Sun's new distributed network architecture, Jini, may have some growing up to do, but it is in no way just a flash in the pan.
Sun has been working on Jini (pronounced Jean-ee) for two years. The name doesn't stand for anything, and some people use it as an anti-acronym, (Jini Is Not Initials). The new architecture is free and aimed at adding flexibility to systems to make them highly adaptive to changes in a network.
Sun hopes that someday it will become widely used by distributed application builders. It has yet to become a household word among developers. The technology has been making inroads in some niche markets and some say the technology is more flexible and adaptable than Web services.
Jini is a set of application programming interfaces and network protocols used by developers to create programs -- Jini services -- on a network that can find what is needed from other Jini services to perform their tasks. Some of the core ideas of Jini are leasing, discovery and the movement of objects over a network.
Sun says Jini will vastly simplify interactions on a network embedding a great degree of resiliency and scalability within a distributed system.
This means once a network resource, such as a printer for example, is discovered it becomes available to everyone on the network. This happens no matter where the users are and whether they requested a print job or not. The printer is simply added to a list of network resources by Jini.
Jini works by using Java objects moving on a network. The technology provides a method for clients and services on the network to find each other and work together to accomplish tasks. With the use of Java objects, Sun claims that Jini will work with any type of network protocol or technology.
Sun envisions a network where Jini can do its job as long as it is installed somewhere on the network, but not necessarily on every machine.
This total reliance on Java may be a shortcoming of Jini said Uttam Narsu, an analyst with Giga Information Group of Cambridge, Mass.
"If you look at why Web services is succeeding where technology like Jini might not, is because (Web services) is much more standards based. It doesn't require you to have a Java environment. With Jini it's Java or nothing.
As part of the free Jini package Sun is providing what it calls a surrogate architecture to connect devices to the network that can't accept Java objects. Sun claims that the surrogate architecture can help Jini work with connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth, Universal Serial Bus (USB) and FireWire.
Jini is still in the early adoption phase according to Frank Romano, group marketing manager for Jini. About 90,000 developers are currently working with the technology.
Sun is looking to target the financial and telecom markets with Jini, Romano said. Narsu said so far Jini has had some niche market success.
"In certain niche markets Jini is beginning to take off. In the telco market, it's having a degree of success in the device market, " he said.
Narsu said that a lot of the Jini technology is just way ahead of its time.
"The initial positioning of Jini towards devices was a mistake. I think if they had been a bit more foresighted with Jini that you could make an analogy between any kind of a device hooking up to a network to an application hooking up to an network," said Narsu.