Distributed objects will reign

As vice president of technology for Oracle Corp.'s Government, Education
and Health Division, Tim Hoechst is responsible for all the technology issues of Oracle's
federal customers.


Hoechst, an avid promoter of Oracle's newest technologies, says the federal
government needs the network computing architecture because NCA will let applications talk
to each other--finally.


He came to Oracle in 1998 after graduating from Harvard University, where
he received a bachelor's degree in computer science. GCN senior editor Florence Olsen
interviewed Hoechst at his Bethesda, Md., office.


GCN: Do users really need distributed objects?


HOECHST: At Oracle, we believe the distributed object paradigm is
going to become the way people build information systems in the future.


We believe you can try this out incrementally and start to encapsulate old systems
using object interfaces. This is what we're working toward. We're pouring the cement into
the basement now.


We have the tools for modeling databases, but the tools for distributed objects are
much harder to build, because you're talking about managing not only my stuff but your
stuff. It's very complicated.


With distributed objects, we'll have objects communicating with others and asking them
to do things. This requires a lot of infrastructure and agreement on standards.


It requires modeling tools for understanding which objects are where, what questions I
can ask what objects, what happens when those objects change, if the questions change when
the objects change, how I protect myself from changes in those objects, how I distribute
them, how I maintain security, and how I have single log-on.


We are building a tool set to do all that. It's called Sedona and has no time frame at
the moment.


GCN: How will NCA help the government?


HOECHST: The move to a network computing architecture will have an
impact beyond just putting cheap computers on the desktop. Now for the first time we have
a chance to integrate stovepipe systems.


It's a myth to think people want to integrate stovepipe databases. They want to
integrate stovepipe systems, and what are the interfaces to those systems? The
applications. The database is irrelevant.


NCA is the concept of having the application and the data on the network but treating
them as separate components. It's also a common language. When we were doing distributed
databases, we had the Structured Query Language, which let these databases talk to each
other.


So what is the language for letting applications talk to each other? We don't know yet.
The Common Object Request Broker Architecture is what Oracle thinks it's going to be. The
Distributed Component Object Model is Microsoft's standard.


About 700 companies got together and decided on the CORBA standard. DCOM will be
important as well, because it's from Microsoft. We're going to make sure we support both,
but we encourage CORBA.


GCN: Are there places in the government ready to move into this?


HOECHST: The federal government has a lot of old systems. For years
federal managers have been asking us, can you make your Oracle talk to my IDMS or Adabas
or VSAM?


We've jumped through hoops to make that happen. Well, now they can wrap those legacy
systems in the modern language of communicating with applications. If the middleware can
make three function calls to a Cobol or VSAM system that, say, add or fire or promote a
person, then the Cobol or VSAM system could become a full peer in the distributed object
environment. The government would get new reuse out of those systems.


NCA is that idea. It's compliance with standards that allow these things to talk. It's
not just CORBA and DCOM. It's also SQL and Hypertext Transfer Protocol and Java open
standards. You can't buy NCA; it's not a product. It's a framework for building the
distributed information systems of the future.


We're following that framework in every product we release. We're encouraging our
partners to follow that framework by building standard components, and we encourage our
customers to follow this framework so they gain the benefits of network computing.


GCN: Does Oracle have products that support NCA?


HOECHST: Our Web Application Server 3.0 has an important CORBA
component, the Object Request Broker, which brokers objects in an enterprise environment.
We've put the plumbing for the ORB in there, but there are no spigots on it yet. Not until
Release 3.1 will those be externalized.


We're preparing to have a fully CORBA-compliant middle tier for distributed objects. We
have customers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They're happy we are
finally catching up with their vision and offering real products.


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