IBM, Oracle Detail Pending App Servers

The application server market is an ever-evolving and highly competitive space. Vendors, particularly the high-profile ones, are forever scrambling to gain — and keep — market share.

With new releases of WebSphere and Oracle Application Server slated to come out in the next few months, such shifts may soon be under way. Oracle and IBM recently discussed with ServerWatch what’s in store with the next release of their application servers.

The two vendors differ in the approach each is taking with the new release. For Oracle, wireless features will play a major role in the second release of Oracle9i Application Server. IBM, on the other hand, is enhancing WebSphere Application Server based on the on-demand business model it’s been touting since late October.

Banking on the Power of Being Untethered

The cornerstone of the wireless capabilities to be included in Oracle9i Application Server Release 2, version 9.0.4 is support for various wireless standards, the most key of which is multichannel XHTML support. The other two standards the server will support are J2ME and Multi-Media Messaging Standard (MMS).

With the three capabilities in place, developers will be able to write an application once and deploy it in both a desktop and mobile environment, eliminating the need for it to be translated, Jacob Christfort, vice president of product development for Oracle’s Mobile Products and Services Division, told ServerWatch. As wireless applications become more widespread, developers will need to create applications that can be easily deployed in multiple environments.

XHTML 2.0, an outgrowth of HTML that is the W3C standard for building multichannel applications, offers a single markup language for creating Web applications deployable to any device. When the new version is released, Oracle9i Application Server will lay claim to being the first integrated platform to support XHTML.

The app server will also offer a complete Web services infrastructure for J2ME, enabling developers to take advantage of current Web services for J2ME devices. With J2ME, content can be stored on devices and delivered and managed using features found in Oracle9i Application Server. Such features include a provisioning system for Over-the-Air (OTA) delivery of J2ME applications and Digital Rights Management (DRM) support for controlling usage of downloaded J2ME applications.

MMS support, which stems from SMS and is a fairly new standard for rich messaging, enables developers to create and manage applications that include graphics, video and animation. It also can automatically adapt media content based on a device’s capabilities. With these services developers can create messaging applications that provide accurate time- or location-sensitive information to their users as voice, text or media-rich messages. MMS support is ideal for “push” publishing, Christfort said.

A Wireless Toolkit that will be part of the new Mobile Development Center will be made available on the Oracle Technology Network for download free of charge. The toolkit will contain Wireless code samples, documentation, and software development kits.

The toolkit will go live when Oracle9i Application Server Release 2, version 9.0.4 begins shipping in the second quarter of 2003.

The beta for Release 2 is scheduled to begin later this month.

In addition to the beefed-up wireless capabilities, Oracle announced last November that the new release will offer functionality designed to lower application server integration costs and enable enterprises to use a single platform to address application-to-application, business-to-business, and Web services integration.

Changes: When You Want ’em, How You Want ’em

IBM provided us with a broad perspective of the WebSphere Application Server product road map.

The vendor is billing the next release of WebSphere Application Server as a “next-generation application server,” although it will still be 5.x release, Stefan Van Overtveldt, IBM’s director of WebSphere technical marketing said.

The driving force behind the upcoming release is Big Blue’s on-demand business initiative. On-demand in this instance refers to enabling businesses to “dynamically and rapidly adapt to changes” by “implementing services within an application,” Van Overtveldt told ServerWatch.

Van Overtveldt cited four major components of the new release:

  1. Completely integrated workflow support
  2. Dynamic application behavior (AKA business rules)
  3. Transactional coordination
  4. Autonomic computing capabilities

Integrated workflow support will be the basis for business process Web services. It will feature a workflow engine for both short-lived and long-running workflows but will also include developer tools, as human interaction is an unavoidable and vital component of managing workflow.

Dynamic application behavior will allow application rules to be changed at the business level, enabling managers (not just developers) to make changes. With this capability, rules will not need to be hardcoded into applications and can be linked to an external rules engine. Of course, should an organization wish to hard code rules, the option will remain available.

Transactional coordination, or the capability for systems to work simultaneously, will be implemented using WSTX (Web Services Transactions), a standard IBM developed with Microsoft that will be incorporated into WebSphere.

Finally, autonomic computing, which has been part of WebSphere in a limited capacity since v3.5, will be more automated. With autonomic computing the server is able to respond to environmental changes via built-in self-managing and self-healing capabilities. IBM’s self-managing hardware may have gotten the lion’s share of attention, but Van Overtveldt said that it is easier to maintain session state at the application level, as will be the case with WebSphere.

Van Overtveldt noted that the technology for these components has already been developed, and in many cases has been implemented in other products. It is now a matter of rolling them into WebSphere Application Server — something IBM anticipates completing within the first half of 2003.

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