During the past few years, PHP has grown to be more than just a simple tag-centered scripting language for neophyte Web designers who want to do a bit of programming. A quick survey of the breadth and depth of the open source projects using the language shows that people can and will build enterprise-grade applications with the embedded tags. Now Zend Technologies, the company steering the language, is rolling out more tools to support the enterprise-grade servers that run these more serious applications.

The latest offering, Zend Platform, brings sophisticated monitoring to system administrators who want to ensure that all clients get their data. The tool tracks the performance of all scripts and integrates with Zend’s accelerator to offer faster performance through script compilation and caching. If the server fails to provide the right level of service, the tool can fire up Zend’s development studio for direct debugging.

The Platform begins at a subscription of US$995 for one year. Zend continues to distribute the basic PHP toolkit for free as an open source package that is practically bundled with the omnipresent Apache, a tie-in that encourages people to experiment with the language. The fees from add-on products such as the Zend Platform support the general development of the language, a process that is adding more sophisticated object-oriented features and making PHP more and more like JavaServer Pages.

I tested the system by installing it on a Macintosh running several of the common PHP applications such as PHP-Nuke on the built-in version of PHP. The process couldn’t have been simpler. After unpacking the system and running the installer scripts, the Zend Platform started tracking all pages served by the system. There was no recompilation of the scripts or reintegration. It just started working, and the information was immediately available through the Web server.

It was a bit harder to get the Platform to communicate with the debugger in the Zend Development Environment, but I was able to solve it with some help from Zend. The debugger software was well-designed with some nice tools for testing these connections when specified, but the tools for connecting the Platform with the IDE were not always sufficient.

Monitoring is only one of the jobs of Zend Platform, a cornucopia sort of tool for the various enhancements that Zend sells. If you want to optimize the performance of Web pages and track the effect the optimizer has on performance, you can click through to a page that summarizes the speed gains from compiling or caching a script.

My numbers seemed to range between zero and 50 per cent, and the overall gain the system calculated was 24 per cent. If necessary, you can turn compiling and caching off, although I can’t think of many practical reasons to do this.

The Zend Platform will certainly be a big leap forward for PHP designers. The serious enterprise developers have always clustered around Java.

As a result, the tools available for Java have always been stronger and more sophisticated. Zend’s instrumentation will give PHP developers a much-needed way to catch up. It offers a good start at supporting a serious enterprise operation built around PHP.

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