PHP Middleware Debuts With Zend Server

PHP is one of the most popular languages for Web development and is a critical component of the LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) stack. Now PHP is getting a stack of its own, thanks to the new Zend Server, which packages PHP for Web application deployment and monitoring.

The new Zend Server PHP includes code acceleration, problem diagnostics, monitoring, updates and even a Web server. While PHP is strongly associated with Linux deployments, Zend Server is available for both Linux and Windows servers.

With the new PHP application server offering, Zend, the lead commercial sponsor behind the PHP project, is positioning PHP as an even stronger enterprise choice and as an alternative to Microsoft .NET and Java-based middleware solutions. And with the future of Java and its leader Sun in a possible state of transition, there may be even more opportunity for PHP growth.

“PHP is everywhere,” Zend CEO Andi Gutmans told “We have enterprise customers, but we still felt something was missing to get PHP into mainstream IT.”

It’s the latest move by Zend to ramp up PHP’s profile in the enterprise. In 2005, the company started a multiyear effort to add new tools and technologies to the PHP ecosystem as part of Gutmans’ vision of expanding PHP adoption.

Two technologies that have already emerged from that effort are the Zend Framework, which provides an application deployment framework for PHP, and the PDT (PHP Development Tools) IDE project at Eclipse. The new Zend Server effort includes Zend Framework and can benefit from PHP applications built using PDT.

Zend is offering two versions of the Zend Server, a commercial version with monitoring capabilities including enterprise server support, and a freely available community version.

“What we’ve seen in past year is an acceleration of adoption of PHP in traditional IT,” Gutmans said. “We just had our best quarter ever, and even though there is a recession, larger companies still need to push out application and to do more at lower cost. In most cases, we’re replacing Java.”

Gutmans argued that Zend Server is all about taking the innovations of Zend Framework and PHP itself and putting it into a package that is easy to consumer and provision. Zend claims that Zend Server can bet setup in less than five minutes.

For Linux users, Zend Server is available in a package repository format for popular Linux distributions from Red Hat, Novell and Ubuntu. In going with the repository approach, Zend Server will be integrated with the normal Linux update process and users will get the package dependencies they need for their system. Windows users will get a complete installer that includes the Apache Web Server, though Zend also supports users who want to use Microsoft’s IIS (Internet Information Services).

Zend has a strategic multi-year agreement with Microsoft to ensure that PHP runs well on Windows Server.

“We’ve done quite a lot of optimization on PHP runtimes in Windows over the last several years,” Gutmans said. “There are a quite a few things that are paying off and we continue to work with them and the community to see what other changes we have to make.”

PHP “middleware?”

While Zend Server could be thought of as PHP middleware , in the same sense as Java middleware, Gutmans sees it a little differently.

“I personally wouldn’t call it middleware exactly — but it is,” Gutmans said. “PHP is the back end of the front end, and front end of the back end, depending on how you look at it. It can definitely be used and is used as middleware, but I typically just say Web application server because I think that’s how people best understand it.”

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