If your site is moving to multitier applications, managing your computing environment is about to get much more difficult. Without the right tools, you're in for a rough time. Finding the right application server can make things much easier.
Oracle's Application Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition delivers an impressive array of services and support that makes managing both applications and transactions much easier.
The production version of Application Server 4.0 looks much improved compared to the beta I evaluated in April of this year. The stability and integration woes that plagued that beta version have been addressed in this version.
With this release, Oracle challenges the rapidly expanding application server market and its competition head on. As a multipurpose application serving platform, Oracle's Application Server 4.0 offers stiff competition to the likes of Lotus' Domino, IBM's WebSphere, and Netscape's Application Server.
When it comes to transaction support and application tool integration, Oracle's Application Server also ups the ante for rivals, such as BEA's Tuxedo, Microsoft Terminal Server, and NetDynamics.
Managing Oracle's Application Server has been simplified in this release. The browser-based manager made it easy to work with my five-node application server cluster. I could check the status of services and components across my entire test environment.
The only component of Application Server 4.0 that is considered a "developers release" by Oracle is the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) support. Oracle expects to expand EJB support going forward as the emerging standard becomes further defined.
This version of Application Server expands upon cartridge support found in previous versions. These middle-tier components support everything from Perl and PL/SQL to HTML, Java, and more. A process called the "cartridge server" manages component execution.
New component support exists in this release for CORBA objects. A cartridge called JCORBA enables developers to create middle-tier CORBA objects. Though present client support limited my tests to Java clients, Oracle does intend to expand client support to include Distributed Component Object Model and CORBA clients.
Though it can be purchased separately, Application Server is also available in two suites as part of a more complete solution. The JDeveloper Suite will include the Application Server, the company's Oracle8 database, Oracle Procedure Builder, and JDeveloper 1.0.
I found JDeveloper integration with the Application Server to be much improved compared to the earlier beta version. The JDeveloper Suite also includes Wallop's Build-IT and Symantec's Visual Page.
Oracle's second development suite is called Enterprise Developer Suite and it adds more modelling and development options. Aside from the products in JDeveloper Suite, the Enterprise Developer Suite offers the earlier version of the Oracle database - Oracle7 - as well as the company's Designer and Developer products.
Application Server should fit neatly into existing Web-serving environments because it offers good interoperability with HTTP services for Web servers, such as those from Microsoft, Netscape, and Apache. My tests with Microsoft's Internet Information Server 3.0 and 4.0 and Netscape's Enterprise Server 3.0 worked well with the Application Server.
Current support for Apache is confined to Version 1.2.4 though Oracle is working on expanded support to include later Unix versions as well as Apache on Windows NT.
I especially like the Inter-Cartridge Exchange feature found in Application Server. This built-in support lets developers use APIs to communicate between components on the middle-tier.
This capability lends itself to some interesting application possibilities. For example, a client might access one component on the server, which in turn communicates with another server component that manages a back-end process.
The Enterprise Edition of Application Server adds support for a number of transaction standards. Among others, support is included for CORBA OTS, XOpen's XA, and TX standards. Transactions can also transverse multiple middle-tier Application Server components.
Also included in the Enterprise Edition of the Application Server is an ODBC cartridge that enables connections to any ODBC-compliant database from the middle-tier. This component can be accessed by other Application Server components and can return formatted results.
Oracle has bolstered security in Application Server 4.0 with support for Secure Sockets Layer 3.0 and X.509 certificates. Lightweight Directory Access Protocol support is also included though limited to Netscape's Directory Server.
The high degree of manageability for middle-tier services that support a wide array of clients and back ends combined with expanded application and transaction capabilities make Application Server 4.0 worth investigating.
The Bottom Line
Application Server 4.0, Enterprise EditionExisting customers and organisations seeking to implement an application serving solution that supports varied clients, multiple application types, and mixed back ends will find this Oracle offering right on the money.
Pros: Client access via either HTTP or Internet Inter-ORB Protocol; simplified management interface; added security and transaction support; improved load-balancing capabilities.
Cons: None noted.
Platforms: Sun Solaris, Windows NT, HP-UX, and some 10 other platforms.
Price: Available on application.
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