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I'd like this month to offer some editorial thoughts on the e-commerce market for EJB solutions - but first let me just say "Happy Birthday" to the EJB Home column and briefly recap the articles that have appeared here over the past year....

Part 1: "Happy Birthday, EJB Home!"
Has anybody else been counting? This month marks the twelfth EJB Home column in Java Developer's Journal. Over the past year, EJB Home has striven to educate both corporate developers and business leaders on Enterprise JavaBeans topics. Following suit with the rest of JDJ, EJB Home has been dedicated to keeping you abreast of technical EJB content, reviewing new EJB products and providing awareness of political and market news on the EJB front.

If you're a newcomer to EJB Home, you may be interested in which topics have been previously covered in this column. If you're a regular who has mislaid your copy of the issue containing a particularly interesting EJB Home column, the summaries below will refresh your memory and point you in the direction of which issue you'll want to revisit digitally at www.sys-con.com/java/archives.

EJB Home Recap
Vol. 4, Issue 6: "Enterprise JavaBeans: Where does EJB fit into the Java Platform for the Enterprise?"

The inaugural issue of EJB Home, in the JavaOne99 Special Edition of JDJ, provides an architectural overview of the center-stage role played by EJB in the Java Platform for the Enterprise, now called J2EE. It details the importance of APIs such as JDBC, JTA/JTS and JNDI to the component execution environment that makes EJB a successful architecture for building distributed, scalable, server-side applications in Java.

Vol. 4, Issue 8: "Enterprise JavaBeans Persistence"
Provides a comparison of entity bean persistence models: CMP (container-managed persistence) and BMP (bean-managed persistence). The August article discusses the ramifications of choosing a particular persistence model and includes examples of how to develop each type of entity bean.

Vol. 4, Issue 9:"XML DTD for EJB Deployment Descriptors"
With the release of EJB 1.1 specification, deployment descriptors for EJBs became XML-based. The September column covers the basics behind the specification's new guidelines and the impact it has on the portability of your beans across EJB servers, and provides an example of a deployment descriptor converted from a proprietary format to the XML format described in section 16.6 of the EJB 1.1 specification.

Vol. 4, Issue 10: "The Business Advantage of EJB: Developing Portable EJB Applications" (Part 1)
Part 1 in a two-part series, the October EJB Home presents various types of portability including language, component model, resource and platform portability. The article gives an in-depth overview of the portability goals the EJB specification 1.0 attempts to address and which types of portability are out of scope.

Vol. 4, Issue 11: "The Business Advantage of EJB: Developing Portable EJB Applications" (Part 2)
Is EJB portability a myth or reality? This November article presents a comprehensive list of EJB 1.0 portability traps to avoid and how to ensure an easy port to another EJB server. While J2EE is an architectural framework for portable, server-side Java applications, not all EJB vendors have embraced the J2EE standard. Without full compliance among EJB vendors, these guidelines of portability still apply.

Vol. 4, Issue 12 : "The Oracle at Boulder"
This December column ends 1999 with predictions regarding the future of EJB in the year 2000. Mergers and buyouts in the EJB vendor market are discussed as well as the server-side component war between Microsoft's COM/DCOM model and Sun's Enterprise JavaBeans component model. Last, this article discusses success factors for EJB projects in Y2K and why some EJBs may be in danger of failing.

Vol. 5, Issue 1: "Securing Your Company Data with EJBs"
EJB's role-based security model is a widely misunderstood yet powerful tool in the EJB arsenal. This January 2000 article lays the groundwork for a high-level understanding of the security model and tops the discussion off with a classic bank account example to demonstrate the interactions of security as it pertains to EJB context-passing and container-managed authorization to access EJB resources (methods).

Vol. 5, Issue 2: "E-Business with EJBs"
This February column presents a value proposition of EJB in an e-business scenario. Specifically, the column details how Java Servlets and EJB features such as handles and stateful session beans can play a role in providing stateful e-business solutions. It also presents numerous technical topics not covered in previous EJB Home articles. The concepts are exercised with full source code in a small prototype. Developers can use this sample application as a project, expanding it with more scalable techniques for a real-life application.

Vol. 5, Issue 3: "VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic"
IDEs supporting integrated development, debugging and deployment of EJBs are few and far between. VisualCafé, a leader in Java development tools, has integrated with BEA's WebLogic Server to provide a best-of-breed approach toward EJB development. This March article presents key factors to consider when looking for your corporate standard EJB IDE. It describes what areas VisualCafé excels in and which factors it needs to improve to become a top-notch EJB IDE.

Vol. 5, Issue 4:"What Do MTS and EJB Have in Common?"
This April article sheds light on the stateless component architectures offered by Microsoft in the form of MTS and Sun's Enterprise JavaBeans. Stateless session beans are the main topic of this column, including a discussion about how clustering of stateless components offers easy load-balancing and failover for your middle tier.

Vol. 5, Issue 5: "Developing Coarse-Grained Business Components"
This May article clarifies some less-than-obvious details in the EJB 1.1 specification regarding developing coarse-grained entity beans. It reviews commonly encountered technical problems such as how to cache dependent objects and ensure they're refreshed correctly, how to map a BMP (bean-managed Persistence) entity bean to multiple tables with JDBC and how to declaratively change the behavior of your component through environment entries.

Vol. 5, Issue 6 (JavaOne2000 Special Edition): "PowerTier 6's PowerPage: Instantly Web-Enabling Your EJBs!"
This product review covers a new feature of the PowerTier 6 for EJB server, PowerPage. PowerPage offers JavaServer Page code generation to offer servlet/JSP developers a head start or a working model on which to base their code.

I hope that EJB Home has been as enlightening for you to read as it has been delightful for me to write. I thank those of you who have e-mailed me your feedback on the column or presented ideas for topics you're dying to read about. Many of your ideas, questions and concerns have been catalysts for monthly topics. I always try to be punctual in my responses to your individual questions and observations and I warmly encourage you to provide even more feedback in the coming months.

Now, with the birthday celebration over, let's switch gears and discuss new markets for Enterprise JavaBeans.

Part 2: New Markets for EJB
I've seen the market demand for EJB rise greatly over the past year - but not in those areas many thought it would proliferate most. However, as markets are won, so are they lost. Thus I want to raise awareness vis--vis the rise and death of the ERP market and maybe the rise and death of EJ...well, let's not go there this month.

The Death of ERP
In days bygone (1998, to be exact), when EJB was in its infancy, I recall numerous folk - clients and colleagues alike - researching, plotting and planning on using EJB as a replacement for their monolithic, Web-disabled ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications. It is Enterprise JavaBeans, isn't it? And Java has become synonymous with Web-enabled, right?

The ERP market has plummeted, but not because these systems were replaced with EJB applications. ERP companies have been wavering for the past year and a half because the industry, generally speaking, is done with replacing legacy HR, billing and manufacturing systems. Likewise, ERP companies, war-torn from Y2K battles, weren't able to muster the armies necessary to ensure their products were Web-enabled and attacking the vast new market of e-commerce.

Don't blame (or applaud) EJB for the death of ERP; rather, applaud EJB for allowing quick-moving, Java-savvy companies to present e-business applications over the Web. Applaud early EJB product vendors like The Theory Center, Evergreen Internet, Inc. (www.evergreen.com), and Chematch.com (www.chematch.com) for taking advantage of EJB to deliver exciting product offerings. I'm not talking about an HR system to track employee information here; I'm talking about innovative products like components that jump-start the development of e-commerce sites and auction sites that provide real-time, global trading online.

Although I'm not The GartnerGroup, my industry contacts in the EJB world have led me to the conclusion that there are countless more e-commerce applications than mission-critical enterprise applications built or being built on the EJB platform today. EJB has successfully redefined itself from an enterprise application platform ( la 1998) to an e-platform for building scalable, Web-enabled solutions.

The Rise of EJB in New Markets
The transformation of EJB from savior of costly, time-consuming, monolithic ERP applications to the preferred platform for developing e-business solutions hinges on five factors: hype, price, time-to-market, standards and scalability/ reliability.

  1. Hype: I learned my ABCs from an English textbook. It never equated the letters "EJB" with "VC" - i.e., venture capital(ists). However, these acronyms are becoming more and more synonymous with one another as EJB has become more than just a platform aimed at the enterprise. I think the phenomenon of start-ups gaining venture capital based on hot technologies like XML, Jini and EJB has increased the adoption of EJB over the past year. What VC is going to fund an effort to develop a manufacturing system that competes with SAP in PowerBuilder? Market hype is in the e-commerce space and EJB is an enabling technology for building the e-commerce sites VC's love.
  2. Price: ERP applications are hideously expensive. Well, production quality EJB servers aren't cheap either, but at least respectable, open-source options exist with jBoss (www.ejboss.org) and enhydra (www.enhydra.org). In any event, newly formed start-ups with innovative e-commerce business plans are probably not going to look toward ERP companies, which are trying to reinvent themselves as e-business vendors. These companies' products are historically overpriced and have a reputation for over-budget implementations.

    Instead, speaking from experience, start-ups are partnering with companies like Verge that know how to implement e-commerce applications in EJB under budget and on time. Which leads to my next point quite well...

  3. Time-to-market: The e-commerce wave moves fast. Start-ups with an idea need to strike quickly for fear of losing the claim to fame of being the "first-to-market" and the market share that comes with being first. Since traditional ERP vendors have been notorious for long, drawn-out implementations, start-ups are afraid to implement solutions that need to be up and running yesterday. How can an ERP product firm compete with EJB, especially when it has third-party component suites specifically tailored around e-commerce and touting the ability to have your site up in 30-60 days?
  4. Standards: EJB is becoming widely accepted as a standard for server-side development. Standards are attractive to firms for many reasons, including portability and plug-in-play capabilities. Portability eases the minds of dot-coms betting the farm on a technology that might otherwise be obsolete in six months. The ability for standards-based components to plug-and-play with other components enhances time-to-market. For instance, third-party components can be bought prebuilt with 50-70% of an application's logic already done.
  5. Scalability/reliability: Scalability is a necessity in the e-commerce market, in which Internet use is volatile and a start-up's site can't afford downtime. Online markets are competitive. Users can easily click to another site offering a similar service or product without the faintest hint of loyalty. When combined with the rest of the J2EE platform, such as JavaServer Pages (JSPs) and servlets, EJB is a scalable solution for Web access.

Since it's specifically built on top of a transactional model, EJB also provides a reliability factor that permits CEOs of e-commerce companies to sleep better at night. The Java Transaction Service and Java Transaction API are integral parts of the Enterprise JavaBeans specification. If a dot-com doesn't want to lose track of an online customer's order, transaction support is a necessity. Once again, EJB is an excellent fit for e-commerce.

Will the Bleeding Ever Stop?
Enterprise JavaBeans has made headway in the dot-com arena with positive results...and VCs love it. The VC industry poured a record amount of money - some $22 billion - into start-ups the first quarter of 2000. At this writing there's been no determination of whether or not the market crash in April will stop the hemorrhage of capital into e-commerce start-ups.

If the well dries up, how will it affect the demand for Enterprise JavaBeans e-commerce solutions? What will be the next big market, and will EJB be flexible enough to secure a favorable portion of it? I intend to provide my answers to this in an upcoming article. Please hold tight until then, and let's continue this EJB ride for another 12 issues!

Author Bio
Jason Westra is the CTO of Verge Technologies Group, Inc. (www.vergecorp.com). Verge is a Boulder, Colorado-based firm specializing in e-business solutions with Enterprise JavaBeans. [email protected]

 

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