App server vendors shout the standards message

Vendors vying for firm footing in the growing application server market used the CeBIT trade show to promote the latest versions of their software, including products newly certified as compatible with Java2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), and to highlight alliances that are designed to increase the development activity on application server platforms.

BEA Systems Inc. announced a strategic alliance with Lufthansa Systems GmbH during CeBIT, while its closest rival in the application server segment, IBM Corp., showcased its WebSphere product, which earlier this month passed the J2EE compatibility test suite. Other open-standards application server vendors, including Inprise/Borland Corp., Iona Technologies PLC and iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, a company formed by Sun Microsystems Inc. and Netscape, used the show to tout their wares and detail recent announcements.

Application server software provides a key component for companies that want to make their systems accessible for Internet-based e-commerce applications. J2EE is technology that enables software developers to write the guts of business applications such as connections to databases and handling transactions that will run across different computing systems.

The research company Ovum Ltd. predicts the application server market will grow to US$10 billion next year. BEA and IBM currently hold the largest shares of the market, each with about 24 percent, according to the research group Giga Information Group Inc. Giga places iPlanet’s share of the market between 1 percent and 2 percent, but said it will emerge as the clear number three.

Recent developments at BEA include support for a wide range of standards for Web services announced in February, including UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), a standard that enables businesses to publish technical specifications on how they want to conduct e-business with other companies, SOAP (simple object access protocol), a standard for transporting electronic business messages from one business application to another over the Internet, WSDL (Web services description language) XML (Extensible Markup Language) and ebXML (electronic business XML).

BEA delighted technology investors with its recent quarterly results showing a profitable quarter with a 72 percent increase in revenue compared with the same period last year.

Sun’s role in the emerging application server market is key because it promises to build a market around J2EE. In January it released Version 1.3 of the programming environment, which includes features designed to improve connectivity and interoperability. Nearly 25 application server vendors are licensees of J2EE, and 10 vendors have achieved J2EE certification, according to Sun.

The alliance between BEA and Lufthansa Systems gives the German airline’s IT division the right to design and sell products built on BEA’s WebLogic E-Business Platform both within and outside the Lufthansa Group of companies. Under the agreement Lufthansa Systems will receive comprehensive support for designing and deploying application architectures built on WebLogic. The two companies have collaborated for three years and already have created a system for the Star Alliance association of airlines to seamlessly exchange information without modifications to the individual airlines’ existing IT-systems.

Another project BEA and Lufthansa Systems have worked together on enables companies to create a customized online search and booking tool for flight, hotel and car rental reservations. The system offers passengers arrival and departure information, interactive graphical seat reservations and the best available prices for flights, and it can be accessed by personal digital assistants (PDAs).

In addition to WebSphere’s J2EE certification, IBM officials at the show emphasized its support for UDDI and SOAP. By supporting UDDI and SOAP, IBM’s products help companies create e-business applications and services that are better able to interact with other Web-based applications.

The Dublin-based Iona Technologies Inc. showcased its Total Business Integration strategy at CeBIT. The strategy includes supply chain automation, logistics and distribution, customer relationship management and collaborative commerce. The software suite is compatible with a host of standards including XML, WSDL, UDDI, SOAP, RosettaNet and ebXML.

Iona also detailed its plans for Netfish Technologies Inc., a provider of XML-based business-to-business integration technology, which Iona acquired in February. The acquisition is a key element for allowing Iona to distribute its back-end software suite on the Web, the company said.

SAP AG also appears poised to better define its position in the application server market. Its wholly owned subsidiary, In-Q-My Technologies, founded in July after SAP bought the application server division of ProSyst Software AG, develops J2EE application server technology. In-Q-My’s ApplicationServer was built from scratch as a highly modular, extensible server platform designed to fully support J2EE, SAP officials said.

IBM can be reached in Armonk, N.Y., at; BEA Systems, in San Jose, Calif., is at; Sun, in Palo Alto, Calif., can be reached at; IPlanet, in Palo Alto, Calif., is at +1-650-254-1900 or; Iona, based in Dublin, can be reached at; SAP AG, in Walldorf, Germany, can be reached at