From Servers to Platforms
Where these companies once spoke of application servers, they now speak of application platforms in which the server is one element. “The higher-end players, such as BEA or Oracle, have moved beyond the basic J2EE capabilities and are building a lot of things on top of the app server and expanding the definition of what it is,” Willett says.
Although the platforms offered by various vendors differ, the key elements usually contain at least three elements. The first — functionality to manage and develop applications — is fairly straightforward. A second layer often includes the ability to integrate applications across formerly discrete information “silos.” For example, a company now may be able to use its application server environment to integrate payroll and T&E packages, or to automatically reconcile software that uses different password conventions. Part of this, Dietzen says, is the capability to present users with a single interface across a variety of applications and underlying repositories of data and business logic. The final element of a modern application server platform is the ability to access these elements from a wide variety of physical and logical locations, says Marie Goodell, director of marketing for the Oracle 9i application server.
The new application server platform, it seems, is becoming a linchpin tool as enterprises seek to become more agile. Application platforms provide “a wide range of functions in terms of being able to provide access to and integrate various roles and functions of existing and new business logic,” says IBM’s Russell. “This is a middleware function, and application servers are able to do it across multiple platforms.”
It seems likely the upswing will continue, at least according to Rymer. “I think there is going to be a recovery in spending,” he says. “I just see more activity in the client base. I have seen some indications that it’s going to pick up to a much greater level of activity.”
BEA’s Dietzen thinks that the salad days for app servers lie ahead. “Application servers are becoming the core platform,” he says. “Gartner predicts that in three or four years 75 percent of the integration dollars spent by IT will go to integration platforms with application suites.”