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Pushing Out to Your Clients

Pushing Out to Your Clients

Since Push technology is making such a big splash with the Internet community, naturally we wanted to take a closer look at the emerging technology. Java Developer's Journal recently had a chance to interview Mark Bowles ([email protected]) of Tibco. Tibco recently released the latest version of its TIB/Rendezvous Push product.

TIB/Rendezvous is an industrial-strength messaging tool which allows application developers to build scalable distributed applications that share data across LANs and WANs. These applications run on heterogeneous platforms and communicate transparently with self-describing data messages and subject-based addressing.

Mark is the Technical Guru (his official title) of Tibco and was very enthusiastic about doing the interview.

JDJ: How did you get started with Push technology?
MB: TIBCO started life in 1985 (80 Net years ago) as a large-scale custom systems integration company. We got a major contract with a large New York investment broker to build a digital trading system for them. At the time, most traders (the guys you have come to know and love from Liars' Poker and Bonfire of the Vanities) had video monitors delivering up-to-date stock prices to them. In their business, timeliness and accuracy of current stock prices are everything - they trade for their own accounts on such thin margins that a mistake of a quarter or an eighth can make the difference between making and losing millions of dollars.

The problems with the video systems were several: the data was presented in a form which was convenient for the sender, not the traders; it could not be used in spreadsheet and other modeling calculations since it was just a video image; and reconfiguring a trading floor often meant hundreds of thousands of dollars in electrician charges to rewire the video cables under the floor. What was needed was a system which transmitted all of the data through a local area network and which transmitted it in usable form - floating-point numbers tagged by ticker symbols, for example. We pioneered this form of trading system in 1986-87. This, in short, is the ultimate Push application.

Today, this system is in use in a majority of the large investment banks and mutual funds around the world. During active trading hours (which is most of the time in this global world), trades and quotes stream into a pair of fault-tolerant servers in the computer room of the bank; they are converted to TIB records and published on the network based on their ticker symbol or CUSIP code. Recipients have an application on their desks which knows how to subscribe on the same basis. Since the underlying transport is IP multicast, each message is sent only once regardless of how many people are listening.

JDJ: Why Push technology?
MB: Glad you asked. Push - publish/subscribe, as we call it - is fundamentally different from request/reply and both paradigms are important in today's high-speed, high-throughput, just-in-time world. With request/reply, a client asks a question and a server answers it. The server is the repository of knowledge (often a database) and the client is seeking to extract one or more facts from it. Ask another question, get another answer. What's missing from request/reply, however, is proactive notification of change. Say user "A" changes the value for the number of red widgets in the finished goods inventory. The database dutifully stores the new value and might even run some triggers within itself in order to make sure it is self-consistent. But what if users "B" through "W" would dearly like to know when the value changes? Neither the database, nor the request/reply paradigm, provides any help with this. To solve their problem, users "B" through "W" have to poll the database periodically, asking a question like, "Well, how many red widgets are there now?". This generates a huge amount of useless database load and net traffic and is, in a fundamental way, missing the point. The original transaction changed the world in some way; the system should take the responsibility to proactively propagate the news of that change to people who want it. That's why our flavor of push is called publish/subscribe. Push is pro-active notification of change. It's distribution of the news in the most general sense of the definition of the word "news."

JDJ: Where do you see the technology going?
MB: Eventually, it will be as all-pervasive as TCP/IP is today - that is, Push will be built into operating systems, routers, switches, firewalls. While this will take some time - probably several years - I know it will happen because of the popularity of the ad-hoc Push products which currently are on the market without the help of O/S's and so on.

JDJ: Which brings me to an obvious comparison. How does TIB/Rendezvous compare to Marimba's Castanet and other similar products?
MB: It comes down to three things:
1. "True Push" - TIB/Rendezvous ("RV") not only presents a publish/subscribe interface to its users, but it actually performs the dissemination of information in a true pro-active fashion. Messages are sent on the network only when changes actually happen, pro-actively, from the publisher (Marimba's transmitter) to the subscriber (tuner). We use IP multicast to accomplish this and to get the huge one-to-many fan-out required for real, scalable Push applications. Most of the rest of the so-called Push applications, including Castanet, use TCP/IP - a point-to-point protocol - under the covers and are really repeatedly polling from the tuner to the transmitter. This is a little like covering a hole in the floor with carpeting - it doesn't help the problem, just makes it look better.
2. "End-User versus Middleware" - This is why most of these vendors (our marketing folks, [email protected], can get you the current, complete list) have signed up to use RV under their covers. Most of these applications come from young, venture-funded companies, trying to add value to the Internet. Such companies cannot afford to attempt to "change the world" as we can - they have to put products on the ground which work with today's operating systems, firewalls and so on, and if they are inefficient on the network side, well, that's a problem we'll solve after we're profitable. TIBCO, however, is a middleware vendor and we view these firms as our current and potential customers.
3. "Web-oriented" - Also, most of the other firms have focused on the more specific problem of "pushing" selected Web pages from Web servers to individual clients - that is, "Make sure I always have a current copy of the page www.playboy.com on my laptop so I can enjoy it on the airplane." This focus allows the companies to be more consumer-oriented, but it also leaves behind a much more compelling problem, in our opinion: "My firm needs to know when a customer, collaborator or competitor changes its mind about something."

JDJ: That said, what are the benefits of TIB/Rendezvous?
MB: RV, being transmitted via multicast, uses much, much less network traffic than solutions which are built on top of TCP/IP or HTTP. Also, the use of multicast harnesses the compute power of the routers and switches of the network, so that the sender does not have to do a quantum of work for each (receiver, message) pair. Non-multicast solutions must do an explicit "send" for each receiver for each message; the more the sender is successful (i.e., the more listeners it has), the higher its compute load - the good news is that we have a hundred thousand listeners; the bad news is that we have to buy a Cray and lease two more T3s to accommodate them.

JDJ: Mark, who's using TIB/RV today?
MB: Our financial applications now run in most of the large investment banks around the world. The technology is also very useful in running manufacturing operations and, in particular, semiconductor fabs. Four of the five largest semiconductor manufacturers are using TIB/RV or its predecessors in controlling all of their new fabs. The most successful stock-quote Web page out there right now is Yahoo!'s; it is powered behind the scenes by TIB.

JDJ: Where do you see the technology five years from now? Ten?
MB: I've touched on this one earlier. Five or ten years is an incredibly long time in Net years! I'm quite sure that Internet multicast and the other basic technologies underneath TIB/RV will be installed and running in the fabric of the world's compute network, including the grand Internet, in five years.

JDJ: Is this technology for large corporations or can small businesses use it as well?
MB: We sell TIB/RV through our Web page and have dozens of small customers as well as our larger banking, manufacturing and other clients. Our marketing and sales focus is on the Global 500, but we also encourage small OEMs who use RV to build custom applications.

JDJ: How does TIB/Rendezvous fit into a typical corporate Web?
MB: Corporate environments, whether they are Web-based or not, are the target environment of RV. Java-in-the-browser makes any reasonable Web browser a potential RV sender or listener, with the corporate network handling the transport via IP multicast. Think of the number of things which change, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, second-by-second, in a corporate environment. With TIB in your Web page, you can sit back and watch them change on an otherwise static Web page, rather than repeatedly hit the refresh button in order to see what's new.

JDJ: What do you think of Java? Where does it fit in? ActiveX?
MB: On the surface, Java and AX are frameworks through which we make RV happen; we offer interfaces to both, as well as RV versions for virtually all hardware/OS platforms. Personally, I am also very bullish on Java; we started actively tracking it a few months before the first Java-One and introduced our first Java-based products there.

JDJ: We want to thank you, Mark, for this very interesting discussion. Readers who wish to read more about TIB/RV, or want to download a free trial version, should surf over to http://www.tibco.com. The Tibco Web site features FAQs, white papers and additional information about TIB/RV and other Tibco products.

More Stories By Ed Zebrowski

Edward Zebrowski is a technical writer based in the Orlando, Florida, area. Ed runs his own Web development company, ZebraWeb

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