Sun also rises

Over the last couple of years, Sun Microsystems has coupled its vigorous espousal of its Java franchise with an acquisition spree in an effort to advance its position as a provider of both application servers and development tools. "Enterprises want to get the whole package from a single vendor," said Gina Centoni, director of Java platform product marketing at Sun. "We were missing the tools. We're building strength there through acquisitions like NetDynamics, Forté and NetBeans."

But Sun's server and tool buying spree has drawn criticism. Because it encompasses at least three different application servers (previous to buying NetDynamics and Forté, the company purchased Kiva server technology as part of AOL's deal to buy Netscape), Sun's is not a simple, monolithic offering. And buying technology is not always a successful route, notes industry veteran Cohen at IBI.

"When you buy a Kiva, first thing, you lose the A-team of developers," said Cohen. "Integration is an issue."

Said David Litwack, CEO at SilverStream Software, Burlington, Mass., "Sun has suspended their market for the time being." Others agree -- this integration task will be tough.

IBM also draws criticism for placing most of its major middleware offerings (Component Broker, MQ, Encina and more) under a single, but some say somewhat deceptive, WebSphere banner.

"IBM has pulled together a lot of technology," said Litwack. "This may require, as well, a lot of skill [or services] to make it work."

Still Sun and IBM's Java and Enterprise JavaBean push is moving the application server to the forefront of development options.

In 1999, the Java2EE spec arose to provide a basic definition of what an application server actually is. Litwack notes that the app server of say 1997 has clearly evolved to become the Java server today. Some ISVs may soon start buying app server engines from OEMs, rather than building them in-house, he remarked. In app server evolution, Litwack said, the J2EE standard is an important step.

"The application server market today offers a lot of flexibility, as well as ease of use for developers," said Dirk Gorter, director of product marketing at Compuware Corp., Farmington Hills, Mich.

J2EE gives the applications server industry a place to hang its hat, said SilverStream's Litwack. "This is a standard with a community gathering around it. However, it does split Microsoft out of the pack," he noted.

Litwack of course gained fame when he led Powersoft to the forefront with the PowerBuilder tool suite. He and his cohorts have taken a much different approach at SilverStream, where the application server has been the focus. Maybe the start-up that mostly echoes the PowerBuilder phenomena today is Allaire Corp., Cambridge, Mass., which has ridden ColdFusion and HomeSite tool sets to prominence.

The comparison may be somewhat useful, admits Jeremy Allaire, vice president of technical strategy, but he notes some critical differences. "Powersoft very much remained in the tool space," he maintained. "Today, the app server market has become more of a platform space, and Allaire has migrated its technology to do a lot of things that platforms need to do as opposed to tools.

"And unlike Powersoft and Sybase," added Allaire, "our company is now in the application market. Microsoft and Oracle are companies that successfully sell tools, platforms and apps. We're making that shift as well," he said, pointing to the firm's recent Spectra content management and e-commerce offering.

About the Authors

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.