App Engines Revved

By Timothy Dyck  |  Posted 2001-10-01

App Engines Revved

The increasing sophistication in the application server market is easy to see in the latest releases of IBMs WebSphere 4.0 Advanced Edition and BEA Systems Inc.s Web-Logic Server Premium Edition 6.1.

WebSphere 4.0, which started shipping in August, and WebLogic 6.1, which started shipping at the end of June, both provide sophisticated engines for building dynamic Web sites and Web-based applications, although WebSphere focuses more on manageability and WebLogic more on raw power.

WebSphere and WebLogic are focused on the enterprise and are good candidates for developing large-scale, mission-critical applications.

They are also fairly expensive. WebSphere 4.0 Advanced Edition Full Configuration (the version we tested) costs $12,000 per CPU. A Single Server Configuration version (which doesnt support clustering) costs $8,000 per CPU. IBMs matching WebSphere Studio 4 Advanced Edition Web application development tool and its VisualAge for Java 4.0 Enterprise Edition are $1,999 and $2,999 per developer, respectively.

WebLogic is roughly the same price: WebLogic Server Advanced Edition costs $10,000 per CPU, and WebLogic Server Premium Edition (which includes in-memory state replication, a high-end clustering feature that WebSphere lacks, plus a few other advanced features) costs $17,000 per CPU (we tested this version). A non-EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) version, WebLogic Express Edition, costs $3,000 per CPU.

Both WebSphere and WebLogic run on Windows, several Unix operating systems and mainframes, and both support all major Web servers.

Power Vs

. Manageability">

Power Vs. Manageability

In these releases, both products place a new emphasis on developing Web services accessible using HTTP, SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and WSDL (Web Service Definition Language). Both also include across-the-board updates to support Java standards.

In eWeek Labs tests, we found the products Web services capabilities quite similar. IBM uses The Apache Software Foundation Inc.s Apache SOAP libraries, which it had a major part in writing, with extensions to support WSDL and security. WebLogic uses its own SOAP engine and XML (Extensible Markup Language) parser, along with some Apache components.

Both provide command-line tools to package JavaBeans or EJB as SOAP objects. WebSphere can also make DB2 stored procedures accessible through SOAP.

Java standards compliance is also a major goal for both BEA and IBM, and we found WebLogic the clear leader in this area—a traditional strength for the product.

In fact, WebLogic is one whole standards revision ahead of WebSphere. It supports the final draft of J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) 1.3—the next big standards change for Java application servers.

Organizations that are pushing the Java technology envelope will thus find WebLogic a perfect match. Its cutting-edge; has a sophisticated engine with unusual features, such as built-in message queuing and a built-in transaction monitor with two-phase commit support; and moves in lock step with Suns Java development plans.

WebSphere Advanced Edition lacks message queuing but supports two-phase commit. It can also use IBMs MQSeries message queuing and TXSeries transaction monitoring products.

J2EE 1.3 was just approved last month, and BEA expects to have WebLogic certified as J2EE 1.3-compliant in the next few months.

WebLogics built-in support for message queuing dovetails perfectly with the message queuing features in EJB 2.0. Along with its MQSeries connector, sold separately, WebLogic is especially attractive for those building distributed Java applications, where message queuing is invaluable.

WebSphere 4.0 is J2EE 1.2-certified, the first WebSphere version to be fully J2EE 1.2-compliant, and so just supports the EJB 1.1 standard. WebSphere has traditionally been one of the slower application servers to adopt current Java standards.

However, for Java application server code written to J2EE 1.2 or earlier standards—which is pretty much all Java application server code right now—we found WebSphere a more productive and comfortable operating environment than WebLogic. In particular, WebSpheres configuration, monitoring and management tools were notably superior to those in WebLogic.

WebSpheres set of Java-based administration tools covers all the bases, including an Administrative Console for operational management, Application Assembly tool for interactive application archive construction, Log Analyzer tool for log analysis, and Resource Analyzer tool for measuring and recording performance data—plus a full set of command-line tools. We were particularly impressed with how the Log Analyzer referenced an online database to explain error messages and with the flexibility of the Resource Analyzer.

In contrast, WebLogics Server Console is focused only on operational issues such as starting the server and configuring installed applications. Its mix of a tree control and tabbed dialog boxes made the interface inconsistent, and it offered only rudimentary run-time statistics.

Although we could edit application deployment descriptors from Server Console, we couldnt create them from scratch. WebLogic provides command-line tools for this purpose, or developers can use a third-party development tool and then edit a generic deployment descriptor to add WebLogic 6.1-specific settings, which is what we did using Borland Software Corp.s JBuilder 5 Enterprise.

This bare-metal feel extends to other parts of WebLogic because BEA relies on third parties, including Borland and WebGain Inc., to support development tools that work with WebLogic. Since these tools ship on their own release cycles, they always lag behind WebLogic itself, in the same way they do with the other application servers they support.

On its own, WebLogic provides a full set of command-line tools for compiling and deploying code to itself. (Better support for Javas Ant make tool is included in this release.)

Both BEA and IBM offer related sets of products for back-end integration, personalization, storefront and portal creation, and workflow. IBM has a much more complete mobile development strategy through its WebSphere Transcoding Publisher, WebSphere Voice Server and WebSphere Everyplace Suite.

WebLogic doesnt provide any features for device detection, markup language abstraction or transcoding but works with mobile development products from Air2Web Inc. and others.

Speedy Caching

Speedy Caching

WebSpheres web page caching features are also better than WebLogics: They were easy to enable and administer and didnt require any page code changes, as WebLogics tag-library-based page caching design required.

WebSphere can also integrate with the Apache Web servers built-in cache (Apache is WebSpheres default Web server), and IBM sells a separate HTTP load balancer, WebSphere Edge Server, as another performance-enhancing option for Web farms.

We found WebSpheres built-in caching features plenty fast. For example, we tested them with a database catalog page of an online bookstore we wrote in Java and saw average page generation times drop from 184 ms with caching turned off (the default) to 12 ms with caching turned on—a fifteenfold improvement.

WebSphere doesnt match the breadth of caching features that Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i Application Server provides (it caches HTML and database content), but it still stands out as a sophisticated player in this space.

WebLogic Server Premium Edition


WebLogic Server Premium Edition 6.1


BEAs WebLogic offers a bleeding-edge Java application server that provides the very latest in Java technology. For those who want an application server that has everything the Java platform can offer, WebLogic is the right choice. However, its weak management tools and mobile strategy are drawbacks that will keep some companies away.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Java developers will appreciate WebLogics new command-line tools, which make application development and deployment easier.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // WebLogics deeply integrated message queuing support provides flexible ways for organizations to build large, distributed applications.

Supports J2EE 1.3 standard, including EJB 2.0 and message-enabled EJB abilities; built-in message queuing; in-memory state replication for high-performance clusters; Web services and SOAP support.

Bare-bones management and performance monitoring console; doesnt have a well-developed mobile computing strategy; limited caching features.

BEA Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.; (408) 570-8000;

WebSphere 4

.0 Advanced Edition">

WebSphere 4.0 Advanced Edition


IBMs WebSphere 4.0 Advanced Edition provides a solid framework for building Java-based Web applications. IBM also provides a large set of add-on products for WebSphere for quick deployment of storefront, mobile computing or voice-driven applications.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // WebSpheres support for the complete J2EE 1.2 standard lets developers move code between Java projects more easily.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Java 2 Connector Architecture support means costs for back-end integration will drop, especially for those using enterprise resource planning applications.

Supports J2EE 1.2 standard; detailed, full-featured administration, management and performance monitoring tools; Web services and SOAP support.

Lags in adopting new Java technologies; less flexible load balancing and fail-over support than competitors, including WebLogic, offer.

IBM, Armonk, N.Y.; (800) 426-4968;

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