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Standalone App Servers Gaining Popularity

Today's corporations are using their existing application and integration servers to automate business processes, says a new report by research firm IDC, rather than buying into classic middleware or end-to-end software suites.

A survey of more than 750 IT managers in North America shows 17 percent of them are sticking with their standalone application server for business process automation (BPA), while another 14 percent are planning to do so next year.

As a result, money that might have been spent on business process automation software will find its way into the application server market in coming years, the Framingham, Mass., research outfit predicts.

This increasing interest is and has forced companies like SAP and PeopleSoft to retool their software packages to meet this specific demand.

"You can take (application servers) and do a lot of things, including traditional transaction management across a distributed system and enterprise application integration, B2B and e-commerce," said Dennis Byron, IDC business process automation and deployment software research vice president, "but the growing use, or burst, of these products -- and I hate to use the term killer app -- is business process automation. That's the thing we see growing 20-30 percent."

Packaged application providers have come to the realization that selling a pricey integrated software bundle to their customers isn't going to work when app servers alone do the job adequately.

"Most of the packaged app guys, ERP or otherwise, have always had something like this under their coverage, but they didn't sell it separately," he said. "They've pretty much come to the conclusion they can't convince their customers to go 'all PeopleSoft' or 'all Oracle' so they're preaching -- rightfully so -- the idea of using their app server to tie their applications with other applications in a company or across a supply chain."

IDC expects very little growth in worldwide application/integration server software sales in 2004; only five percent more than the $3.8 billion spent in 2003. The market should reach $5 billion worldwide by 2007.

Several factors determine those numbers: market growth in North America, the popularity of heterogeneous computing environments, the continued shift to a 'one provider' software vendor because middleware is too complex to implement, and the need for industry-specific BPA. Bryon said this trend away from business process automation via packaged software isn't coming out of nowhere; middleware providers like IBM , Oracle and BEA Systems have been adapting by bringing industry-specific and standalone software components.

The businesses who will need to change most to meet this new market dynamic, he said, are content management companies like Adobe and FileNet .

The increasing popularity of the application server within the corporation should also provide a boost for "free" software in the market, Byron said.

Companies like JBoss Group and Sun make money from services supporting the free download of their application server technology.