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PBDJ Editorial — Winning Back Expatriate PB Developers

The application server wars ain't over yet

Yes, Virginia, Sybase does have a J2EE-compatible application server, and it's known as EAS, short for Enterprise Application Server.

In fact, EAS is alive and well, and this issue of the PowerBuilder Developer's Journal will focus on the recent release of version 6.0. Why, you may ask yourselves, would a magazine dedicated to a 4GL development IDE want to devote any energy to reviewing an application server platform? The simple answer is this - EAS has been the lone choice for PB development shops that wanted to deploy NVOs to a middle-tier application server. There's no better audience for such a discussion (nor as deep a pool of available authors) than the PB community. The market is flooded with application servers for developers who are proficient in Java, C/C++, or C# and the .NET languages, but until recently, the only platform that was capable of supporting the PBVM and serving up PB components has been EAS and its antecedent, Jaguar CTS. (Note the use of the past tense in that last statement. More on that in a moment...)

EAS 6.0 contains a wide assortment of enhancements and new features that should entice current EAS users to upgrade, and hopefully convert a few of the non-believers to make the switch. In this issue, David Brandow of the EAS engineering team presents a full write-up on the new Web-based management console, and Rahul Jain offers strategies and techniques for migrating from EAS 5.0.

Here's a quick rundown of the major bullet points that are included in the GA release of EAS 6.0:

EAS is now fully certified at the 1.4 release of the J2EE specification. Some of the specific additions were JSR 88 (J2EE Deployment API), JSR 77 (J2EE Management API), JSR 115 (Java Authorization Contract for Containers), as well as EJB Timer and Web Services.

Sybase Central: you either love it, or you hate it. With EAS 6.0, you can go back to being ambivalent about it, because the management console has been rewritten to run in a browser. In his review, Brandow says that the decision to move away from Sybase Central and its plug-in approach shouldn't be thought of as a rejection of that platform, but a practical decision to embrace the ubiquitous, low-maintenance nature of the Web. This release of the management console also incorporates two additional plug-ins that were previously deployed to alternate platforms - the Web Services toolkit and the Web Services registry.

EAS 6.0 introduces a technology named Dynamic Java Components, or DJC, that essentially wraps all CORBA components (including PB NVOs, COM, EJBs, and C++ components) and exposes them as EJBs. From a client's perspective, all CORBA components now look just like EJBs. This replaces the use of the dynamic or generated skeletons that existed in EAS 5.0 and earlier. The goal of this change is to simplify the configuration tasks associated with deploying EJBs and CORBA components, and simplify the access to these components from the Web tier.

EAS 6.0 has several new configurable options that should make life much easier for both developers and administrators. These include the automatic generation of an ANT configuration script whenever a component package is deployed. These scripts can be edited directly, and combined with other ANT scripts, can completely automate server configuration. Another new option will automatically start a "default" database when the server starts up, so that the database will be fully available before any component methods require access.

The engineers were quite busy developing the features in this category, and they will be welcome additions. There are new tracing options for clients, servers, and components, as well as detailed component profiling enhancements. Finally, the old Server Runtime Monitoring panels have been replaced with a brand new Statistics view in the Web Management Console. The Jaguar CORBA APIs, Jaguar::Management and Jaguar::Monitoring, are still available for full backward compatibility.

One final note on EAS 6.0. Sybase has leveraged the new EAS architecture to develop the PB App Server Plugin, which will finally let PB developers deploy NVOs to non-EAS application servers. PB NVOs (and in fact all CORBA components) are now wrapped and deployed as EJB session beans, or optionally J2EE 1.4 Web Services. At this time, the list of supported application servers includes JBoss 4.0, Geronimo 1.0 (the Open Source Apache offering), Oracle 10 (OCJ4), WebLogic 8.1 (9.0 at GA), and WebSphere 6.0. The release will include a full PBVM runtime library, a remote debugging component, the WebDW component, and a simple proxy server that lets PB clients invoke deployed PB NVOs without requiring a client-side JVM. What amazed me the most about this software was that it required NO CHANGES to the PB IDE for implementation. Sybase has managed to "trick" PB into thinking it's talking to EAServer on the back-end, even though it may be JBoss or Apache back there! The PB App Server Plugin will be a separate product, with a separate download and installation routine, and the plan is to release it after 6.0 goes GA.

It would be easy to take this announcement at face value and infer that Sybase is "throwing in the towel" on the application server race. However, I prefer to put a different, more positive spin on it. This has a strong chance of winning back a good number of the expatriate PB developers who were forced to walk away from the tool when their IT shops standardized on a different app server platform. The immediate goal here is to sell more PB licenses, and to gain additional recognition for PB as a component development platform, not just a client-side tool. Secondarily, an increase in exposure for EAS itself as an app server platform will be a welcome change.

More Stories By Paul Horan

Paul Horan is a Senior Solution Advisor and Mobility Architect at SAP, and works with the SAP Mobile Platform and SAP Mobile Secure product lines. Paul joined SAP as part of their acquisition of Sybase in June, 2010. Prior to that, Paul worked for Sybase as a technical pre-sales architect supporting PowerBuilder, PowerDesigner, and SQL Anywhere. Paul works out of SAP's Reston VA office. A 1984 graduate of Indiana University, Paul currently resides in Arlington VA.

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