Sun readies app server upgrade

Sun Microsystems Inc. is readying an upgrade to its enterprise-level application server and is touting new downloading figures as evidence of the company’s growing presence in the application server market.

Sun Java System Application Server Enterprise Edition 8 will be offered in a preview release in a few weeks and is due to ship early in 2005, according to Sun.

“We’re enhancing some of the functionality to improve the management and administration features of that as well as investing in and improving the performance, especially in EJBs (Enterprise JavaBeans),” said Deborah Williams, product line manager for Java Web services at Sun.

Improving high availability will be focal point of the new release, she stressed. Enhancements will be made to the application server’s ability to run multiple server instances in a high-availability architecture, she said. Compatibility with J2EE 1.4, which has been known as the Web services-enabled version of J2EE, also is a highlight.

The Enterprise Edition features high availability and management functions not available in the lower end Platform Edition of the application server, which will be refreshed at the same time as the Enterprise Edition, albeit with only minor tweaks such as bug fixes, Sun officials said.

The free Platform Edition has been downloaded for free nearly 1 million times since March 23, according to Sun. The company is touting this figure as evidence of the momentum of Sun’s application server. The Platform Edition is included with the download of the J2EE 1.4 software development kit itself.

By comparison, though, the rival JBoss Group Inc. open source Java application server has been downloaded 5 million times since March 2001, according to JBoss. And a July report on application server market share in North America from International Data Corp. had Sun garnering just a 4.9 per cent market share in 2003 — this was far behind BEA Systems Inc., with a 30.6 percent market share; IBM Corp., with 27.6 per cent, and Oracle Corp., with 17.4 per cent. Sun’s share dropped 10.9 per cent last year. IDC, in explaining the drop, cited pricing and bundling strategies at Sun, including integrating software packages together as one system.

An analyst said Sun’s strategy of bundling its application server with the J2EE 1.4 reference implementation was clever.

“By converging their low-end product with the reference implementation, they just basically got their product into the hands of anybody who downloaded the reference implementation,” said analyst John Rhymer, vice-president at Forrester Research, with a focus on application development and integration. “It’s very clever.

“I basically consider (Sun) a challenger because their stuff is cheap. You can basically get a full-blown application server and gain the rights to deploy for nothing,” Rhymer said.

The Enterprise product, however, costs US$10,000 per CPU when deployed separately from the Java Enterprise System enterprise software bundle. Java Enterprise System, including the Enterprise application server, costs US$100 per employee per year.

A study to be released Tuesday by The Middleware Company and commissioned by Sun will report that Sun’s application server is present in about 25 per cent of application server deployments, Sun officials said.

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