In what can be construed as further evidence that application servers are becoming commodities, Hewlett-Packard has said its application server will be available for free later this month.
Andre Pino, marketing general manager of HP, said that the free version will be a new edition of the application server.
"We didn't just decide to make our current application server free. This is a newly architected app server designed for a services architecture," Pino said. "We want to accelerate the adoption of Web services because Web services is absolutely fundamental to our strategy."
This latest iteration of the application server is based on J2EE 1.3 (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), the most recent version of the Java specification that application servers are built on, and is compatible with software from other J2EE application server vendors, such as BEA Systems' WebLogic. It also includes tighter integration with HP-UX, and beefed-up functionality for mobility, phones, PCs, servers, and mainframes, which Pino said are important to Web services.
While the application server is now free, the layers on top of it, which HP obtained from the Bluestone Software acquisition, still come at a cost.
For instance, the SOAP (simple object access protocol), WSDL (Web services description language) servers, as well as the private and public registry capabilities based upon UDDI (universal description, discovery, and integration) are not free, Pino said.
The additional layers also run on other companies' application servers.
Analysts have been saying for some time that the application server itself is becoming a commodity and that vendors are increasingly relying on other technologies with the application server stack, such as integration and messaging, as a means to differentiate themselves. Earlier this month Summit Strategies issued a report saying that customers are really looking for more complete solutions that integrate other capabilities, such as databases, portals and wireless functions, into their infrastructures.
In the two-horse race that is the application server market, HP has its work cut out for it. While BEA Systems is the current market leader by most analyst accounts, IBM is close on its heels, and iPlanet is in third spot.
The latest numbers from Gartner indicate that BEA owns 41 per cent of the new direct licence revenue, while IBM has 31 per cent and iPlanet 13 per cent. Oracle and HP, meanwhile, each have 4 per cent.
And HP has a major issue to contend with for the time being: the proposed merger with Compaq.
"With the cloud of the merger hanging over their head, they're going to have a tough time expanding markets in the near future," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group.