Sun breathes life into application server

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday released the latest version of its application server to run Java-enabled programs, the first update to Sun’s Java application server in nearly two years.

Java Application Server Platform Edition 8 is based on a fully redesigned architecture, including implementation of the latest Java Web services standards, Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) 1.4, making it easier to write and run Web services applications written with Java, Sun said.

Sun also said the new app server uses 55 per cent less memory than its Java Application Server Platform 7.

Developers can download and deploy the software for free and can bundle it without paying a licensing fee. Documentation and access to online support is also free, which is a move that Warren Shiau, senior analyst for the software research program at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said is a way for Sun to adhere to the latest specifications and build out the server’s ability.

“Sun is playing into the basic recipe [for upgrades],” Shiau said.

Sun is already considered to be a heavyweight along side Oracle Corp., BEA Systems and IBM Corp. in the application server space. While its rivals outpaced it in the application server market in the past, Sun is going after the market again.

“It sets them up to go after everything…but by giving the app server for free, they are also looking to get install base,” Shiau said.

In other words, Sun is setting the stage to offer more than a stack that can only sit on top of Unix systems, Shiau explained. The recent announcements by Sun to make peace with long-time rival Microsoft Corp., and previous revelations that it would move its stack to sit on Linux as well, demonstrate that it is going after a bigger picture.

“I think gradually they’ve come to the realization that they have to appeal to a larger market as well,” he said. “In the past they would’ve been very limited by the fact that their stack is really on a Unix stack.”

Shiau said the server market is open in a lot of respects, because it doesn’t require a huge services organization to be behind it.

“There’s room for Sun to move,” he said. “I think Sun will do fine with this.”

A lot of Sun’s future success will also be a result of the new strategic direction the company is taking with Windows and Linux, Shiau said.

However, for Sun to really make a push forward, the incentive for the enterprise customer to adopt the Java Enterprise System also has to be a driving force. The JES is a suite of Java server products that includes the app server, Web server, directory server and clustering software, and runs about US$100 per employee.

“They are focusing on the application server as an instrument to get someone else, ultimately going after their full stack,” Shiau explained. He added that they likely also hope to drive sales of JES.

Sun said it plans to release a more advanced enterprise edition of the app server platform in the second half of the year, which will include clustering software.

Edition 8 of the application server also supports JavaServer Faces application program interfaces. JavaServer Faces technology simplifies building user interfaces for JavaServer applications with reusable user interface components.

The Java System Application Server Edition 8 is now available for Solaris 8/9, Windows 2000/XP and Red Hat Linux. Standard and Enterprise editions of the software will be available later in 2004.

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