FRAMINGHAM (01/27/2000) - Losing customers daily, his boss threatening to fire him, Jason Monberg gambled his company's future on Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs)-a new Java technology. It was the act of a desperate man.
For three months Monberg's computers crashed repeatedly, unable to handle droves of people visiting and buying products on his Web site. "It was like being pricked by a thousand nails," recalls Monberg, the CTO and cofounder of Sparks.com, a San Francisco-based Web-based gift and greeting card retailer.
"My CEO told me that if I didn't get this fixed, I would no longer be part of the company."
Remembering Java's cross-platform promise, Monberg hoped he could boost performance by developing a big Java application and adding reliable Sun servers to his erratic Windows NT servers. He rebuilt Sparks.com's e-commerce engine using EJBs and went live in slightly less than four months. So far the system has held up.
Betting the company's crown jewels on a year-old technology like EJBs sounds a bit outrageous. Most CIOs wouldn't hang their corporate assets on new technology, let alone one built around Java, especially one with so many acknowledged problems. As for Monberg, his short-term reliability problems have been solved, but EJB-related quirks constantly crop up because his in-house programmers are inexperienced with the new technology. EJB's long-term viability is still a question too because Monberg is unsure how it will perform as his Web site grows. "We're going to have days with more than a thousand orders and a million page hits, and it's all a little worrisome because you can't predict things on the Web," says Monberg.
EJBs emerged on the developer scene in 1998 when Sun Microsystems Inc. unveiled a specification for creating server-based applications using software components. These components act as preconfigured pieces of code that IT staff no longer have to build from scratch. They can be as simple as an order-entry form or as complicated as a virtual shopping cart that keeps track of where users have been and maintains their privacy. Later this year, Sun plans to release version 2.0 to address stability problems, according to Ann Betser, senior product manager for EJBs at Sun's software products and platforms division.
Software vendors BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and a dozen other smaller companies, including Bluestone Software Inc., GemStone Systems Inc., Novera Software Inc., Persistence Software Inc., Secant Technologies Inc., SilverStream Software Inc. and Valto Systems Inc. began offering products supporting EJBs. Instinet Corp., The Detroit Edison Co. and Visa International have launched projects with the hope of capitalizing on the technology's potential benefits.
EJBs ride the coattails of a hot IT trend: distributed computing, which basically means breaking up an application into workable parts, utilizing a number of servers, one of which may handle the heavy lifting-a.k.a. the business logic-of an application, while others perform less-intensive presentation and database functions.
Cashing in on Java's cross-platform promise, CIOs can deploy different servers tuned for certain tasks. The distributed computing model enables CIOs to add servers in the future without having to rewrite a lot of code. All of this underscores EJBs' marketing tenets: fast software development, hardware flexibility and scalability. And while CIOs are taking advantage of all of these capabilities, lingering questions about how much they can rely on EJBs remain.
Fast software development is especially attractive given the demand for rapid delivery of services over the Web. Deploying reusable EJBs rather than writing code from scratch dramatically reduces application development cycles.
Instinet, an electronic brokerage company with headquarters in New York City, Europe and Asia, rushed to market an e-brokerage system by building it with EJBs.
Instinet saw swelling enthusiasm over the euro, Europe's single currency introduced Jan. 1, 1999, and sought to deliver a global trading solution for fixed-income customers in the same year. "We wanted to establish ourselves as the euro's premier electronic broker while the euro was still fresh in people's minds," says Rachel Moseley, CIO for the Fixed Income group at Instinet. "It's obviously a guess, but I believe we've cut our development time in half using EJBs."
Prior to starting the project, Moseley was concerned about using an unproven technology. She set performance parameters and strict deadlines: If EJBs weren't working adequately at certain junctures during the rollout, then she'd fall back to developing software with the more stable C++ programming language.
"As long as we were making checkpoints, I felt comfortable with the risk," she says.
While C++ would have provided a more stable development environment, EJBs offered a more powerful programming model that was easier to integrate with Java clients and customers' systems. If Moseley had to resort to C++ coding, "it would have slowed down our development process considerably," she says.
Instinet used EJBs to put together a multimillion-dollar e-brokerage system utilizing Sun Enterprise 10000 servers, an Oracle database and Persistence Software's PowerTier application server, which is priced at $25,000 per CPU.
Even so, it took 12 in-house software engineers a year to build the system.
According to Chris Keene, CEO of Persistence Software in San Mateo, Calif., Instinet's entire system has been benchmarked at more than 1,000 transactions per second. By being the first to deliver bond trading over the Web, he believes Instinet hopes to capture 20 percent of the worldwide bond market in one year. (Moseley would not comment on her company's goals.) Despite Instinet's investment, most large companies flagged as Enterprise JavaBean champions are only dipping their toes in the water rather than taking the plunge. While market research companies such as Aberdeen Group Inc. and International Data Corp. (a CIO Communications Inc. sister company) predict EJBs will soon become the de facto standard for distributed computing, real-world implementers of emerging technology tell a more cautionary story.
FALLING FLAT Credit card giant Visa International began testing EJBs in hopes of integrating them into an existing Java-based application managing access to a global network. The technology failed. "EJBs have been very unstable," says a Visa executive close to the project, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We've built a prototype, and it's been crashing left and right."
It's precisely EJBs' questionable ability to run reliably and handle massive transactional spikes that saddles the technology in test labs and pilot projects. Even Sparks.com's Monberg, with mounting pressure to deliver a new solution, had doubts about the technology at first. He had talked to other IT folks who had dreadful experiences with IBM WebSphere, an application server supporting EJBs. Basic functions such as installing the server and connecting to the database often went off without a hitch, but more complex jobs encountered problems. For instance, when an Enterprise JavaBean tried to manage multiple simultaneous database queries, the system stalled.
"My biggest concern was that this stuff was just too young or maybe the specification was a little confusing," explains Monberg. "You have to wonder, if IBM can't get it right, maybe no one can." Eventually, Monberg settled on BEA Systems' WebLogic Server, impressed by the San Jose, Calif.-based software vendor's willingness to discuss technical problems.
IBM WebSphere's lackluster performance "was an issue and a huge concern," admits Jeff Reser, product manager for WebSphere at IBM. "There were certain deployment scenarios where Enterprise JavaBean support wasn't quite ready for prime time." Reser insists that the latest version of WebSphere, released in September 1999, will have more than tripled performance. "We've added some features to help scale across servers and have implemented some workload management," he says.
Performance issues aren't the only roadblocks fronting EJBs; not surprisingly, Microsoft Corp. hasn't supported the technology in its products yet and probably won't in the near future. Java's portability feature undermines Microsoft's push to make the world NT, explains Anne Thomas Manes, a senior analyst with research company Patricia Seybold Group in Boston.
WHAT MICROSOFT WANTS In addition, Microsoft wants developers to build distributed applications using the Component Object Model (COM) and Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM), which compete with EJBs. Microsoft claims COM and DCOM technologies are in use on over 150 million systems worldwide.
Although COM components provide many of the same benefits as EJBs, there are some significant differences. COM server components can realistically be deployed only on Windows 95 or NT servers, contends Thomas Manes. And COM-based services are generally unavailable to non-Windows machines, she adds.
On the other hand, EJBs supply data to Java-enabled Web browsers; simply put, they speak to the Web's vast ensemble of clients. It's no surprise companies building Internet-related services have emerged as early adopters of EJBs.
Between Sparks.com's enthusiasm and Visa's horrors, other companies are moderating their deployment. Detroit Edison, an electric utility company serving customers since 1903, has built its first extranet application using EJBs. Two hundred suppliers will eventually be networked through the system.
According to Stephen Goldstein, chief IT architect at Detroit Edison, EJBs will allow him to add and modify the application quickly in the future.
However, Goldstein doesn't plan to deploy EJBs on systems that touch his company's 2 million customers any time soon. "We're reserving judgment for EJBs on the high end," he says, adding that Detroit Edison probably won't be extending the technology to other applications this year.
Goldstein isn't the only one restlessly sitting on the fence when it comes to EJBs. Ian McFarland, senior director of technology at Santa Monica, Calif.-based HSX Holdings Inc. and self-proclaimed Java evangelist, wonders about its future in his own IT architecture.
HSX, creator of Hollywood Stock Exchange, a popular Web-based fantasy trading system designed to lure players into a game of buying and selling "shares" of movies and celebrities, has built its primary application with Java. Moreover, HSX claims that more virtual cash regularly crosses its system than U.S. dollars on the American Stock Exchange.
McFarland gets excited at the prospect of integrating EJBs into his Web application. In addition to all the technical benefits, he believes the technology would solve his biggest challenge: IS staffing. Finding developers skilled in EJBs would be easier than searching for people with expertise in a single, proprietary product, says McFarland.
Like anyone in charge of a highly transactional application, McFarland worries above all about stability and scalability. He's unsure of the actual transaction volume EJBs can handle. He's wavering about the overall reliability of EJB application servers. Like Monberg, he questions whether Sun's EJB architecture can scale in the future and meet the unpredictable demands of the Internet. "I'm sounding really gung-ho on EJBs," McFarland says. "But it's still very early." His enthusiasm, tempered by reality, is for EJB's promise.
BAMs brick-and- mortar corporations (adding the "A" makes it appropriate for polite conversation) ROO return on opportunity NEW PRODUCTS MASTERS OF DISASTERS Legato Systems Inc. has developed NetWorker Recovery Manager 1.0 to help IT staffers quickly recover from disasters by skipping the labor-intensive and time-consuming recovery phase. Recovery Manager 1.0 collects configuration information from the systems it protects and then copies it to another automated computer system elsewhere on the network. Users can bring a damaged or destroyed server back online with limited downtime. Pricing starts at $14,375 for one server and includes five bundled clients. For more information, call 650 812-6000 or visit www.legato.com.
SYSTEM, RESET THYSELF IBM Corp.'s Netfinity 5600 server detects when a system is about to crash and automatically resets itself. While the server doesn't solve the problem that causes the crash, it does avoid downtime. The server uses "software rejuvenation," which IBM developed to calculate when device drivers, middleware, applications or the OS may reach a boiling point and automatically schedules a system reset. The Netfinity 5600 incorporates the Pentium III processors, a dual-channel LVD Ultra SCSI controller and 64-bit PCI. Pricing starts at $3,589. For more information, call 914 499-1900 or visit www.ibm.com.
REMOTE NETWORK ANALYSIS The news in network monitoring is Breakout Software's MonitorIT 1.0, a Web-based remote performance monitoring and analysis package for Windows systems. The software helps administrators respond to data overloads, downtime or equipment failures quickly.
When system and network performance levels approach peak capacity, MonitorIT can either deliver notifications or launch programs that can take corrective action. It tracks hardware, operating systems (Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Windows 2000) and software applications such as Internet Information Server. It provides both real-time and historical reporting and analysis of selected performance data.
An integrated "performance wizard" identifies bottlenecks and recommends strategies for improving performance. The module includes five automated report templates that cover Windows NT Internet Information Server 4.0, TCP/IP and Windows 9x. Prices start at $595 for a MonitorIT Server and five agent licenses, and $149 for each additional five-agent license. For more information, call 714 724-5520 or visit www.breakoutsoft.com.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO MANAGE? If you're the CIO of a midsize company, you may not have the resources to build a customer relationship management (CRM) system with all the bells and whistles. To address this conundrum, Purple Solutions Inc. has built PurpleCRM using Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange. It incorporates eight modules that in a larger enterprise would probably be eight separate applications: contact management, customer management, competitor management, channel management, pipeline management, sales force management and opportunity management. It tracks customers, leads, distributors and sales.
PurpleCRM costs $2,500 per server and $250 per seat. For more information, call 206 706-1710 or visit www.purpleinc.com.
TRACKING LEASE EXPENSES If there's one thing Y2K taught us, it's that sometimes we don't know exactly what computer assets we have in inventory. When the assets are leased, inventory tracking can be even more challenging. Micropath Inc. has developed Lease Reconciliation Analysis Service to help businesses track and manage this hardware by establishing a complete inventory of a company's leased IT assets and respective leasing agreements. In addition to helping companies ensure compliance with their existing leasing agreements and effectively control costs associated with leasing, the service also helps IT keep abreast of the financial ramifications of interim/extended lease payments, property taxes and balance sheet accuracy. The service costs $70 per hour and ranges from $15 to $40 per system. For more information, call 425 702-1887 or visit www.micropath.net.
REVISIT CHANNEL MANAGEMENT
DISTRIBUTION TRIBULATIONS What happens when an irresistible force like electronic commerce hits an immovable object like a venerable distribution channel? You get a paralyzed CIO who wants to be nimble and cutting edge but can't dismiss an established reseller force. In "Smooth Sailing in the Channel," we looked at a handful of tools that helped CIOs electronically manage their relationships with resellers and distributors.
Recently joining the players mentioned in that article is an odd duck named Asera Inc. (www.asera.com) that straddles two trends: partner relationship management and application service provider. Its eService is designed to let CIOs implement an e-commerce solution and build a virtual community for their channels (whether direct OEM, reseller, distributor or consumer) by adding modular pieces as needed. And Asera charges for it on a pay-as-you-go basis.
CIOs can start with modules for catalogs, configuration, order entry and order status, and add message boards, news, research, virtual events and security profiles as needed.
EService starts with the basics: a common Web-based interface, a single sign-on capability (so that users don't have to remember multiple passwords), personalization (so that users see information that's only pertinent to them) and workflow. But that's it. Rather than build everything else from scratch, Asera has contracted with companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.; with Active Software Inc. for ERP integration; Aeneid Corp., Interwoven Inc. and iSyndicate Inc. for Web content management; enCommerce Inc. for security; Selectica Inc. for configuration; Participate.com, Talk City Inc. and Well Engaged LLC for community services; and Intel Corp., MCI WorldCom Inc.'s Uunet and Qwest Communications International Inc. for hosting. Asera uses XML to link with legacy systems, whether they're EDI or ERP.
According to Asera, the cost of setting up such a system for a company with revenues of $500 million is about $850,000 ($250,000 to set up the system and $600,000 for annual usage). Asera hired Benchmarking Partners Inc. to calculate the cost of building and deploying such a system. The number came back: $5 million to build and $5 million annually to staff and maintain, according to Asera Vice President of Marketing, Chris Hyrne. -Howard Baldwin PREDICTIONS COMPACT PROJECTORS LIGHT AND LIGHTER Pity the poor salespeople, swirling on the leading edge of portable technology. They were probably the first ones in many organizations to use "luggable" computers more than a decade ago, and today, as a result, one of their arms is probably longer than the other. Eventually, portable computers got smaller, but giving presentations on them lost its flair, and the poor schmoes were forced to start dragging LCD projectors with them.
But hurrah, there's hope. Two familiar trends are affecting the projector market, according to Bill Coggshall, president of Pacific Media Associates, a market research company covering the professional large-screen display industry. First, prices of older, heavier projectors have come down about 25 to 30 percent. Second, new projectors started shipping in the second and third quarters of 1999 that drop the typical weight of projectors from 10 pounds to 5 pounds. Coggshall attributes the weight loss to the use of technology from Texas Instruments Inc. called digital light processing (DLP), which does with one chip what older liquid crystal diode (LCD) machines needed three chips to do-that is, project sharp, clear images for presentations.
Lightware Inc., a spinoff of projector manufacturer InFocus Systems Inc., is using single optic LCD technology in its new 5.3-pound machine, Scout, priced at about $3,000.
Fewer chips means fewer optics, which means less weight. Examples of lighter DLP projectors include Plus Corp. of America's U2-870 SVGA and U2-1080 XGA, neither of which weigh more than 6 pounds (by comparison, recent LCD projectors from Sony Electronics Inc. and Proxima Corp. weigh in at 8.8 pounds and 8.1 pounds, respectively). The cost is significant: $6,000 for the U2-870 and $9,000 for the U2-1080.
Coggshall estimates worldwide projector sales will grow from 1 million units this year to 1.5 million in 2003. At the same time, though, industry revenues will jump only from $4.2 billion to $5.7 billion. "The growth in sales doesn't quite overcome the price declines," says Coggshall. "If the manufacturers cut prices further, they could get a swelling of demand that would more than exceed the price drop." -Howard Baldwin UNDER DEVELOPMENT SMART SOFTWARE Security Across Time & Space CIOs want to ensure that people dialing into the corporate system are authorized to do so. Typically, CIOs use passwords, encryption and maybe even biometric tools like fingerprint scanners to do this. But what if a company could ensure that no one could dial into the system during certain hours without being at a GPS-certified location at that certain time? The most exciting moments in the digital world occur when somebody smart lays technology A over technology B and comes up with something that CIOs will actually pay money for. Take security software as technology A. This software enables CIOs to give certain people access to certain files and lock out others.
Then take time-stamping software as technology B. Simply put, this enables CIOs to mark when a specific person updates a file. Now put them together: CIOs have the who, what, where and when of security.
It's fitting that a new security product is the result of two companies joining and combining their technologies. Datum Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based developer of high-performance timing and frequency products, acquired Digital Delivery Inc., the Lexington, Mass., maker of Confidential Courier, a product that guarantees secure delivery of information.
The combination of time-stamping and security technologies is especially relevant now that the boundaries of what passes for the enterprise has expanded to the circumference of the planet. Somebody can steal the CEO's laptop, with his passwords carelessly left on his desktop in a Notepad file. But if said burglar isn't at the GPS coordinates designated as acceptable for the CEO-company headquarters, his house, an occasional Hawaiian resort-he still can't dial into the corporate database and download trade secrets.
This has real consumer applications too. Say a car has a biometric ignition system that's set up to let parents and their teenager drive the car. With such a time-and-space security system in place, the parents could drive it anytime, anywhere, while the engine dies (after sounding an alarm) if the teenager stays out after 10 p.m. or drives beyond the city limits.
That scenario is probably a ways off, but Datum estimates that a security tool combining time, date and place will be available by this summer. In the corporate environment, where mobile workers are uploading and downloading data to handheld computers, the sooner the better. -Howard Baldwin