Which app server suits you?

Express your thoughts on the middle-tier software that's right for you

Back in April 1999, I wrote "The State of Java Middleware, Part 2: Enterprise JavaBeans." By that time, the benefits of using an application server in the middle tier of a multitier application were obvious.

Nowadays, you can almost assume that any multitier Web application uses some sort of application server. Of course, where there is a need, product vendors will look for ways to make money. Usually several companies will emerge to compete -- and the application server market is no different. This market is unique, however, in that there are several good free products available.

The list of application servers available today is very long. A few of the most popular Java-centered commercial application servers are:

  • BEA WebLogic Server
  • IBM WebSphere Application Server
  • Oracle9i Application Server
  • Macromedia JRun Server
  • iPlanet Application Server

Among the most popular free application servers are:

  • Orion Application Server
  • Lutris Enhydra Application Server
  • Caucho Resin
  • JBoss Server

Many of these application servers are either fully or mostly Java 2 Enterprise Edition compliant. Of course, each server requires a different configuration procedure. For example, BEA WebLogic uses a central configuration file that, for better or worse, locates all configuration parameters in one easy-to-find place. On the other hand, configuring something like Orion Server can be a painful experience because it requires you to understand and deal with multiple configuration files. Some vendors have begun to follow the standards laid out by Sun Microsystems, such as storing configuration information in web.xml files found in the WEB-INF subdirectory of a Web application.

Many of these application servers, including BEA WebLogic and Orion Application Server, have been fully or mostly developed in 100 percent pure Java. This makes understanding the architecture of the product rather simple -- after all, the whole thing just boils down to Java classfiles, either loosely coupled in directories or tightly coupled in jar files.

Where are these products headed?

Given that the application market has grown so crowded, the natural question is, which ones will survive? Several vendors claim to have the fastest product (see Resources for links to benchmarks for BEA WebLogic, Caucho Resin, and Oracle9i).

I believe the top three or four commercial servers will continue to fight for first place. However, that does not mean that the others will stand still.

The application server market has recently become more interesting with mergers and acquisitions. Take the JRun Server, for example. It started out as a JavaServer Pages/servlet engine and then developed into a full-blown application server under the wings of Allaire; it now continues to grow within Macromedia. There are other examples of this sort of growth, such as the licensing deal of the Orion Server in Oracle9i.

What is your criteria?

People spend a good deal of time, money, and effort evaluating application servers before finalizing their purchasing decisions. This is understandable, given how important application servers are these days -- they are almost as important as databases.

So, this brings me to a few questions for you:

  • Which product are you using?
  • How did your company decide which product to use?
  • What are your thoughts on the chosen product?
  • Which product is your personal favorite?
  • What are your thoughts on the various robust, free products such as JBoss, Orion, Enhydra, Resin, and others? And if they are such strong products, how can someone justify paying tens of thousands of dollars for similar commercial products?
  • Do you think BEA WebLogic will continue to lead this space in the commercial arena?

Discuss your thoughts in the iSavvix Soapbox forum for this column.

Please remember this is a "soapbox" column; that is, this column is not intended to answer all questions but rather to open a dialogue on issues described in each column and get feedback from readers.

Anil Hemrajani is chief technology officer at iSavvix, a technology services firm for full-service Java and Internet technology solutions.

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