Oracle Application Server -- An enterprise-level application and transaction server
June 25, 2002
Lumping together all application servers into a single category may be a disservice to those that are aimed at a particular niche. In the case of Oracle Application Server, Enterprise Edition, there's no doubt about the product's niche -- the enterprise -- and when compared with most of the other application servers reviewed here, this product is heads above most of the others in its product space: IBM WebSphere, Sybase Enterprise Application Server and Netscape Application Server.
Oracle Application Server can't really be termed a pure application server, as it's designed to both serve applications and manage transactions. It also doesn't have a full set of development tools (although Oracle does bundle OAS with other development tools), which is unique in the application-server field. The emphasis in OAS is in pure server technology -- the assumption is that development will be done elsewhere. (An appropriate assumption for a product designed for the enterprise.) This sort of hybrid purpose is unique in the application-server world; in these roles Oracle Application Server can serve two needs at once in a more resource- and cost-efficient fashion. Managing transactions -- in essence, making sure that every transaction is successful -- provides a guarantee that is especially important when maintaining database integrity.
This flexibility is extended to Oracle Application Server's platform support, which includes Windows NT and virtually every other UNIX variant under the sun, including Linux. We tested Oracle Application Server on a Windows NT 4.0 Server and configured Oracle Application Server to run in conjunction with Microsoft's Internet Information Server 4.0. Oracle says that Oracle Application Server will run with every major Web server, including Netscape Enterprise Server and the Apache HTTP Server.
A wide range of application languages are supported on a middle-tier level by Oracle Application Server, beginning with the obligatory Java and including Perl, C, COBOL, and PL/SQL. CORBA objects are also supported at this level, thanks to a development tool, JCORBA. (In the future, Oracle will also support DCOM objects in much the same fashion.) At that same level, ODBC connectivity is supported, which allows any component to access an ODBC database and then return the formatted results. You can create APIs to communicate between these components, even on different servers in a cluster. Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) is supported, albeit on a limited basis -- since EJB is still an emerging standard, the official line is that Oracle will probably be changing and possibly expanding the EJB support in the future.
On the transaction side, Oracle Application Server supports the major transaction standards, including TX, XA, and CORBA OTS. The Internet Inter-ORB Protocol can be used for access, as well as standard HTTP. In terms of security, Oracle Application Server supports X.509 certificates and the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) 3.0, as well as domain and IP restriction. If you're using Netscape Directory Server, Oracle Application Server supports LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol).
Oracle Application Server is managed via a browser-based tool, which provides instant access to any application server in a cluster. It's also easy to set up load balancing and failover, two features that are essential for any enterprise-level clustered application server. In addition, Oracle Application Server features process isolation, which prevents wayward processes from crashing other processes.
Oracle Application Server is an industrial-strength application server that excels at both application serving and transaction management. While it's overkill for anything but the enterprise, Oracle Application Server is a great tool for any Fortune 500 company in need of secure and reliable application serving.
Pros: Good application server and transaction server combo, Midlevel tier supports virtually every programming and scripting language, Easy to administer
Cons: Limited Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) support
New in v4.0:
CORBA 2.0, Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP), and limited Enterprise JavaBeans support; dynamic and customizable load balancing; enhanced transaction services; improved Windows NT integration; enhanced server management features; improved scalability with multi-threading; now 100% Java programmable; integrated Oracle platform; Release Notes