Can Suns Jini change the way we network?

Posted on April 01, 1999

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Can Sun`s Jini change the way we network?

James Staten and Carolyn DiCenzo

In January, Sun announced the availability of Jini, a networking infrastructure that runs on top of Java creating a "federation" of virtual machines. Put simply, Jini is a piece of Java software that gives devices "plug-and-play" network functionality. It comprises just 48KB of code, and the virtual machine required to run the code doesn`t have to be present in every device--just accessible on the network.

The technology enables devices and applications to automatically join a network and it makes their services available across that network. At Jini`s core is Java Remote Method Invocation (RMI) from Sun`s Java 2 Platform, the networking service that lets Java objects interact with each other across the wire.

Jini can be separated into two categories: Jini Infrastructure and Jini Distributed Programming. In addition, network services will be provided to run on top of Jini. Jini Infrastructure addresses the issue of how devices and software connect to and register with the network. "Discovery" and "Join" protocols solve the problem of how a device or application, with no prior knowledge of a network, registers itself with the network for the first time. "Lookup" is the network bulletin board for all service on the network.

Jini Distributed Programming provides additional functionality for building distributed systems in Java. Jini devices negotiate a certain amount of time, after which they disconnect unless the lease is re-negotiated.

What problem does Jini solve?

Historically, device drivers, which tie hardware and software together, have been a significant problem area for software vendors shipping new operating systems that require hardware support. Jini solves--though not completely --the driver problem. It does so by allowing the device to bring its own driver with it. For example, add a Jini-enabled digital camera to a network and devices on the network recognize it and use it.

At first glance, this sounds like Apple`s Appletalk Network protocol, but Jini`s potential extends far beyond network discovery. At the most basic level, vendors need to write Java-based drivers, or Java interfaces to drivers, for all devices that could run on a Jini network.

The storage angle

The Networked Storage Division at Sun joined in supporting the Jini announcement with the commitment to embrace the technology and integrate it into its evolving management architecture for storage area networks (SANs) and intelligent storage devices. The first logical point of integration will be with StoreX--an initiative to create Java APIs for data and storage management services and to foster the development of cross-platform applications.

Partners Seagate and Quantum joined Sun`s Storage Division in promising to incorporate Jini into future technology plans. Both will initially target devices for the small office/home office market, but will also look to incorporate Jini into their strategies for providing intelligent storage that can be directly attached to the network.

In a demonstration of StoreX at the launch event, Sun showed how Jini and StoreX allow on-the-fly allocation of storage based on usage patterns. Jini drives are simply connected to the network, and the StoreX framework seamlessly integrates them into the storage pool.

Jini could have significant implications for network-attached storage products because it is designed to reduce the compute burden for these products to attach to the network. The days of a drive with a network interface card could be closer than ever before.

Sun did a good job of bringing a large group of vendors together not just to announce Jini, but to demonstrate prototype applications using the technology. It is very easy for a vendor to throw a quote to the public relations folks claiming they support the latest technology announcement. It takes a different kind of commitment to work on a prototype.

However, there are technology issues that need to be addressed, such as security and the missing JavaSpaces-type services, before Jini becomes a reality. Sun must continue to nurture partners build to the specification and continue to expand the services. Sun has indicated it will take an open approach to its licensees, hoping they will develop into a self-regulating and evolving community.

Dataquest believes Sun must be more involved in the evolution of this technology and will need to devote resources to maintain and grow the momentum it has built to date. Sun will also need to take a leadership role in adding Jini support to its own hardware and software products. And Sun will need to heavily document the successes, both internally and with partners, as products become Jini-enabled.

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James Staten and Carolyn DiCenzo are analysts with Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose, CA. For more information on Jini, visit www.dataquest.com.


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