JavaSoft to solve RMI's interoperability problem

Sun responds to industry confusion by integrating RMI with IIOP

By Niall McKay

July  1997
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San Francisco (July 1, 1997) -- Sun Microsystems Inc.'s JavaSoft division has announced that it will integrate its Remote Method Invocation (RMI) protocol with the Object Management Group's Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) specification.

RMI enables Java objects to talk across a network doing roughly the same job as CORBA's Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP) or Microsoft Corp.'s Distributed Computing Environment (DCE).

Recently JavaSoft partners such as IBM, Netscape Communications Corp. and Oracle Corp. have attempted to pressure JavaSoft into scrapping RMI because it was confusing the market.

Following discussions with the Object Management Group yesterday, JavaSoft decided to enable RMI requests to travel over CORBA's Internet InterORB Protocol (IIOP), according to Jim Mitchell, JavaSoft's, vice president of technology and architecture.

The company has made three decisions concerning RMI. Firstly, RMI will be included in the Java Interface Definition Language (IDL) in the next version of the Java Development Kit. Secondly, JavaSoft will, with the help of the OMG, build in all RMI functionality into IIOP. Thirdly, JavaSoft will not only continue to support RMI but push it as its primary method of promoting distributed computing, Mitchell said in a telephone conference today.

Until now, RMI has used its own transport protocol which has been one of the features of the protocol that has prompted criticisms the technology is not compatible with CORBA.

"The RMI over IIOP is a plan save face for Sun," said Don DePalma, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It's implicitly admitting that a highly optimized, proprietary object technology won't win it any points with the open CORBA crowd that it's taken up with. But if Sun has to do any additional engineering to make this happen, that effort will steal resources from the pure IIOP work they are undertaking."

In addition to allowing RMI requests to access CORBA's IIOP, in the long run JavaSoft wants programmers to write to the Enterprise JavaBeans Application Programming Interface, a higher level of programming eliminating the need for transport protocols.

"We are trying to add another layer of abstraction," said Sharada Achanta, JavaSoft's product line manager for enterprise Java. "We believe that Java programmers should not have to worry about what are basically plumbing issues of RMI and IIOP."


Users welcomed the move
"This will be a real step forward," said Tracy Ikard, senior product manager with Scientech Inc., an Idaho Falls, Idaho-based systems Integrator. "Until now the only way we could guarantee interoperability between applications has been to employ one of the ORB vendors such as Iona Technologies Inc. or Visigenic Software Inc. to provide this integration for us."

"This is exactly what we in the development community want and needed to hear," said Jim Kleckner, chief technical officer of Cats Software Inc., a Palo Alto, California-based risk management software vendor. "Who knows how many people might head down the RMI path only to find that it becomes a dead end? Very costly when that happens."

Independent CORBA vendors such as the Dublin, Ireland-based Iona Technologies Inc. also welcomed the announcement.

"It's very good news that JavaSoft is supporting IIOP as a means for application integration over the Internet," said Colin Newman, vice president of marketing at Iona. "It's just as important that we all support IIOP so that our applications can interoperate as it was for the networking vendors to support TCP/IP.

Seven vendors came out in support of JavaSoft decision to extend RMI to CORBA today, including Oracle Corp., IBM, Sybase Inc., Informix Software Inc., Novell Inc., Netscape Communications Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Niall McKay is a correspondent for IDG News Service, a SunWorld affiliate.

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