, you can start by downloading the RFP documents from www.omg.org/schedule. You don't need to be an OMG member to download the RFP and read about it, but your company will need to join if you want to submit technology in response or to vote on the outcome. There are deadlines, too: initial deadlines appear on the RFP document itself, but they change frequently. The latest deadlines always appear at www.omg.org/schedule. For information on OMG membership, surf to www.omg.org/membership.

OMG members frequently ask the industry for information about the state of a software area before starting a standard-setting effort. The vehicle for this is the Request for Information. Two were issued at this meeting. Because anyone - member or not - may respond to an OMG RFI, you can respond to these yourself if they're in your area. One of the newly issued RFIs asks for information about the Knowledge Management Services Marketplace and Infrastructure; the other about Interoperability for Rail Software Systems. The RFIs are documents issued by OMG; you can read them and their brethren at www.omg.org/schedule.

New Platform Technology Committee Standards Efforts
The Platform Technology Committee, responsible for the core CORBA architecture as well as analysis and design, issued two RFPs. One, recommended by the ORBOS (Object Request Broker and Object Services) Task Force, will standardize CORBA support for data-parallel processing - that is, applications that partition processing into multiple parts, each working simultaneously on a subset of a large data volume. The other, recommended by the Analysis and Design Task Force, will supplement the A&D language UML with a profile for event-driven Enterprise Application Integration (EAI).

Tidbits
Lots of other things happen at OMG meetings. Groups are formed or rearranged and outside news is announced. Here's a brief potpourri from Denver:

  • The Business Objects Domain Task Force has been spending more time on cross-domain technology efforts and less on "business objects," and is considering changing its name and charter to reflect this. A group started by members of manufacturing, working to synchronize representations of people across OMG specifications and nicknamed "People who like people," was moved into the Business Objects TF in anticipation of this move.
  • CORBAmed announced that Brazil has adopted their specifications across that country, and also that they will sponsor a demonstration of interoperability of CORBA-based healthcare applications at the upcoming HIMSS conference.
  • EPRI CCAPI: OMG frequently hosts colocated meetings of organizations that are working with OMG specifications or considering it. In Denver OMG hosted a meeting of the EPRI CCAPI (Electric Power Research Institute Command and Control Application Programming Interface) committee.
  • The Life Science Research Group hears about a set of CORBA-based interfaces to lab instruments based on ASTM LECIS standard by Torsten Staab of LANL.
Date of Next Meetings
We haven't reviewed absolutely everything that happened in Denver, but we have covered the most newsworthy items - besides, we're out of space.

OMG's next meeting will be in Oslo, Norway, the week of June 12-16 (coincidentally, these dates are very close to "white nights weekend" celebrating the longest day of the year); following that, we'll meet in Burlingame, California, the week of September 10-15. We'd be pleased to see you there!

Author Bio
Jon Siegel is the director of technology transfer, Object Management Group. [email protected]

 

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