The CORBA Wand

Have you ever seen 1,300 people attend a two-hour long technology seminar? Well, recently 1,300 people attended a seminar on ‘Migration to Software Components’ by Dr Thomas Mowbray, Chairman, CMG, during his visit to India. This was never seen or heard before in India. The other day I was discussing the event with a professor from IISc and said it reminded me of a technology rock show. He wondered whether it was right to compare a technology seminar with a rock show.

The comparison is justified as the seminar truly reflected a passion for technology advancement and a committed desire to turn around the Indian IT industry. From Delhi to Trivandrum, India is gearing to ride on the technology movement. During the early
nineties when the industry witnessed the object revolution we missed the opportunity.

Now, when component revolution is sweeping the industry, India is being perceived as a country with the fastest growing software components base. More than 10% of Indian IT professionals have jumped into the wagon of distributed component management during 1998-99. It is significant considering that if 5% of the existing systems migrate to a new concept or methodology it will be termed as a revolution.

Let’s play with CORBA

CORBA (Common Object Research Broker Architecture), which is a fundamental technology for distributed enterprise-wide application, is affecting the way software is developed. The style and architecture of applications being developed is shifting. Centralized main-frame based applications accessed via terminals over proprietary networks is giving way to distributed multi-tiered applications. In the past few months, we have seen CORBA go to the South Pole when the Iridium IceTrek took an Iridium satellite telephone with them on almost 3,000 km of unsupported polar track. It is being used to keep missiles on target in real-time environment as in China Lake and in managing the flow of information as in the America Automobile Association and the Bank of America. Even natural gas and other energy commodities are being traded with the help of CORBA. For example, Enron Capital and Trade Resource Corp.

After initial reluctance, Indian software companies are looking at CORBA as a de-facto standard in building enterprise systems. CORBA could help large as well as small and medium sized companies. For corporates like Satyam, Infosys, TCS and Wipro, adopting CORBA would help to strengthen their migration opportunities and repositioning in the global CODE (Components Objects Development Environment) market which is estimated to grow by 400% in four years. While SMEs could adopt CORBA to gain technology edge and provide capability-led strategy to larger software houses. Companies like Network Programs, MTC, Evolus and IBS have plans in place to enter the domestic ecommerce market with
CORBA-based applications.

CORBA for enterprise computing


Most companies which have been doing business for more than five years have legacy systems. Old mainframes or servers sit in back rooms and crunch numbers all day long. Chances are that these machines are not the best possible solution but they work and also store many years of historical information. The cost of replacing them, re-writing their programs and transferring old data to new systems is usually too high for most companies. CORBA allows developers to write a thin layer of IDL and connectivity code for legacy system and then writes client code in model languages or model platforms.

Building entirely new solutions using CORBA has even more advantages. Developers can rapidly assemble properly designed CORBA components to produce new applications.

This is easy to achieve as CORBA is being used in diverse areas as in manufacturing, health care, telecommunication, finance, transportation and utilities. Incidentally, one sometimes hears of CORBA as a Unix solution. Here, I would point out that the main delivery platform for Iona and Inprise and a bunch of other CORBA vendors is NT. More CORBA copies are shipped on NT than on Unix.

Large-scale system design can benefit greatly from CORBA. Building reliable, robust, maintainable and extensible large-scale distributed systems requires substantial engineering efforts. This could be a first step toward building large component systems based on Base Architecture to guide development and reduce risks. The primary goal should be to define the application system and architecture and then prototype emerging architecture guided by technology increment. This will also involve building several infrastructure services as well such as Naming Service, Management Capability, Event Handle, Exception Mapping, Security, Logging, Transactions and Load Balancing.

An enterprise could develop


a migration plan to leverage current investment in legacy, to build reusable modular components and get off-the-shelf implementation.

CORBA market alliance


Asia has 10% of the worldwide software market. Of which Japan has 80% of the share. This calls for more defined and intelligent implementation by Indian companies to compete with countries like Israel, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore and Japan.
India on the CORBA horizon.

The ‘CEOs Conclave 99’, organized by CMG and STPI at Delhi and Bangalore, attended by more than 200 CEOs, provided a platform for CEOs and industry leaders to share their opinion and issues concerning Indian IT. The idea was to build component vision for India. The market growth lies in vertical domains like health care, finance and telecom where large-scale systems could be implemented.

"To start with India must have its technology adoption program"- says PS Narotra, Director STPI. That means we need to define domain-specific architecture and participate in the relevant international standards activities. Because the benefit of having open standards outweighs the loss of the control they would have in a proprietor technology. This will automatically bring India next to Japan (in terms of adopting open standards and migrating to components-based development). In fact, a current study shows around 70% of Indian IT companies are on the verge of adopting CORBA as the standard component model which is surely a positive indication.

This also calls for building alliances for off-shore market and competes on the basis of technology. More than 80% of Fortune 1000 companies have invested in OO Based systems in the past three years. It is estimated that component revenue will increase from $1.4 billion in 1997 ($300 million software, $600 services) to $7.1 by 2002 ($2.2 billion Software, $4.9 billion services). It may be beneficial to Indian IT industry if they could build coalition to support mutually agreed metadata standards and alliance channels to Europe, and the US. CORBA is a fundamental technology for distributed enterprise application. CORBA is being used by 70% of component users. It has been a long journey since a friend was stranded at the airport for carrying CORBA material.
The Airport Authority mistook ‘CORBA papers’ to mean that he belongs to some ‘COBRA Gang’. It has also not been long when we overheard people mis-spell CORBA. Good boy! It is only just a beginning.

SUNIL DUTT JHA,
CEO, Component Management
Group.

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