As e-business applications become increasingly more sophisticated, it is essential that they are based on a robust and fault-tolerant platform. This has led to the rise of the application server, which provides a scalable platform for application deployment, taking care of much of the system-level plumbing that developers would otherwise have to rewrite for each application. It encapsulates business logic and data components and sits in the middle tier of a three-tier application architecture (or across multiple tiers in an n-tier architecture). It provides a consistent interface to the other layers in these models - to the clients in the presentation layer and to the back-end databases.
Borland AppServer is a high-performance implementation of a Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-compliant application server. It is one of the first wave of products to have passed Sun's J2EE certification process - a suite of over 6,000 tests that assesses all aspects of the product's adherence to the J2EE specification. In addition, Borland is an executive member of the Java Community Process.
Borland AppServer adds value to a business by reducing the time-to-market for e-business applications and by offering increased productivity, performance and availability during the development and deployment process. These metrics can be key to the success of a project, or even that of an entire business in this fast-moving environment, and it is important to ensure that the chosen deployment
The key differentiator of the AppServer product is its integration with other systems. Borland's VisiBroker engine is acknowledged as one of the leading Object Request Brokers (ORBs) supporting the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) specification. This technology has been fully integrated into AppServer to support interoperability with CORBA-based systems. Also included is an implementation of the J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA), which is designed to provide easy connectivity to enterprise applications. Both these capabilities will be requirements of the next version (1.3) of the J2EE specification, currently in its beta test phase.
Borland's heritage is in the development world, and its strengths lie in development and deployment tools. Because most applications are now either Web-based or have some Web-enabled components, the application server is evolving into a complete e-business platform. Other vendors in this market have added to the core functionality of their products, modules that cover a wide range of other areas such as personalisation, enterprise portals and B2B integration.
Borland's AppServer is a technically excellent application server product, which includes all of the features necessary to achieve robust scalability for demanding e-business applications. The only threat to Borland's position is the broader range of associated products that are available from competing vendors.
AppServer is based on a Java Transaction Service (JTS)-compliant transaction engine that is capable of supporting very high transaction throughput and user loads. It provides for two-phase commit and allows access to any database supporting the Java DataBase Connectivity (JDBC) specification or the XA standard for distributed transaction processing. One of the features that significantly improves performance is AppServer's ability to optimise access to underlying databases, minimising network traffic.
Borland promotes its adherence to the Java standards, which is an important point to bear in mind when considering interoperability in a mixed platform environment. AppServer has been certified to the latest J2EE Version 1.2 specification, but also already includes many of the features of the forthcoming Version 1.3. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the JCA method of providing connectivity to enterprise applications, implemented here as VisiConnect.
JCA offers a standard architecture for integrating modern distributed systems with legacy and non-Java applications. JCA is implemented using resource adapters for business applications, which plug into the application server to provide connectivity between the two. The resource adapter is akin to a plug-and-play driver for the business application. AppServer also provides integration with transaction processing systems and middleware, including: CICS; IMS; MSMQ; and MQSeries.
An important consideration for Java-based application servers is managing persistence. AppServer supports both Bean-Managed Persistence (BMP) and Container-Managed Persistence (CMP); both can exist within a single Enterprise JavaBean (EJB). For session beans, AppServer provides failover capability and a technique known as "passivisation" (swapping the bean state out of primary memory), which significantly boosts performance.
Installation of Borland AppServer is a straightforward process that does not, in itself, require expert technical knowledge. Successful deployment and configuration will benefit from knowledge of the J2EE environment and of distributed application architectures in general. Borland offers 24-hour "follow the sun" support from its international offices, and a range of classroom-based and on-site training courses are available.
AppServer is available on the following platforms:
Windows NT, Windows 2000
Hewlett-Packard HP-UX 11.0
Sun Solaris 2.6, Solaris 7, Solaris 8
RedHat Linux 6
IBM AIX 4.3
AppServer offers a wide range of integration interfaces to other systems, including strong CORBA support through VisiBroker, and the technology that is built into the J2EE specification, including Java Messaging Service (JMS), JDBC and the new JCA interface. AppServer is not dependent on the presence of any other products, but the combination of AppServer and JBuilder offers significant benefits in providing a tightly integrated development and deployment environment.
Butler Group believes that AppServer offers a low-risk route for application deployment, due to the wide range of platforms on which it is available and its adherence to standards such as J2EE and CORBA. Customers selecting this product would not be locking themselves into proprietary technology, which is a genuine concern when choosing an application deployment platform.
Borland targets enterprise customers in the FTSE-500, and has vertical direct sales teams focused on finance and banking, ISVs, VARs and OEMs, telecoms, government, energy and pharmaceuticals, media, leisure and travel, services, and manufacturing. Borland believes that this approach enables the company to gain detailed experience of the requirements of these markets and to tailor solutions more closely to customer needs.
The majority of sales are direct, via the aforementioned corporate sales teams. Some sales to smaller customers go via the distribution channel. Borland has a Consulting Services group that offers solutions ranging from prototype application building and review of project designs, through to trouble shooting of existing implementations that have run into difficulties. Borland has also developed relationships with consultancies such as Accenture, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, KPMG and MCI Systemhouse. Borland also has technology partnerships with Sun, Rational, SAP, Nokia, PrismTech and Entegrity.
AppServer is licensed on a per-CPU basis, at a cost of $12,500. Two levels of technical support and product maintenance are available, which are priced at 15%, or 20% of the original licence cost.
Borland has recognised the need to provide a high-performance infrastructure for e-business applications, and has focused on the development, deployment and management aspects of this market. Butler Group believes that there is a definite role in the market for this approach. However, Borland will face stiff competition from both sides - at the top-end from application server vendors who offer a broader range of e-business software; and at the bottom-end from some of the open-source application servers.
Borland AppServer meets the requirement for a robust application-serving platform, and Butler Group believes that AppServer would be a strong choice for a company that wishes to ensure compatibility with other systems. Borland will find it difficult to compete with companies offering a complete range of e-business modules, and should consider partnering with other e-business software vendors if it is to increase its share of this market.
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This was first published in November 2001