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PHP Aims for the Mainstream in Zend Server 5

The open source dynamic language PHP has been a mainstay of the Web application delivery landscape for the past decade, but only in recent years has it made serious inroads into enterprise IT development.

Now with the release of the new Zend Server 5.0 PHP application server, advocates see PHP hitting mainstream IT in earnest.

Zend is one of main commercial backers of the PHP language and with Zend Server 5.0, the company is updating its PHP server to address enterprise IT needs. Zend Server 5.0 adds new code tracing and job-scheduling technology, enabling enterprise IT admins to optimize performance.

With the new server and the momentum of the last few years, Zend CEO Andi Gutmans sees PHP as now having all the pieces in place to take on both Java and .NET for enterprise development.

In particular, he points to Zend's tie-ins with Eclipse -- the company helps to lead an Eclipse Foundation effort for a PHP IDE called PDT (PHP Developer Tools) on which the company's commercial Zend Studio IDE is based. He also singles out Zend Framework, an effort to provide an application delivery structure for PHP, with integrations with Google, Adobe and other major technology vendors.

"PHP has had a broad footprint for Web workloads and we've had quite a few large customers using PHP," he said. "The difference now is that by being on Eclipse, which is a corporate standard, by having Zend Framework, which is driving a lot of mainstream companies to adopt PHP, we're actually seeing ourselves viewed on parity with the other platforms."

The Zend Server first debuted in April as an effort to package PHP for application deployment and monitoring.

With the Zend Server 5.0 release, Zend is expanding on the initial vision for the server with new technologies, among which is one called Code Tracing.

"We built a black box recorder for PHP and it sits within PHP and it records everything that is happening in production," Gutmans said. "If there is any error, not only will we do what we have done up to today, which is point-in-time application insight, but we will actually show you everything that happened to the PHP request since the start -- including all the functions and parameters that were called."

Gutmans added that today, when there is an operations problem, the biggest difficulty has been in being able to reproduce the problem. That's an issue that in his view will be resolved for PHP developers with Zend Server 5.0.

Scalability is also addressed in Zend Server 5.0, thanks to the new Job Queue feature.

"It enables you to offload a lot of the processing that doesn't have to happen in the Web request," Gutmans said.

Gutmans added that by offloading jobs, Zend Server can handle jobs outside of the Web context and manage a large amount of jobs in parallel.

The initial Zend Server release -- actually named version 4.0 -- included both a freely available community edition as well as a commercially available enterprise edition. In contrast, the new Zend Server 5.0 release is only being made available to enterprise users: There is no community Zend Server 5.0 release.

However, Gutmans added that Zend is working on an incremental update to the community edition, Zend Server 4.0.6.

"A lot of the infrastructure that is shared between the community and enterprise releases, such as the user interface and code optimization, are a single code base, so any changes made to one will affect the other," Gutmans said. "We believe Zend Server community edition today is already a compelling stack, and we've put a lot of our functionality that we used to sell into the community to really make sure that we enable developers and non-business critical production environment."