The two rivals, who together dominate the market for Java-based infrastructure software, proposed three standards that they said would simplify the process of connecting business applications across application servers based on the Java 2 Enterprise platform.
Current standards have brought some consistency among application servers that run Java applications and connect to data stores. However, there's still enough inconsistency among different brands of the infrastructure software to give developers headaches.
"There's core elements that are the same, but each vendor then adds stuff on top that's proprietary to that vendor's approach," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at market researcher ZapThink. "The proposals from IBM and BEA increase the consistency among Java-based application servers by offering specifications for technologies that would sit on top of the Java platform."
IBM and BEA are publishing the specifications on a royalty-free basis and are seeking industry feedback. They also plan to submit the technology to the Java Community Process, the industry group formed by Java-creator Sun Microsystems to set standards for the platform.
One of the proposals, called Service Data Objects, provides a layer of abstraction above heterogeneous data sources, including relational databases, data stores based on XML content-management systems and applications accessible through emerging Web services standards.
Service Data Objects is a programming model that helps in building loosely coupled connections between multiple applications, as opposed to less-flexible integration provided by software adapters available today. The technology opens up the Java platform further for use in a service-oriented architecture--essentially a collection of services, which are functions that are well-defined, self-contained and don't depend on the context or state of other services. Communication between services can involve either simple data passing or having two or more services coordinating some activity.
Proponents of service oriented architectures say these can solve many of the problems of connecting business applications across networks by separating the integration layer from the application, which makes it possible to change the application without breaking the connection with other software on the network.
The other specifications, Work Manager for Application Servers and Timer for Application Servers, make it possible to perform asynchronous tasks within the infrastructure software. That enables a developer to build applications that could, for example, take an order from a customer over the Internet, and then perform multiple tasks concurrently, such as a credit-card validation, inventory check, shipment scheduling and other activities. This flexibility can help in providing faster service to a customer, officials at IBM and BEA said.
Besides introducing new technologies, the joint announcement shows a flexing of muscle by the two leading Java vendors, which have begun to overshadow Sun in their influence in directing the development of the Java platform, Bloomberg said.
"With this announcement, we now have the two undisputed market leaders in the Java world getting together and saying we're going to use the [Java Community Process], but we're going to use it in a way to help our customers," Bloomberg said. "They don't even mention Sun. Sun is irrelevant to what IBM and BEA are doing."
IBM and BEA acknowledged that the companies were offering the technologies based on requirements from business customers, which also want to see more standardization.
"Our customers, given our leadership roles within the Java community, expect to see these innovations standardized within the Java process," said Rod Smith, VP of emerging technologies for IBM's software group.