Industrial-strength application server for the enterprise market
Note: This is the final version of Netscape Application Server that will be released. iPlanet advises enterprises considering Netscape Application Server to evaluate iPlanet Application Server 6.0 instead.
Netscape Application Server requires a separate Web server for serving static Web pages and images (obviously the Netscape literature pushes other Netscape servers, but any Web server that supports the Netscape Server API or Internet Server API plug-in interfaces will work; in a worse-case scenario, you could also use a CGI interface). The Web server is also used to route dynamic-content requests to the most appropriate Application Server on the network; from there the server runs a Java or C++ program to process the request.
The resulting data is sent back through the Web server to the requesting client in HTML pages built from your templates or XML-based pages with built-in support for Enterprise JavaBeans front ends (support for Java Servlet applets is promised sometime in the future). This allows your data to be easily integrated with other Web-based fronts ends that may or may not explicitly reference your Application Server (for instance, retailers could incorporate data stored on a wholesaler's Application Server).
This leads us to one of the major questions regarding Netscape Application Server: Where would you employ an application server? One area would be the electronic-commerce world, where you would use Application Server as a replacement for current existing programs or where (in the better-case scenarios) you would start from scratch building database applications. In fact, database connectivity is one of Netscape Application Server's greatest strengths: you can mix and match native drivers for Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase, and Informix database-management packages.
In addition, Netscape Application Server supports vanilla Open DataBase Connectivity (ODBC) interfaces, as well as legacy mainframe interfaces. While you'll need some level of database expertise to make database management really hum, the building tools are all there, particularly a query designer designed to extract data directly from the database. The designer generates SQL code, which can be used directly or incorporated into other programs.
Netscape Application Server is also one of the most scalable solutions we've run across. There are definite performance hikes when you deploy more than one server on a network. And, quite honestly, very few enterprise-level situations will call for only one application server, since implementing more than one gives an enterprise that much more firepower while at the same adding some needed redundancy on the network.
Deployment and Project Managers allow you to specify components for deployment on any applications server on the network; you can use this capability to update applications while shifting tools to virtually eliminate downtime on the network. Information about users is stored by session, and this information can be shared among multiple application servers. Again, this adds some level of redundancy while tracking important user information.
One area we are disappointed with is the relatively meager site-management tools provided with Netscape Application Server. Granted, Application Server is meant for deployment on a larger site that is presumably governed by other tools, but that doesn't mean that a user-friendly interface couldn't have been included with Netscape Application Server. However, remote browser-based administration is supported, and a real-time monitoring tool gives you a slew of information, including disk and CPU load.
Another area of potential concern is Application Server's support of only one solution for running Java applications -- the JavaSoft Virtual Machine. Other competitors in this field -- most notably Sapphire/Web -- can use either the JavaSoft VM or Microsoft's VM on an NT platform. At the present, Microsoft's Java VM is considered to be more stable and faster than the JavaSoft VM. While it's understandable that Netscape would rather support a product from a strategic partner like Sun, it seems a little unfair to make users put up with potentially inferior performance.
Netscape Application Server is actually a set of products: the server itself and the Java-based Netscape Application Builder and Netscape Extension Builder. These tools are really meant for situations where you need some down-and-dirty applications for simple input and data queries. The real workhorses will be the components you create using Java or C++, HTML templates, and query files. The whole point behind components is that they are easily reusable, and this vision is largely realized in Netscape Application Server.
The same concept is found in application logic modules, which handle the actual data requests. You can use some nifty graphical tools for creating a simple logic flow for handling requests, while a more advanced programming interface can be used for creating intricate applications. Unsupported is Microsoft's Visual J++, but this time it's not due to any stubbornness on the part of Netscape -- it's because Microsoft uses a number of proprietary methods for dealing with Java native code.
Netscape Application Server is considered to be one of the leaders in the application-server marketplace. It's a field with many solid performers in addition to Netscape -- NetObjects and SilverStream, for example -- any of which would be a solid addition to your enterprise computing arsenal.
Pros: 7 Extensive database-management support, 7 Outstanding framework for creating applications, 7 Extensive scalability and redundancy
Cons: 7 No downloadable evaluation version, 7 Lack of support for Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine, 7 Skimpy site-management tools
New in v2.1: Netscape Application Builder; Netscape Extension Builder; Client-Independent Programming Model (CIPM); optimized end-to-end performance features include connection caching and pooling, results caching, and streaming; new failure-recovery features; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5
Version Reviewed: 2.1
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 1/5/99
Date of Original Review: 1/5/99
Windows NT - Intel (NT 4.0 SP3 or SP4).
Unix - Sun Solaris, HP-UX, SGI IRIX