NetDynamics Application Server -- A powerful application server, quite possibly the best application server on the market.

NetDynamics Application Server -- A powerful application server, quite possibly the best application server on the market.


June 5, 2002

Sun Microsystems seemingly acquires application servers the way that my son acquires Pokemon cards: as often as possible, with little regard as to how many Pokemon cards are already sitting in his acquisition pile. Call it the Pokemon Principle.

The Pokemon Principle seems to be the only explanation behind Sun's application-server strategy, which must be evaluated -- in addition to the product's technical capabilities -- when looking at NetDynamics 5.0, one of the leading application servers on the market. Sun's relative promiscuity in acquiring and positioning application servers started when NetDynamics itself was acquired by Sun and was followed up this year with the acquisition of the Netscape (nee Kiva) Application Server through its alliance with America Online. And it's a cause for concern, as Sun has declared that the Netscape and NetDynamics application servers will be combined into an integrated product sometime in the year 2000.

Does this strike you as being a relatively optimistic goal? We're not talking about combining two types of coffee beans here -- we're talking about combining two sophisticated application servers with a total of four owners (Kiva, Sun, Netscape, and the original NetDynamics) over the last three years

In the meantime, you need to map an application-server strategy, and NetDynamics 5.0 is part of that mix. Still, even with the uncertainty surrounding NetDynamics' future and its position in the marketplace, you'll want to give it a close look and decide whether it's the right product for you.

Most corporations won't need the power of NetDynamics. In an exemplary show of honesty, Sun itself admits that the power of NetDynamics is best used for portal computing, which applies only to the top echelon of computing sites. But these sites will be treated to a great product, especially on the development side with the Studio IDE.  next page NetDynamics is actually five products, each with differing strengths and weaknesses. In addition to the aforementioned Studio -- which we'll cover in some depth later -- NetDynamics includes the following:

  • The Application Server, which runs on a Java Virtual Machine.
  • The Command Center is the management center of the application server, managing either an individual server or a cluster of servers.
  • A JavaBean editor optimizes your code.
  • The Platform Adapter Component manages data access to every major data-object formats, including CORBA, COM, XMP, SAP R/3, CICS, OS/400, and CICS.
The application server is easily among the most advanced in the field and has everything an enterprise would want in a 24/7 portal application server. You can rely on the Command Console for managing a server or a cluster of servers. Reliability is enhanced with the Java Transaction Service, which maps multiple routines across multiple databases. The load balancing is based on algorithms, which routes requests to servers based on the usage levels of the other servers (as opposed to a round-robin arrangement, which routes a request merely to a less-busy server). Also featured are automatic failover (which completes a session on another server should the hosting application server fail), connecting pooling, caching of frequently accessed data, and SNMP reporting.

Of course, an application server isn't worth a lot without an IDE, and the NetDynamics IDE, Studio, is excellent. Studio creates HTML/Java pages that incorporate links to existing data sources; you can use predefined wizards to create these pages, or you can code your own HTML and insert the links automatically. The Studio IDE has a nice method of creating multipart pages: you can add fields to create the multiple parts or you can create two separate pages and then combine them in the end. However, the template support in Studio isn't as good: you can only have one HTML template per project. Unless you create pages from scratch and not rely on the template (or a style sheet), you're stuck Wizards manage the specifics of existing data sources, allowing you to specify which fields are included in the data view. You can also link to existing pages as well; for instance, you may create an e-commerce catalog and create a main page for a product category using data from a specific product page. When the application server generates the page and connects to the data source, it uses type-4 JDBC. This is a mixed bag: on the one hand, native driver performance is usually considered to be better than ODBC or JDBC performance, but when an application server is working with multiple database types, performance suffers when different drivers are loaded for each database.

Enterprise JavaBean (EJB) support comes when you insert a Java object on a Web page. Studio then incorporates the attributes of the JavaBean.

The EJB support is noteworthy -- many application-server vendors are scrambling to merely incorporate JavaBean support in their products for a future release -- as is the overall Java support. The Java debugger is comprehensive, working with Java code in different situations (even as it is handled by the Java Virtual Machine).

NetDynamics 5.0 is a powerful application server, quite possibly the best application server on the market when the development capabilities are filtered in. But unless you're running a high-traffic portal or don't worry about the future of the product, it may be overkill in terms of complexity and pricing.

Pros: 7 Studio IDE is adept at creating applications, 7 Support for COM, CORBA, and EJB, 7 Application server is perfectly positioned for portal-level computing, 7 Excellent administration tools, 7 Java debugger greatly enhanced Java development

Cons: 7 Overkill for the vast majority of Web sites, 7 The future of the product is somewhat hazy

New in v5.0:Support for Enterprise JavaBeans and CORBA, improvements to application developer; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5

Version Reviewed: 5.0
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 7/13/99
Date of Original Review: 7/9/99

Operating Systems: Unix