SAN MATEO (03/13/2000) - Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that this is the year to integrate business processes into e-business applications.
You may well be focused on business metrics, such as cost benefit analysis and ROI, but you should also be factoring in the technical challenges of developing and deploying e-business applications.
Predicting the cost of e-business development is often difficult given the complexity of business processes and the technical tools needed to get the job done. Obviously, the network of disparate operating systems, platforms, and technologies we have makes e-business the most complex business and technical hurdle we have ever faced.
Additional e-business challenges are driven by the fact that leveraging the Internet often forces companies to explore new business models (for example, using direct sales or suppliers instead of using sales channels). This adds business anxiety to technical unpredictability. The combination of these two factors makes developing and maintaining e-business applications a most demanding task, and quite possibly a very expensive endeavor.
In this Test Center Analysis, we take a first look at Jasmine ii (intelligent infrastructure) 2.0, an upcoming release from Computer Associates International Inc. First announced last July, and currently in beta, Jasmine ii promises to deliver a component-based framework, unified interface for multiple Internet technologies, and integrated business intelligence for developing and deploying e-business applications.
Making technology work
Companies have struggled for decades with different technologies, often choosing to standardize on a single technology or isolate inconsistent applications. However, the nature of e-business does not make this approach very viable, and companies that need to integrate business processes must deal with making incompatible applications talk to each other, exchanging data hosted in different databases, and making their cross-platform applications secure and reliable.
For example, if one company's order entry system is Cobol on a mainframe, and one of its suppliers runs C++ applications on Unix, the two companies will have to agree on a software middleman (appropriately named "middleware") to reconcile their software differences.
Other suppliers might still have different operating systems and programming languages. Extend this picture to include the many different suppliers and applications you have and you will find a large collection of issues that require resolution within just a single company. Add customers to the mix of integration concerns and the problem grows exponentially.
Companies planning to enter the e-business arena should understand that, although middleware does exist -- in fact, many commercial packages address cross-platform issues -- there is no common solution that addresses all programming languages and all platforms.
For example, two popular implementations -- COM (Component Object Model) from Microsoft and Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) from Sun Microsystems -- take completely different approaches. COM is defined in terms of the Windows operating system. EJB has a wider angle but is linked with the Java programming language. Choosing the right middleware requires a careful strategy assessment on your part.
The Object Management Group (OMG), a vendor-based organization, has developed a comprehensive middleware standard: CORBA 3.0 (Common Object Request Broker Architecture 3.0). OMG is a nonprofit organization. Thus, turning CORBA specifications into usable software is up to software companies. Sadly, few vendors have delivered a full implementation of the standard, which leaves developers the problem of mixing solutions from several vendors to support their e-business applications.
Waiting for a paradigm shift?
If this picture seems rather cloudy, complex, or pessimistic, it is with reason. The nature of e-business, characterized by a rapidly evolving business model, requires integrated, efficient, and flexible development tools. The reality is that companies will have to coordinate an inconsistent mix of products and make the best of the technology available. Of course, this will make e-business development costs skyrocket.
Furthermore, applications maintenance, triggered by evolving business models, will be expensive and difficult to implement. It is fair to predict that in a few years we will have developed, using the current technology, a portfolio of e-business software that will burden companies as an unwanted but necessary heritage. This is very similar to our situation today with legacy and client/server applications.
Jasmine ii, a new product from CA, could introduce the badly needed paradigm shift; it offers a reusable object framework for e-business applications in which different technologies can be exploited using a consistent and simplified interface.
It is important to note that Jasmine ii is not simply an enhancement to CA's object database management system. The new Jasmine is an object-based platform to develop and deploy e-business applications that leverages different technologies, such as databases, middleware products, and e-mail systems, with a single common interface.
For example, developers can use in the same application CORBA, COM, and EJB components without having to implement different semantics, because Jasmine will reconcile the differences behind the scenes. Compared to the alternatives that we have discussed in this Analysis, Jasmine ii is potentially the best offer to date. If delivered as expected, it may be a real head-turner because of the expected benefits of simplified development, faster deployment, and easier applications maintenance, which may lead to a competitive advantage.
Equally important, Jasmine offers integration kits for the most popular development environments from IBM, Inprise, Micro-soft, Rational Rose, Symantec, and CA's own products. Therefore, developers can use familiar tools for new projects or easily convert existing applications in C++ or Java to take advantage of the simplified Jasmine metaphor.
A comparable infrastructure for business applications is under development by IBM and hundreds of other companies. IBM's San Francisco project aims at building readily deployable, Java commercial applications that companies should be able to install on multiple platforms, and to connect to existing systems.
Similar to Jasmine, the San Francisco components promise to let developers focus on the business problems, and hide technological complexity.
Despite these similarities, the great difference between the two solutions is that, using Jasmine, companies will develop their own applications, although on a less technically challenging platform. In the San Francisco approach, companies should be able to build their systems by selecting prebuilt, consistent commercial processes, such as general ledger and order entry, and integrate them with existing applications. When the two solutions are available, companies will be able to choose between Jasmine's simplified development capabilities or the ready-to-go San Francisco components.
Jasmine promises to make development fast and reliable by automatically creating bindings (code to access business objects, such as a database or an e-mail system) to its Providers. Furthermore, Jasmine applications benefit from the run-time services that the platform automatically provides, such as authentication, encryption, transaction, and cache management, hence relieving developers from dealing with the most technical aspect of programming, which will help speed up application development and deployment.
An early sniff
Due to the early beta stage of the product, we received a computer with preinstalled Jasmine components. Therefore, we cannot make any comment about the installation process. Nevertheless, despite some glitches, exploring Jasmine was pleasant and captivating.
The core of the product is an object repository, based on the Jasmine object database where you register the resources to use in your e-business scenario, such as a database, an Enterprise JavaBean, or a COM component.
Jasmine translates those resources into objects that are immediately and easily available to your applications. For example, an order entry application that sends e-mail confirmation for each transaction would access your order database and your e-mail server via Jasmine's object repository.
Jasmine's graphical Browser tool lets you inspect or change the object repository and automatically create code to link your application to each object. Because Jasmine manages the most technical aspects of connecting your code to objects, you can only register resources that Jasmine knows how to handle.
Therefore, to become a Jasmine object, each resource must conform to a known technology; in Computer Associates' parlance, to a "Provider." Not having a Provider for a technology that your company needs -- Lotus Notes, for example -- could be one of the limiting factors of using Jasmine.
However, we saw an impressive list of Jasmine Providers, which should meet most mixed-platform requirements. Moreover, the number should increase because CA encourages third parties to add their own Providers.
Interestingly, Jasmine is one of the known Providers. Therefore you can easily link to another object repository, which gives developers an easy method to connect to resources owned by another Jasmine server.
Two Providers address two of the main issues of e-business development: connecting to legacy applications and applying business intelligence to your environment. Not surprisingly, they link, respectively, to CA's Opal and Neugents, products from Computer Associates that can integrate with the Jasmine platform. (For more information on Opal see our Product Review, "Opal ii puts host apps on a fast track," below. For more information on Neugents see our Product Review, "Neugents adds intelligence to apps,".)Lingering aromaJasmine ii impressed us as a much-needed e-business innovation that could answer many of the challenges that companies are now grappling with. Jasmine could make e-business development more economical and less challenging technically.
Unfortunately, pricing information for Jasmine ii was not available at press time. Computer Associates may reveal its pricing strategy, along with other details of the release, at CA World, April 9-14 in New Orleans.
By smoothing technological differences by using a common object-based archetype, Jasmine offers an environment where developers can concentrate on the business problems, and therefore better meet the challenge of e-business implementation. This seems to be exactly what the doctor would prescribe for companies with strategic e-business plans.
Mario Apicella (email@example.com) is a senior analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He has decades of experience in business and IT.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BETA
Jasmine ii 2.0, beta
Business Case: Jasmine ii has the potential to reduce development costs, enhance developers' responsiveness, and speed up e-business deployments by integrating easily with a wide array of technologies.
Technology Case: By defining a common interface for different technologies, Jasmine promotes easy creation and reuse of business components.
+ Simplifies development by leveraging multiple platforms and standards+ Comprehensive solution for developing and deploying e-business applications+ Open architectureCons:
- New, unproven technology
- Requires committing to the Jasmine infrastructure.