Orion Server is an aggressively J2EE- and Java2-compliant application server that is clearly aimed at the developer who expects (and wants) to get down and dirty with the code. It’s fast, tightly constructed, and ideal for companies that want an open-ended and relatively inexpensive application server (the developer’s edition is free, the deployment version is $1,500). Unfortunately, the product comes from Evermind Data, a Swedish company that is unlikely to be widely known or acknowledged in the United States. That means many people who should evaluate this server probably will not even know about it.
Orion Server is an aggressively J2EE- and Java2-compliant application server that is clearly aimed at the developer who expects (and wants) to get down and dirty with the code. It’s fast, tightly constructed, and ideal for companies that want an open-ended and relatively inexpensive application server.
A number of things make Orion Server a good find, starting with its installation. Unlike many of its behemoth competitors (e.g., Oracle Application Server and IBM WebSphere) Orion Server is refreshingly simple. The expert instructions have all of three bullet points. Okay, so the prerequisite is knowledge of Java programming, especially Java2 and J2EE. That goes with this territory. If you have some background in Java, you can install Orion Server in a few minutes. Building applications with it, of course, takes somewhat longer.
Evermind understands that programming with Java2 and, especially, J2EE beans is not yet widely mastered. The company’s attempt at documentation is as much a tutorial in Java programming as anything. However, this leaves some of the application-server-specific documentation more than a little thin. If we have any complaints about Orion Server it is the amount of work necessary to merge your knowledge of Java2 (such as it may be) with the features of the server.
One of the features is performance, which if you believe the benchmarks (and we are inclined to in this case) puts Orion Server in the upper class. Some of this must come from the fact that Orion Server is its own Web server, thus eliminating the hand-off that usually occurs between the application server and a Web server like Apache or IIS. Before you scream that you won’t abandon your favorite Web server, Evermind makes it clear that its server is compatible with others — just use a different port.
We found Orion Server’s use of XML files for configuration to be interesting. This follows a trend started by Sun and others to use XML files as the standard for setup and configuration. Unlike some vendors, Orion Server does not provide a GUI front end to create these files, but then direct editing of XML is not difficult (provided you understand the XML). It will take some experimentation to get a feel for how the parameters set in the XML files will affect the performance of the server.
Although most Java-based application servers are now on or grabbing the J2EE bandwagon, Orion is ahead of the curve with full implementations for: EJB 1.1, Servlet 2.2, JSP 1.1, JTA 1.0.1, JNDI 1.2, JMS 1.0.1, JDBC 2.0, and JavaMail 1.1.2. We found Orion Server to work well adhering to the Sun specifications, and it adroitly danced around some of the current problems areas such as Java Server Pages 1.1. We also liked the built-in tools for automatic deployment of Orion Server applications, including support for auto-compilation of servlets and table creation.
Have no illusions, Orion Server does not have the “big system” feel. Although it has a server management tool, and support for clustering (HTTP Session state replication and Dynamic session aware load balancing), it lacks the system management tools and server farm approach one would expect for large-scale enterprise applications. That does not mean it won’t scale or that it cannot do much of the same work. It just takes more effort to do it.
At the very least, however, we recommend Orion Server be part of an inexpensive environment for J2EE beans and other components that can be moved to other Java2 environments as needed. Orion Server should appeal to Java2 programmers in ways that no GUI loaded or complex system can: It’s a code jockey’s choice.
Pros: 7 Fast processing, especially of Java Server Pages, 7 unusually complete support for J2EE standards and runs on almost all platforms
Cons: 7 The documentation struggles to cover the vast amount of material, 7 coming from a small (non-U.S.) company, it’s not likely to get the respect and third-party support it deserves, 7 limited server management tools
Version Reviewed: 1.2.9
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Last Updated: 3/6/02
Date of Original Review: 10/27/00