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Flying South

Flying South

My neighborhood is home to a host of birds, many of which fly south during the winter months. With spring in bloom, I always look forward to the return of the various avian travelers who dart and weave all over the open fields near my home. That's the kind of migration I look forward to.

In the software world, there's a less appealing form of migration, one we can never truly get away from. That's the migration of code and servers from one version to the next.

Some migration efforts have been a direct result of the evolution of the EJB and J2EE specifications. In the earliest incarnations, much of the deployment mechanism was left up to the container vendors. While EJBs were, in theory, portable, for all practical purposes, it was an adventure to move them from one container to another - which we often had to do as organizations explored the emerging container vendors, back before it became a two-horse race.

XML deployment descriptors were a big step in the right direction, allowing the IDE vendors to do a better job of deployment to multiple platforms. Part of that was just standardization, but part of it was driven by other necessities.

Probably the biggest driving force in this evolution was the development and standardization of Container Managed Persistence. As containers became more sophisticated, and Container Managed Relationships and EJBQL evolved, the deployment descriptors and mechanisms changed accordingly. Fortunately, the J2EE specification is now a bit more stable, and updates come at a more benign pace. Unfortunately, that doesn't insulate us from the other source of migration - vendor version updates.

The J2EE application server platform has grown by a process of accretion - last year's differentiators are this year's core product. JMS is a great example of that. All vendors try to innovate, and introduce new features that are not quite part of any specification. JCA is a perfect example. BEA supported it from the outset, but added functionality (asynchronicity, among other things) and then lobbied the JCP to include it in the next release of the specification.

All of which is good, up to a point - the nightmare of migrating an application from one version of the software to another. In some cases, such as when major specification changes occur, it behooves an organization to examine its application and see if it's time for refactoring.

But in other cases, the move to the next version of software is more painful than it should be. For example, it seems the console changes each time we get a new release of WLS. That adds to administration headaches, even if you just want to redeploy the old application.

What we really need is to fix the deployment standard - with a common interface for the core specification. There should be a common descriptor, a common interface (or interfaces, one thick console, and swing based, one in JSP) that can be expanded, but not changed. Any new, proprietary functionality would be added as extensions, and managed by the console.

In the meantime, we have a new release of WebLogic Server. The early version that I've seen has a great deal to offer, even if it will take work to migrate to it. In particular the revamped Workshop is going to give MS Visual Studio a run for its money.

Even the bird migrations are not without a downside. As I look out my window, I see the turkey buzzards are back too. Still, I look forward to seeing most of the migrating creatures. Migrations are like that, even the best ones.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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