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Zend to PHP Developers: 'Mobile First'

Today at the 6th annual ZendCon PHP developer conference, underway this week in Santa Clara, CA, Zend Technologies CEO Andi Gutmans plans to unveil his company's new "mobile first" approach to application development, along with an "end-to-end" strategy to help the PHP developer community move into mobile and the cloud.

"The thing to keep in mind," Gutmans told me in a pre-conference interview, "is that it's not mobile or cloud anymore; it's mobile and cloud. They are very much interlinked. I see mobile as the cause and cloud as the effect or enabler. And they're both crucial to the enterprise."

Gutmans said he will be urging attendees to adopt a "mobile first" strategy that addresses what his company sees as "the realities of modern enterprise app development" -- the spread of composite apps, the different requirements of mobile interface design, and the recognition that users are "an essential part of the design process."

"Today, most companies are outsourcing their client-side [mobile] development on Objective C and Java, because they don't have the internal skill set," Gutmans observed. "But as companies begin adopting a more ‘mobile first' approach, they're going to have to make that a core competency."

But the "mobile first" approach is fraught with challenges. Developers have to optimize their applications to individual device form factors and just generally create more collaborative and social experiences. And what developers need to build these kinds of apps is both a cleaner, cloud-services architecture and an agile, iterative development process.

And that's where Zend Server, the company's cloud application platform.

"There's going to be a big focus on the server side," Gutmans said, "because it's really the server-side that has all the intelligence and business logic to deliver a personalized experience to the user. And we need an agile, iterative development process. PHP is well suited to that, because it's user-centric development."

Attendees will also get an update on new and evolving integrations with Zend Server 6, Gutmans said, including Amazon Marketplace, IBM's PureSystems private cloud, Windows Azure, Google, SoftLayer, LogicWorks, and others. Zend announced a big partnership last year with RightScale, provider of an automated, web-based cloud management platform, on a jointly-developed platform-as-a-service (PaaS) architecture for PHP developers. News about an expansion of that partnership is also likely. In August, Zend partnered with VMware to integrate the vFabric Application Director with the Zend Server 6 beta. Gutmans is set to demo the results of that partnership during his keynote.

Earlier this month Zend announced a partnership with Red Hat to make Zend Server available on its OpenShift PaaS platform. The company also integrated OpenShift's client APIs into its Zend Studio IDE. Red Hat is scheduled to hold a Red-Hat-on-Zend-Server hackathon during the conference.

"With Zen Server 5.6 we evolved our product into the cloud, but we realized that, if we really wanted to go all the way [into the cloud], we needed to do some re-architecting," Gutmans said. "Big pieces of it have now been re-architected and Zend Server 6 is completely saleable in the cloud to hundreds of servers. It's also very API centric -- everything is an API; the UI talks to the server through Web services, so anything you can see in the UI can be fully automated and integrated. This enables us to work with these vendors and really embed it in a way that's seamless and native, whether is Red Hat or Amazon."

"We've taken a complete application server-centric view of the world in Zen Server 6," Gutmans added. "You shouldn't care which servers or how many are running your application. It's all about the app: how do I deploy it, make sure it performs, tune it, configure it? Whether it's running on one server or a hundred, you're managing it in exactly the same way."

I asked Gutmans to pick the "killer" new feature in Zend Server 6. He went with user roles in production. "Developers can log into production environments, see what's going on, see how the application is deployed and configured, see the monitoring event, but not be able to change anything," he said. "We really believe that this is going to help bring development and operations together and help them collaborate in an increasingly agile world."

The company is also set to preview the Zend Studio 10 beta at the conference, including such new features as Zend Framework 2 integration, full PHP 5.4 support, and a bunch of productivity enhancements (improves workflows, code assist, wizards, etc.).

Attendees will also get a look at some new client-side development features in the IDE, including "some really cool" drag-and-drop capabilities for prototyping mobile apps. Gutmans also said to look for features that "basically support" the PhoneGap open source mobile development framework. Expect to see drag-and-drop creation of cloud services on the server side, drag-and-drop creation on the client side, and then seamless deployment into the cloud.

"We believe that the web is the platform," Gutmans added. "We believe that the web is the future, and we're betting on web standards. We see a lot of companies putting a lot of effort into getting HTML5 and JavaScript to the right performance on mobile devices. The reality is that, for most apps today, web support on mobile through PhoneGap and these kinds of technologies is good enough. And we're seeing companies bringing mobile development back in-house, getting their mobile teams to focus on it, and making it a first-class citizen in the enterprise."

Zend Technologies is the Cupertino, Calif.-based creator and commercial maintainer of the PHP dynamic scripting language. Zend is run by Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, who are key contributors to PHP and the creators of the core PHP scripting engine.

BTW: The hot swag item at this year's show: a fluffy green elephant, 500 of which will be part of the "Elephant Hunt Challenge." Details were not available at press time, but I was told that if I wanted one, I'd have to join the hunt.

Posted by John K. Waters on October 23, 2012