Bluestone steels mid-tier for e-commerce

Bluestone steels mid-tier for e-commerce

Businesses looking to leverage new and existing applications and data sources for electronic commerce will do well to consider the latest Java-based server framework from Bluestone Software.

I was pleased to find that Sapphire/Web 6.1 offers a very thorough solution, including some of the best integration for existing infrastructure that I have seen. The included suite of development tools makes it possible to quickly build data-driven applications that can integrate customers, partners, and employees from the Web top to your back-end data sources.

Although the startup investment might prove prohibitive for smaller businesses, higher-end distributed sites will reap immediate return on investment through features such as automatic fail-over recovery, load balancing, and system monitoring. These features can be immediately extended to improve quality of service (QoS) to existing applications. In addition to a solid infrastructure, Sapphire/Web supplements a worthy integrated application environment with an impressive array of wizards and utilities, and version-control tools that will streamline development.

The Universal Business Server (UBS), which provides the application-server architecture for Sapphire/Web, can run anywhere a Java virtual machine is supported. For example, this allows your single Java application to be distributed across Windows NT and Unix, as well as IBM's AS/400.

Once installed, Sapphire/Web performed flawlessly against a number of tests. Most impressively, I was able to pull the plug on my primary server and watch as Sapphire/Web restarted and recovered seamlessly. The UBS manages state mirroring to guarantee data validity in just such an event.

Sapphire/Web offers good flexibility in application-server deployment, supporting Enterprise JavaBeans, Servlets, and CORBA services. It allows each application server to be packaged in its own independent set of security and services for maximum flexibility.

Bluestone supplements infrastructure management capabilities in Sapphire/Web via several modules aimed at improving application availability.

You can deploy the new Sapphire Application Manager (SAM), a monitoring and reporting module, across your enterprise to supply real-time monitoring feedback on systems and resources. In addition, it integrates with third-party enterprise management tools, such as Computer Associates' Unicenter.

SAM supplied me with notifications for items like outages and performance bottlenecks that alerted me to the need for corrective action.

A QoS module offered rules-based prioritisation of service availability that could be targeted to predefined user criteria. For example, the feature allows you to grant `power shoppers' priority checkout privileges, or reroute priority customers to less congested servers to ensure a pleasant shopping interaction. In addition to offering integration for popular development suites, such as Visual Age for Java, JBuilder, and Visual Cafe, Sapphire/Web supplies a great drag-and-drop IDE.

The Developer and Java Integration Manager allowed me to build data-driven, multi-tiered applications and Enterprise JavaBeans with an ease comparable to any stand-alone development environment I have used. Bluestone should consider bolstering debug support to truly round out the offering.

The Sapphire client objects can help you get your database applications up and running without writing any code. I was able to use the Developer's wizards to speed tasks such as data binding, SQL development, and Java interface building, and was able to develop, compile, test, and Web-deploy an entire Java application - tied to record sets on my Oracle 8 database - in minutes, replete with browse and update capabilities.

I found database accessibility superb, allowing connection to almost any enterprise database resource, including Oracle, MS SQL, DB2, and JDBC/ODBC accessible databases. The drag-and-drop Object Binding editor made quick associations and custom edits possible, and facilitated attaching to CORBA and Component Object Model objects.

Bluestone has abandoned generating C++ applications in favour of the ubiquitous pure Java, but still allows for easy re-purposing of externally developed C++ or Java code via an automated rebuilding process. The company has added support for Java Server Pages.

I do have a few minor caveats. I found the setup of Sapphire/Web to be fairly involved. Bluestone distributes Version 6.1 as an update rather than a stand-alone product, requiring you to preinstall and configure Version 6. As a result, the installation spanned better than an hour. I then had to install the Application Manager, the new module that provides real-time monitoring feedback of systems resources.

Bluestone could benefit by paying closer attention to its documentation. I found a number of pages in the on-disk manual, the only available source of reference, to be outdated or missing entirely.

I found Bluestone Sapphire/Web 6.1 provides a solution that is more flexible and easily integrated than comparable offerings from Netscape or BEA Systems. Sapphire/Web's capability to integrate with almost every major Internet development standard, data source, enterprise resource planning, and legacy application - plus its team-development support and on-the-fly application upgrading - make it a viable choice for enterprises.

Bluestone's Sapphire/Web offers a comprehensive level of service that developers can capitalise on for improving service levels and guaranteeing application availability to their e-commerce solution.the bottom lineSapphire/Web 6.1Summary: Sapphire/Web offers a highly scalable application server capable of supporting robust electronic-commerce transactions. The well- developed IDE makes easy work of building, testing, and deploying Web-ready data-driven applications.

Business Case: Easy integration into your existing infrastructure allows leveraging of available applications and data sources. Solid systems management and automated fail-over recovery guarantee availability of e-commerce resources.

Pros: ¥ Supported on multiple OSes ¥ Solid IDE ¥ Good wizard-driven utilities ¥ Sophisticated monitoring and reportingCons: ¥ High cost ¥ Limited debugging capabilities ¥ Poor support documentsPrice: Starts at $US25,000 per server for three developers. For further information or for reseller arrangements contact

Platforms: Any platform supporting a Java virtual machine, eg Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Unix, AS/400.

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