Open-source app server gets enterprise-ready

The Enhydra open-source application server may become a more viable option for companies building e-commerce applications as it nears support for the latest Java enterprise technology.

The beta version of Enhydra 3.0 supports Enterprise JavaBeans components and several other key pieces of Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology, which developers are increasingly using when creating three- or multi-tier server-based e-commerce applications.

The developer of the Enhydra Java/XML application server – Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Lutris Technologies Inc., which also provides consulting and technical services for building Web applications – released Enhydra to the open-source community in January 1999. But the early product was geared to help developers connect clients to only one server, said Keith Bigelow, director of product management at Lutris.

The new version, which can be load-balanced, will let companies build more complex applications that include multiple server-to-server links, Bigelow said.

“Until they get the J2EE and management facilities in there, [Enhydra] isn’t a competitive application server,” said Craig Roth, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc.

Roth cautioned that for large corporate users, the application server “is too essential a part of an e-commerce site to trust to something that’s open-source and comes from a smaller company.”

Yet some users are finding that open-source application servers can offer significant benefits to skilled developers.

Ryan Fife, a technology strategist at, a hub site started by Dallas-based People Design Technology Inc., said he can identify and fix application bugs more easily than he could using commercial products.

Fife said he once might have spent a day or two tracking a bug before learning from the vendor that it was a product problem.

“Since [Enhydra] is open-source, the community around it is much more involved than I found with [commercial] products,” he said. “The open-source community really helps you to not sit around spinning your wheels and get around to writing productive code.”

Fife said he likes to track the evolution of the application server code, so he will have the flexibility to use incremental builds of the product, rather than being forced into all-or-nothing upgrades from commercial vendors.

“The application server market now is very immature. No matter how many big, important things IBM or Microsoft want to sell you, no one has it figured out 100 per cent,” said Victor Brilon, another technology strategist at

Chandresh Shah, vice-president of marketing and business development at, a portal in Shelton, Conn., said many companies start out buying expensive software only to find it inadequate for their needs. They then must make extensive modifications.

Both Shah and Brilon cautioned, however, that any companies considering using Enhydra should have a development team experienced in using Java and XML. The biggest deficiency in the product, Shah said, is its lack of ease of use.

One helpful feature, Fife said, is Enhydra’s XMLCompiler, which lets him take a pure HTML file and separate the presentation layer from the business logic. Other open-source application servers include Zope ( and the PHP open-source scripting language and Zend engine (

By combining Enhydra with other open source software such as Linux and the Apache Web server, companies can run complex Web applications on a foundation of community software.

The basic Enhydra engine can be downloaded and deployed for free. For a fee, Lutris packages the software with documentation, certification testing, integrated free and third-party software, and various consulting and support services. Lutris officials say 25,000 copies of Enhydra have been downloaded so far.

Enhydra 3.0 will also support wireless applications based on work done by a Taiwanese company called TopWare, which implemented a specification called the Wireless Markup Language in Java. WML is based on XML. A developer could build an application in WML or HTML, and Enhydra would compile it into a Java class that runs on the application

Enhydra 3.0 will be available in standard, professional and enterprise editions.

The standard edition, due in April, includes the basic server, plus services and support, full documentation, and Enhydra certification for a variety of operating systems, databases and Web servers. The price tag will be less than US$250.

The professional edition, due in May, will cost less than US$500 and incorporate the Jbuilder Foundation Java tool set from Inprise, Apache Web server, the PosgreSQL database and other software.

The enterprise edition, scheduled for availability sometime in the summer, will add the full set of Java2 Enterprise Edition APIs and documentation, along with an array of third-party software products still to be determined, all for under US$1,000.

All editions run on Linux, Windows NT and Solaris.