Zend offers PHP cure for Java bloat
Application-server speed pill
Zend Technologies has built an application server for PHP that it hopes can slowly convert frustrated Java programmers as well as those relying on Java on the web and in the enterprise.
On Tuesday, the company is expected to unveil the Zend Server, a paid-for PHP stack that comes with service agreements and support and the free Zend Server Community Edition.
Zend's chief executive and co-founder Andi Gutmans called the servers the culmination of five years' work. It has seen creation of the Zend Framework  and integration with Windows and databases from Oracle and IBM. It's also seen an Eclipse PHP plug-in project refine the runtime experience and provide developer tools plug-ins based on Eclipse.
The next phase under the recently named CEO Gutmans is the cloud. Gutmans told The Reg the Zend Frameworks would be dealing with virtualization and packaging inside and outside of the firewall to facilitate deployment in the cloud in the next year. Already, the Zend Framework features Amazon APIs  and there are plans to support Microsoft's Azure .
But ahead of that, with today's application servers, Zend is not just targeting the millions of programmers building web and business applications using PHP. Gutmans hopes that Zend can convert individuals who think Java has become bloated and organizations struggling to find affordable Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) programmers.
Companies already in the open source camp such as SpringSource, Red Hat's JBoss, and Caucho  long ago recognized the frustration at the expense and inflexibility of using Java EE battle-ship application servers such as IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's WebLogic. They turned to the OSGi  for a lightweight and modular Java application-server framework.
While Zend Server features a bridge to Java and OSGi, Gutmans called OSGi "too Java-centric". Instead, he's offering an application server using REST and XML over HTTP, which he believes is more accessible than Java simply because of the pervasive nature of PHP.
Like many in open source, Gutmans believes the recession will accelerate uptake of PHP and therefore Zend Server, as organizations struggle to find affordable Java developers to build or maintain web servers and those more back-office Java EE applications.
Zend is in the right place. It's just a question of whether it can successfully flip Java developers, whether Zend and PHP represents a genuinely mature alternative to Java EE.
Separately, The Reg recently spoke to global hotel chain the Intercontinental Hotels Group, which is emblematic of major organizations dumping the Java EE battleship for lightweight, open-source Java.
Bill Peer, IHG's chief enterprise architect, said his massive organization has halved its number of application servers from eight to four in a deliberate rationalization drive, dumping WebLogic. WebSphere was the only big, closed-source Java EE application server to make the final cut. Three of the organization's four preferred application servers are open-source Java: JBoss , Tomcat  and Resin , with Resin the application server of choice.
It was access to the code and the ability to avoid the cost and delay of bringing in IBM, BEA, or Oracle consultants that helped drive IHG's rationalization.
"We were working with new units that have never used Resin before," Peer said. "They get so excited because they can look inside it. You don't need these super consultants to come in and tweak it. So many things don't need this Swiss-Army knife approach."
Elsewhere, IHG has picked Terracotta 's open-source clustering for Java over Oracle's Coherence  to run a booking and reservation system for 4,000 hotels worldwide. The system distributes and caches data so users aren't relying on a single, slow centralized mainframe. Again, for Peer, it was all about access to Terracotta's code combined with the knowledge IHG's developers already had of Java and open source so they could build systems.
"Terracotta fitted better - we could spin up, be tied into a Java Virtual Machine and sync without staying tied to a hub and start a server based on load," Peer said. "A lot of us are geeks, and like to get into the code and like to see what's going on."
I put the example of IHG to Gutmans, who believes PHP has more to offer companies like IHG graduating from Java EE to a lightweight and open-source version of the platform.
While the primary audience for the Zend Servers is PHP programmers building for web-based applications, Gutmans believes PHP has a role in the enterprise thanks to the existence of PHP applications like Drupal  and Knowledge Tree  for enterprise content management or document management. These projects can run out-of-the-box and be extended using PHP.
"We are seeing a lot of our big customers starting with applications like Drupal, or Magento or Knowledge Tree and they extend from there," he said.
The company's Zend Server Community Edition will run Linux, Windows, and OS X, feature PHP performance improvements, Java connectivity, and a feature a management user interface. Zend Server offers the same along with automatic software updates, hot fixes, and security patches on Linux (native RPM and DEB based repositories) and Microsoft Windows (MSI) under one- and three-year subscriptions starting at $1,195. Hot fixes to PHP will also be made available to the community, but not immediately - with the next release of PHP.
Gutmans believes PHP and Zend can come out of the recession stronger than they did the dot-com bust because of the existence of things like Drupal and that five years' work in and around these application servers.
At the end of the last bust, there was no integration between PHP and Windows, a fact that hurt both PHP and Microsoft because it slowed performance. Today, 50 per cent of PHP is deployed on Windows.
"People are becoming aware of the very good PHP applications that they can download and get going," Gutmans said. "Five years ago, PHP was everywhere but lacked maturity and interoperability to go into mainstream IT... [today] PHP has gone mainstream.
"We are going to see coming out this [recession] the same acceleration for Zend this time around that we saw in the dot-com bust - from more tactical to more strategic adoption." ®