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OMG Embarks on New, Broader Strategy to Address Evolving Interconnection Standards

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At its latest meeting in Irvine, Calif., February 26 – March 2, the Object Management Group voted to endorse the Model Driven Architecture as the group’s architectural direction, expanding its scope beyond the Corba open middleware standard it has traditionally supported.

MDA is an open, vendor-neutral approach that builds upon OMG’s existing modeling standards: Unified Modeling Language, Meta-Object Facility, and Common Warehouse Meta-model. Platform-independent application descriptions built using these modeling standards can use any major open or proprietary platform, including Corba, Java, .NET, XMI/XML, and web-based platforms.

“The OMG has always promoted the idea of platform neutrality, operating system independence, and programming language independence, but there has been a platform-dependent part and that is the dependence on the Corba platform for interoperation,” said Dave Benton, co-chair of the OMG’s Life Sciences Research Domain Task Force. “Well now there are other kinds of middleware so the view is for the OMG to maintain this platform-independent approach so that specifications to promote interoperability could be developed that are independent of Corba.”

“From OMG’s point of view this isn’t so much a change of direction, it’s more of a broadening,” said OMG co-chair Scott Markel.

The change in strategy has particular implications for the life sciences, Benton said, because the field has been reluctant to adopt Corba, viewing it as “too heavyweight.”

The MDA should permit a wider group of life science programmers to participate in the specification process. Benton said the OMG and groups such as bioPerl, bioPython, and bioXML “could get together and we could merge the best of our ideas.”

“The semantics of bioinfor- matics or cheminformatics don’t depend on Java or Perl or Python, so we should be able to come to some useful agreements about what the interfaces should be independent of how we’re going to implement those,” Benton added.

Ewan Birney, co-developer of bioPerl, welcomed the OMG’s willingness to find common ground with bioPerl and bioJava, but questioned the level of involvement his group would have in the standards adoption process.

“The move to these areas doesn’t really enable bioPerl to ‘join in,’” Birney said.

The adoption process will not change, although new specifications would require a platform-independent implementation as well as an implementation in at least one of the platforms. The benefit of this approach, according to Benton, is that “you can use the organizational apparatus of the OMG for adopting industry specifications without locking into any one of these middleware platforms, and then once you’ve got a specification it could be implemented by different people in whichever platform makes the most sense.”

Benton said the exact changes that the MDA will bring to the OMG’s procedures and operating methods would be worked out over the next couple of OMG meetings.

— BT

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