Sun aims low with new app server – too low?
Sun Microsystems Inc is aiming low with the latest version of its application server, expected today, targeting application server newbies seeking enhanced web site performance,writes Gavin Clarke.
The Santa Clara, California-based company is using features and pricing in the Platform and Standard Editions of its Sun ONE Application Server 7.0 to attract customers who have yet to buy full-featured application servers from BEA Systems Inc, IBM or Oracle Corp.
However, the delivery of Sun's own Enterprise Edition product appears to be slipping. Sun told ComputerWire the Enterprise Edition, which it is expected will include mission-critical features designed to help it rival the likes of IBM, would ship with the application server's next major revision.
Sun's director of Java web services Mark Herring told ComputerWire that revision is due in six months' time. Sun had promised Enterprise Edition in "early 2003". While the definition of "early" is open to interpretation, Herring said a beta should be expected in the first quarter and a "revenue release" in April or May.
Herring attributed the apparent slippage to re-working of the application server's code-base. Version 7.0 uses an entirely new architecture, as Sun has overhauled code in the previous iPlanet edition acquired from Kiva and NetDynamics. Sun is also expected to factor-in code from its Clustra Systems Inc acquisition offering high availability.
"Re-writing the application server code took a little longer than we anticipated. Building in some of the high-end features ain't easy," Herring told ComputerWire.
Enterprise Edition is Sun's application server revenue earner, to be priced $10,000 per processor. The company hopes to seed the market for this version of its application server by offering free copies of Platform Edition and up-selling via Standard Edition.
Sun will promote Platform Edition based on cost and features. Platform Edition is available as a free download for Solaris and Windows with integration to Solaris 9 due in January. Platform Edition for Sun's Linux, Hewlett Packard UX's and IBM's AIX are expected in 60-90 days.
As for performance, the company claimed benchmark figures it said prove the Sun ONE Application Server is at least 45% faster than BEA and IBM in web services using JAX-RPC and more than 50% faster than IBM in JSPs, Servlets and JDBC.
Herring claimed both features and price meet most customers' needs, as many of today's J2EE deployments are JSP-based, negating need for expensive high-end application servers.
"BEA and IBM application servers are after the same high-end niche. They have ignored the developers who just want Platform Edition," Herring said.
Standard Edition, meanwhile, adds management capabilities such as remote administration and monitoring for larger scale administrative domains, for $2,000 per processor.
Opponents dismissed Sun's strategy. One BEA executive told ComputerWire Sun faced an "up-hill battle" in gaining traction, because it has focussed on servlet features found in web servers like Apache and omitted more business-critical capabilities.
"The idea they are putting something out there that doesn't have full clustering and failover, makes me feel we aren't talking about the same product category," he said.
Oracle, which Giga Information Group said doubled its application server revenue market share in 2001, believes Sun's strategy rules it out of serious contention as a "strategic choice" because it takes a "niche" approach.
Ted Farrell, architect and director of strategy at Oracle's application development and tools division, said: "This isn't a niche game any more. Sun needs more than a couple of cool bells and whistles to catch-up."
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