Focus Shifts to Simpler and Cheaper App Servers

The Web application server market-plump with a history of high-margin Internet deals-is retrenching to focus on a quicker return on the dollar and lower life-cycle operating costs.

The Web application server market—plump with a history of high-margin Internet deals—is retrenching to focus on a quicker return on the dollar and lower life-cycle operating costs.

One immediate change is a huge drop in purchase prices. In a market known for its $100,000-and-up server software licensing charges, prices are falling like bricks.

One dramatic example is Sun Microsystems Inc.s Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Application Server 7.0 (see review). The flagship of Suns Java server strategy is now free in its base configuration (Platform Edition), while the high-end Enterprise Editions price has been cut in half: $10,000 per CPU versus $19,995 per CPU for the 6.5 release it supersedes.

Platform Edition will be bundled with Solaris when Solaris 9 Update 2 is released this month. "Free is attractive to a lot of different enterprises, allowing them to do things that were cost-prohibitive before," said Deborah Andrade, senior product marketing manager for Sun ONE Application Server, in Santa Clara, Calif. Sun will include with the Solaris update an evaluation copy of BEA Systems Inc.s BEA WebLogic Server, in a team effort to chip away at IBMs market share.

IBM, neck and neck with BEA for Java application market share (with about a third of the market going to each), is also re-engineering WebSphere to make it less expensive to deploy and operate (see review of Version 5.0). The low-end version of WebSphere 5.0, WebSphere Express, costs $2,000 per CPU (although this version lacks Enterprise JavaBeans support), and most versions of WebSphere 5.0 no longer require users to maintain a database to store configuration information—this information is stored in a set of XML files on disk.

Previously, JBoss Group LLCs JBoss, The Apache Software Foundations Apache Tomcat and Macromedia Inc.s JRun dominated the very-low-cost Java application server space. (Another commercial player, Lutris Technologies Inc., left the application server market entirely early last year.) This shift down market will put pressure on JBoss and Macromedia; Tomcat is actually a component of Suns application server, and Sun developers are actively working on keeping Tomcat up-to-date.

Microsoft Corp.s free .Net Framework run-time is also a major factor pressuring the Java application server to deliver more for less. .Net Framework provides a modern programming environment competitive with Java 2 Enterprise Edition (lacking, however, a data abstraction layer similar to entity beans). Coupled with Windows 2000 Server and Visual Studio .Net, .Net Framework provides a complete environment for Web application development and deployment.