Reshaping the Application Server Market

Reshaping the Application Server Market

September 1, 2000


Last autumn, the new shape of this market and its related market potential was discussed. Although the e-business solution and e-business framework segments will thrive in the future, for the moment, it appears that the application server market is shrinking.

The New Shape of the Application Server Market
What's Really New?

CFML, Allaire ColdFusion's markup language has also become a part of its parent company's Java strategy. And last but not least, there are a few open source scripting languages like PHP or PERL. Indeed, PHP has been extremely successful and appears to be a real contender.

Scripting tools are often considered entry-level application servers because they lack built-in load-balancing and failover features; nonetheless, they often get the job done.

J2EE-based solutions target enterprise class projects and applications because J2EE's distributed and object-oriented capabilities tend to be better suited to large-scale projects.

As a result, J2EE-compliant application servers seem to capture the most mind share. (Unfortunately, however, the definition of "compliant" varies among vendors.) We believe that enterprises that adopt J2EE are making a move in the right direction because such adoption brings the industry one step closer to standardization.

Since application servers are becoming standard at their core level, the whole notion of the application server is becoming a standard part of enterprise information systems, much like an operating system. J2EE plays an important role in this standardization process.

Open Source Software, which is particularly strong in the Java application server field, is another force fueling this evolution. A handful of important Java OSS projects, such as Enhydra, Apache JServ & Tomcat, and Jonas, are making it easy for every company to have a J2EE application server.

What's Happening?

Once you are familiar with a product that is generating good results, it's worth trying to stick with it to capitalize on the investment. Such Web development tool pioneers as Sapphire/Web, WebObjects, WebLogic, and Cold Fusion are good products to extend from use in intranet applications to use in e-business applications.

Of course, the server must then meet a new set of requirements. In particular, it must be scalable and offer both performance and reliability. Moreover, in light of today's fast-paced market, customers want out-of-the box solutions and ready-to-use components.

The top-to-bottom approach consists of getting rid of any existing tools and looking for the solution best suited to specific e-business developments. If an organizations plans to focus strictly on e-business requirements, some application server vendors cover this area well.

These solutions also work well for intranet applications. However, products from players such as BroadVision, InterWorld, and Vignette are not designed to develop customized applications and are seldom appropriate for intranet application development.

If you happen to come upon a solution that works for both intranet and e-business processes, it is a great opportunity for your company to standardize Web developments with one product. Just don't forget that the chosen product must be in line with industry standards. The above processes are only guidelines to keep in mind when making a decision.

Moreover, standardizing all Web developments within an enterprise should not be the ultimate goal, as in striving for perfection one risks leaving the needs of employees and customers unfulfilled.


As providers of the technical infrastructure needed to build applications, application server vendors could be considered the real losers in the thriving Internet economy. Newcomers to this market have quite a hard time. Indeed, the market leaders have already been identified (i.e., BEA, IBM, SUN and Microsoft); a few gumption-filled challengers have stormed the front (Bluestone, SilverStream, Allaire, and the like); and some standard OSS application servers such as Enhydra have made the community stand up and take notice.

All things aside, one big issue still needs to be addressed: application server productivity. If we compare the productivity of today's Web application development tools with the rich client/server tools we had (and still have), there is still a lot of room for improvement.