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Have Jini, will travel

Orbitz put Sun's technology at the core of the framework that powers its online reservation systems

By Carol Sliwa
September 6, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Jini was still being marketed as a networking technology for consumer appliances such as DVD players and televisions when start-up Orbitz Inc. made the rather bold decision to build its business on the fledgling Java-based specification.
Forged in 2000 by five airlines, Chicago-based Orbitz had a blank technology slate when it elected to look beyond Sun Microsystems Inc.'s consumer hardware pitch and explore Jini's potential as a distributed computing framework for its online travel services. Orbitz architects knew that few companies were using Jini, but they were comforted to learn that one, Raytheon Co., was exploring the technology for systems on U.S. Navy destroyers.
"If it's good enough to protect lives and countries, maybe it's good enough to sell tickets on," says Leon Chism, Orbitz's eighth employee and now chief Internet architect.
A CORBA Alternative
Skilled in building large-scale systems based on the Common Object Request Broker Architecture, the Orbitz development team saw Jini as a CORBA alternative that would provide a mechanism for acknowledging the effect the network has on how a system is designed and runs in production, says Chism.
"You had a group of people that felt technically capable and qualified to make it work," adds Chief Technology Officer Chris Hjelm, who joined Orbitz from eBay Inc. in July 2003. "They've always been independent thinkers, and they wanted to control their own destiny."
Orbitz also considered using the emerging Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) technology but soon scrapped that idea because of concerns about performance, management and cost. Company architects figured they wouldn't require the transactional capability of EJB and decided that dynamically networked Jini services would be a better fit.
"If you compare how to define and access an EJB remotely versus how to do that in Jini, it's orders of magnitude different in terms of lines of code and complexity of the code," says Chism.
"I think I can actually publish a Jini service in about three lines of code. And accessing it is probably two lines of code," says Steven Hoffman, principal software engineer at Orbitz. "Most of the people that actually know and need to know about the Jini infrastructure, you can count them on your hand. Everybody can focus on the real work at hand. The plumbing doesn't get in the way."
Building a service-oriented architecture to get disparate systems to interoperate isn't such a newfangled idea today, but at the time Orbitz decided to break up applications into services, its architects weren't familiar with the terminology. They just knew that customers would need to book flights, hotels and cars. To enable that,

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