Does the App Server Market Still Exist?

by ServerWatch Staff

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research J2EE-based solutions Non-J2EE solutions Microsoft solution An alternate way to do this is to segment the market by development model (e.g.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

  • J2EE-based solutions
  • Non-J2EE solutions
  • Microsoft solution

An alternate way to do this is to segment the market by development model (e.g., open source software vs. proprietary solutions).

Before proceeding further, it is worthwhile to define the role of the application server. Under TechMertrix's definition, "an application server provides an infrastructure and set of services that make it possible to serve applications using Internet-related technologies."

Although the title of this article is deliberately provocative, the application server market has evolved greatly over recent months. This evolution is so significant that the application server's very function is increasingly being seen as a basic commodity within any e-business infrastructure, just as the "file system" is seen as a basic function in any operating system. The distinguishing features now come at the level of the applications and frameworks that rely on the application servers.

The application server selection process can therefore be broken down into the three technical categories described above. We shall illustrate how, out of the 40 vendors identified, there are few products in which it is really worth investing.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

The following types of players are present in the J2EE market sector:

  • Hardware and server vendors
  • Database vendors
  • "Independent" vendors
By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

The vendors' positions as hardware manufacturers gives IBM, Sun, and HP a considerable advantage over other application server vendors. However, the technical differences between products are not a predominant reason for choosing one over another, even though they should not be ignored.

The market presence of these players and their distribution channels make them the incontestable leaders in the field.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

Lastly, in the "database vendor" category we again find IBM, this time as the vendor of DB2. For IBM, this represents one more way to access -- or retain -- customers. IBM promotes WebSphere as a platform that groups together all of its e-business-oriented products, rather than solely as an application server. Integration between the different component parts of the range is not yet complete, but the end goal will be to offer a layer of uniform, integrated services, all based on J2EE.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

One of the reasons for BEA's leadership over other ISVs is its very advanced level of technology. BEA WebLogic Server is very much recognized by the market and by its customers as a solid technical product. The major market players (database vendors and manufacturers) consider BEA to be one of their biggest competitors. Further proof of the vendor's leading position is evidenced by the alliances BEA formed Vignette in January 2001 and BroadVision in November 2000. One should bear in mind, however, that the implementation and results of these alliances will take some time to materialize.

BEA is flanked by a number of other vendors, each of which is opting for different positioning, or is likely to do so shortly.

SilverStream stands apart from the crowd due to its highly integrated development environment. It is now playing its "solutions and framework" card with ePortal (Enterprise Information Portal), and xCommerce, an XML-based integration tool designed for creating Web Services (SOAP). One sign of change can be seen in the company's willingness to make these products (ePortal and xCommerce) independent of SilverStream Application Server, making them portable to the main J2EE application servers. SilverStream has also considerably developed its strike force in terms of consulting and integration with its acquisition of a number of system integrators (both in the United States and in China).

Many other products will still have to find their differentiating factors and establish their position on the market. TechMetrix will continue to evaluate these players and provide regular analysis.

Lastly, enterprises should consider the J2EE open source solutions. There are many such projects around, including JBoss, Tomcat, Caucho, Jonas, and Enhydra. This last product, Enhydra, is actively supported by Lutris Technologies. This open source solution is a credible alternative to the commercial application servers. Enhydra is a very active project, and TechMetrix advises keeping a close eye on developments. The Beta 1 version of Enhydra Enterprise -- which integrates many J2EE functionalities -- has been available for download since March 2001.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

For the time being, ColdFusion offers considerable advantages in terms of simplicity and productivity.

PHP is a language designed for the creation of Web applications. Simple and powerful, PHP is an OSS project that is actively supported by Zend Technologies, a vendor that offers support and complementary products, such as Zend Cache (performance optimization), Zend Encoder (encrypt PHP Code), and Zend IDE. The challenge that lies ahead of the PHP writers -- and now also the founders of Zend -- is to find a solid niche in the market.

Enterprises tend to choose PHP in the following circumstances:

  • They cannot, or will not, invest in the skills necessary to carry through Java projects.
  • They do not want to be held hostage to Microsoft's proprietary technology.
  • Because PHP is open source, initial acquisition costs are nonexistent!
By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

The .NET strategy introduces various new concepts. Looking closer at Microsoft's approach, we might label it ultra-proprietary. Indeed, all the interesting innovations are inextricably linked with one another and anchored to the Windows platform (e.g., Active Directory Services). Paradoxically, Microsoft is opting for the "honest" approach, playing on openness and interoperability by actively participating in the development of the SOAP standard.

This openness encourages us to hope for a good degree of interoperability between the Java and Microsoft worlds, particularly in terms of business-to-business exchanges based on the concept of Web Services.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

To sum things up, the results of a TechMetrix poll taken in February 2001 (286 votes) provide a telling overview of the situation.

This article was originally published on Thursday May 3rd 2001
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