"Interoperability" is on the tip of many tongues these days, and a growing number of multi-national companies and government agencies are doing much more than talking about it. The OSF Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) is behind some of the biggest distributed computing projects in existence, and the companies working with DCE are now as diverse as the industries they represent. And to add to its current role as the distributed computing infrastructure for major end user organizations, there is the emerging role for DCE in secure electronic commerce.
In the telecommunication industry, U.S. West, whose subsidiary U.S. West Technologies is developing a mission critical inventory application using DCE infrastructure. Bellcore, the research and development organization for the Bell Operating Companies, is using DCE as a base for enterprise-wide computing for its clients. Ericsson Messaging Systems, a division of Ericsson, has produced a state of the art, multi-media messaging product making use of DCE communications.
In manufacturing, Cummins Engine Company is now using DCE to deploy file and print services across the enterprise, and DCE is a key component of General Motor's "common systems" strategy for the corporation. 3M, a multinational enterprise with 87,000 employees, is planning for deployment of an enterprise-wide distributed computing framework based on DCE, including use of DCE to provide access to proprietary mainframes and legacy applications.
These are just a few examples of the growing use of DCE technology, an integrated set of services that provides the foundation for distributed computing in a heterogeneous computing environment. DCE is helping companies realize their distributed computing potential in a wide variety of ways, whether it is providing communication between clients and servers using DCE's Remote Procedure Call (RPC), letting companies use a single naming model throughout their distributed environments using DCE's Cell Directory Service (CDS) and Global Directory Service (GDS), making sure distributed applications are in sync by regulating system clocks using DCE's time service, or making global file access as easy as local access through DCE's Distributed File Service (DFS).
The U.S. Government is committed to DCE for solving its interoperability problems. NASA is using DCE in its Earth Observing Systems Data Information System, one of the largest information systems ever implemented, comprised of legacy systems and data, computers of many varieties, far-flung networks, and satellites in space. "DCE satisfies many of the core interoperability, security and transparency requirements we need for an open distributed processing solution," says Carl Wheatley, Communications and Systems Management Chief Engineer, Hughes Information Technology Corporation, prime contractor for the NASA project. The current plan outlines the role of DCE in federating large distributed active archive centers across the country as well as interoperating with may other sites in the U.S. and abroad.
In addition, collaboration of U.S. Department of Energy laboratories, industries, universities an other government agencies called the National Storage Laboratory is bringing high-capacity, high-performance storage and networking technology together into useful, manageable, distributed, network storage systems using DCE. "The idea of network-attached storage devices is not new," says Richard Watson, program leader of the National Storage Laboratory. "But it's only recently that the technology has advanced to the point where the idea can be considered seriously for common use. When we began this project, many of the pieces needed for high capacity, modular, networked storage systems already existed. What was lacking was an environment or control framework for all the pieces to fit in, one that would be consistent from vendor to vendor. We chose DCE because of its wide adoption among vendors and its near industry-standard status," says Richard Watson, program leader of the National Storage Laboratory.
The High Performance Storage System (HPPS) uses the DCE RPC mechanism for control messages and DCE Threads for multitasking. The DCE Threads package also is vital for HPSS to serve large numbers of concurrent users and to enable multiprocessing of its servers. HPSS also uses the DCE Time, Cell Directory and Security Services.
"Security is an important part of this project," says Hilary Jones, an HPSS collaborator from Sandia National Laboratories. "It's a concern for everyone when sending passwords over a public network. Using the DCE Security Service as the basis for our work saved 5 to 10 man-years of effort.
In another area, Secom, the largest personal and property security provider in Japan, has implemented DCE to strengthen its network to help them provide round-the-clock monitoring and reporting capabilities for its customers. At Secom, users take advantage of DCE's directory to locate and utilize services throughout the network and track vast files of data.
"SECOM chose DCE because it allows users to make the most of the network without having to worry about the location of various services, and because DCE supports easy installation, use and maintenance of client/server applications," says Yuichi Suzuki, Senior Manager in SECOM's Open System Design Group. "In addition, the DCE RPC hides the details of communication protocols for users, thus simplifying the use of our network."
In a non-distributed system, the operating system can be trusted to protect resources from unauthorized access. In distributed, open systems, this is not the case. Not surprisingly, DCE's security features are the most compelling of all DCE features to companies involved in maintaining secure environments for their distributed applications.
DCE Security contains three main parts: 1) an authentication service, which verifies the identity of the user who is making a request; 2) an authorization service, which grants access to the resources or data requested, and 3) a registry service, which manages the security database containing such things as encryption keys and user passwords.
DCE Security is integrated with other DCE components, and the combined solution is optimized for distributed, heterogeneous environments. Cooperation between DCE RPC and DCE Security provides authentication, authorization, and secure communications. And through its access control list facility, DCE Security works with both the DCE Directory Services and DCE Distributed File Service to provide protection for entries and filesets.
The implications of secure communication for the proliferation of goods and services are many. In the retail world today, though a customer may obtain information on products and services electronically, he must still fax a credit card number to the merchant to consummate the sale. For airline reservations, though all flight information is available electronically, an agent still must broker the transaction between the airline and the traveler due to network security limitations. As hospitals expand operations into satellite facilities to serve patients in remote locations more expediently, secure electronic access to medical records is essential. In these and other application areas, the DCE security service has an increasingly important role, along with the other distributed services that DCE provides.
The DCE application and tools base continues to grow, and most major system vendors now provide DCE solutions as part of their product offerings. For more information on DCE, contact OSF at 617 621-7300 or access The Open Group's Web home page, http://www.opengroup.org/.
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