Sunday, September 04, 2011
The impact of Arjuna
I've mentioned before that I have the privilege of speaking at Santosh's retirement ceremony. I've also said on several occasions how much Santosh and the Arjuna project have influenced my life over the years. So I decided to speak about the transition of Arjuna from a research project that was originally just the vehicle for several of us to get our PhDs, through to today when it's at the heart of the most downloaded application server in the world.
Fairly obviously I have lived through the transition over the past 25 years. And despite having parted ways with my company in 2005, I've been able to continue to work with them, as well as obviously shepherding the transaction system through JBoss and Red Hat. However, it wasn't until I started to write my presentation that everything we've done over the years came back to me. (I suppose that being so close to things sometimes makes you forget.) I found it really hard to cram 25 years into a 60 minute session, so many things had to be left out or confined to a single bullet. For a start, when Arjuna was still a research effort it managed to help at least a dozen of us get PhDs, was the basis for over 50 papers and technical reports, and influenced distributed systems research and companies from IBM to Sun Microsystems.
But it's when you look beyond the research that the real impact becomes apparent. For a start, in 1994 we used it to implement a distributed student registration system that is still not matched by the one now provided by a certain large business management software purveyor. In 1995 the OTS was being developed and that was already influenced by Arjuna, since Graeme was now at Transarc. It wasn't too long before we began to implement an OTS compliant transaction system using Arjuna and this was my first dealing with standards. We also got involved with IBM, Alcatel and others in defining standards for extended transactions through the CORBA Activity Service (which would later be the basis for the various Web Services transactions efforts.) At about the same time Stuart was driving the workflow submission with Nortel and working on OpenFlow.
Then in 1996 Sun released Oak, later to become Java. We all started to use it in a number of areas, including games, a browser (great way to learn HTML) and a web server. I looked at end-to-end transactions and then decided that an even better way to learn the language would be to implement Arjuna in Java. Over two weeks at Christmas 1996 JavaArjuna was born (later to become JTSArjuna when I ported the OTS.) This was before J2EE, before JTA and before JTS. So not only was this the worlds first 100% pure Java JTS, it was the worlds first 100% pure Java transaction service.
It was round then that we created a company to market the Java and C++ implementations. We were acquired by Bluestone, which was subsequently acquired by HP and Arjuna went into their product suites to compete against BEA and IBM (there was no sign of Oracle middleware in those days!) While our time at HP was limited, we still managed to work on two Web Service transactions standards efforts as well as produce the worlds first such product. We also branched out into high performance messaging and building an ORB.
When HP decided it couldn't make a go of software, we created another startup to concentrate on transactions and messaging. We had several successful years, making sales to the likes of TIBCO and WebMethods, creating two new Web Service standards committees in OASIS and finalising two of them (BTP and WS-TX). We also found a market by replacing the transactions and messaging components in JBoss 3 with our own. And within all this, there was still time to write many papers, give many presentations and more worlds firsts, such as XTS.
As I said earlier, in 2005 we sold transactions to JBoss and I bid farewell to Arjuna the company, though obviously Arjuna the technology stayed pretty close! Over the intervening 6 years and an acquisition by Red Hat, we've seen Arjuna (aka JBossTS) incorporated into every version of AS as well as all of our platforms and many projects, even if they're not written in Java. The teams have branched out into REST as well as Blacktie, to offer XATMI support. There's also work on software transactional memory using JBossTS and now, with the move of Red Hat into the cloud, it's available in OpenShift and beyond.
Even this blog is way too short to cover everything that has happened on this 25 year long journey. I haven't been able to cover other aspects such as OpenFlow and messaging, or the impact of the people who have passed through the Arjuna project and Arjuna companies. I've also only hinted at how all of the research we did at the University or in industry has influenced others over the years. I think in order to really do the Arjuna story justice I need to write a book!