The Application Server Market Is Dead; Long Live the Application Platform Market

The application server category is changing in several significant ways. For one thing, it no longer exists.

The application server market of today is not the same as the one of five years ago. A troubled economy and commoditization of product through J2EE standardization is transforming the application server market of yesterday into the application platform market of tomorrow.

Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration.

But the grain of truth is that application servers, which for the most part once simply stored and served up content, are now part of bigger platforms that offer authoring tools, integration, and a host of other functions. "Application servers, application platform suites, [the distinctions] are all going to blur," says BEA Systems CTO Scott Dietzen. "You just want a fully featured platform that is going to do the things that you need it to do."

While app servers existed before the Internet, they reached their zenith when enterprises began using the Web to decentralize applications and the business logic that drove them. Consequently, pressure on the market caused by the crash and poor economy that followed hasn't been kind to the category.

A rebound is under way, however. According to a recent report published by Giga Information Group, the app server market receded from the $2.3 billion to $3.1 billion range in 2001 to the $2 billion to $2.8 billion range in 2002. The research firm anticipates the market will inch up to the $2.1 billion to $3 billion range next year. Giga Vice President John Rymer, the analyst who wrote the report, expects that recovery to continue.

Being within a few million dollars of numbers generated during halcyon days is no small achievement. The rebound has been built around a reinvention of sorts, as the application server category has broadened to encompass functionality that was formerly well outside its realm. Such features have gone from stand-alone elements to key quarterbacks in a continuum that, depending on the vendor and the implementation, include Web servers, portals, development and integration tools, the runtime environment, identity management, and links to clustering tools.

That's quite a survival trick. "Five years ago we had to convince people that they needed an application server at all," says James Russell, the director of emerging technology for IBM's WebSphere. "Five years later, the industry has accepted the need and is asking for a powerful new paradigm. They are asking for the Web servers' involvement in more sophisticated functions." Among these functions, Russell says, are highly individualized services such as customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and back-end integration.

This article was originally published on Jul 11, 2003
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