Sun has struggled so far to field a competitive application server, the software that handles thousands of Web site requests at a time, obtaining a response from a running application or database, and feeding it to all the users who wanted it. It's one of the pieces of middleware that makes a common application scalable to Web dimensions. The dominant commercial products are IBM's WebSphere and BEA Systems' (now Oracle's) WebLogic, followed by Oracle's homegrown Oracle Application Server. JBoss has been a fourth contender, dominant among the open source contenders.
But Sun is back, launching a "disruptive" play that seeks to pair up GlassFish with the hugely popular open source database it purchased in late February. Its chief target is not fellow open source supplier JBoss, now a division of Linux distributor Red Hat, but the traditional commercial software providers that charge license fees and maintenance costs for their products.
Oracle has its own ambitions for a greater share of the Java application server market and has invested heavily in Oracle Application Server and in purchasing BEA Systems for $7.2 billion last January. If Sun and Oracle emerge as head-to-head competitors, it will be carefully watched how well they continue to work as partners. Oracle controls one of the key storage engines in MySQL, InnoDB, which it acquired by buying a Finnish firm, Inno Oy, in 2005.
GlassFish is both a standard -- it's the reference implementation of an application server for Java Enterprise Edition 5 -- and it's a popular open source project hosted by Sun at http://java.sun.com/javaee/community/glassfish/.
Sun's Mark Herring, VP of marketing for the Sun software infrastructure group, said Sun is seeing 500,000 downloads of GlassFish a month, a rate that indicates a healthy pickup by developers. In comparison, Sun claims MySQL gets downloaded 60,000 to 70,000 times a day. Downloads don't always mean what they seem to; many are thrown away without being put to use and others reflect repeat downloads by one developer, looking for the latest updates.
Nevertheless, Sun officials are eager to pit their GlassFish/MySQL combination against commercial database/application server offerings that Sun estimates would cost $3 million to use over a three-year period. GlassFish with MySQL would cost about $240,000 in a similar configuration over the same timeframe, said Herring. In both cases, the estimates are based on 10 two-way servers, each running a database system, and 20 two-way servers, each running an application server, both clustered approaches designed to cope with heavy Web traffic. "It's meant to be a disruptive force," Herring said.
The Apache Web server was open source code that successfully cut into the market for commercial Web servers offered by Microsoft, IBM and others.
Sun has tested and certified GlassFish to run with MySQL, making sure interfaces between the two perform as planned, for customer ease of implementation and use. Herring said the bundle was aimed at businesses with 1,000 employees or less who don't want to invest heavy IT resources to implement an application server and database. Customers get a year's technical support and updates to the bundle for the $65,000 subscription price.
GlassFish runs Java applications and through the work of the open source project developers, some popular scripting language applications as well, primarily Ruby, Groovy, Perl, and Python. A capability to run PHP scripts is being worked on within the project.