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Vendors Prep The Next Generation

Once little more than basic platforms for running business software, application servers today combine app-, Web-, and integration-server technology, along with capabilities found in messaging and transaction-processing middleware.
Once little more than basic platforms for running business software, application servers today combine app-, Web-, and integration-server technology, along with capabilities found in messaging and transaction-processing middleware.

Business analysts and line-of-business IT specialists who want the flexibility of developing industry- and company-specific functionality that's not hard-wired into packaged applications are driving demand for application servers with a range of business-process-automation capabilities, according to IDC. Worldwide sales of application-deployment software reached $6.9 billion in 2004 and will continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.7% through 2009, the research firm says.

While there has been some consolidation in recent years, the application-server market remains fragmented. IBM's WebSphere and BEA Systems WebLogic are the market leaders, but half of the market is still held by vendors with single-digit market shares, including JBoss, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Sybase, IDC says.

Upcoming App Servers
BEA WebLogic 9.2
Will support Eclipse development standards and be easier to use. Expected in April.
IBM WebSphere 6.1
Will have enhanced service-oriented architecture and integration capabilities and be easier to use. Due midyear.
Oracle Application Server 10g Release 3
Will sport improved SOA capabilities and enterprise service bus, and a new business rules engine; will support UDDI business services registry release 3. Slated for midyear.
BEA just began shipping WebLogic 9.1, an interim release following the debut of WebLogic 9.0 in August. Around April, BEA will complete release 9.2, which will include a development environment that supports Eclipse standards and will support release 9.2 of BEA's portal software, making it easier to develop portal and standalone Web applications, says Blake Connell, WebLogic's server product marketing director.

BEA generally releases major upgrades to its products every 12 to 18 months, which means the next major version of WebLogic isn't due until late this year or early next. But an interim release this year will support Java Enterprise Edition 5.0, which includes Enterprise JavaBeans 3, says Lorenzo Cremona, product marketing director for WebLogic and the Tuxedo transaction manager.

In The Lead

IBM will try to preserve its market lead when it debuts the next release of its WebSphere Application Server around midyear. IBM execs are tight-lipped about the details of what the next release will offer, but they say it will expand on the company's service-oriented architecture strategy and provide ease-of-use enhancements and improved integration capabilities. The current release, WebSphere 6.0, debuted in October 2004.

Improved SOA capabilities also are high on Oracle's list of items to add to its application server. Oracle Application Server 10g Release 3, slated for the first half of this year, will offer a new business-rules engine, a major upgrade of the application server's enterprise service bus, version 3 of the UDDI business-services registry, and support for the latest Java and Web-services standards, says Rick Schultz, Oracle's Fusion middleware VP.

Release 3 of the application server, which is part of Oracle's Fusion middleware line, also will provide an updated version of Oracle Web Services Manager with support for the latest business-to-business identity-management standards and more prebuilt security policies. Oracle also will serve up an expanded list of third-party products, including competing Java application servers, certified to work with Fusion middleware components, Schultz says. Application Server 10g release 2 shipped in December 2004.

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