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Application server trend grows

Inprise and Sybase both announce plans to ship new server software for building Web-based applications.

Joining a growing trend among software development tool companies, Inprise and Sybase today announced plans to ship new application server software for building Web-based applications.

Inprise, formerly Borland International, today laid out a plan for delivering the Inprise Application Server, which combines both middleware and application development tools and includes object request broker technology that the company acquired in its purchase of Visigenic Software last fall.

At its user conference today in Los Angeles, Sybase announced a new development tool bundle, Enterprise Application Studio, which combines application server and development tool software.

Both product road maps highlight the growing popularity of application server software. Companies are looking at application servers from a development standpoint to link Web applications and existing systems together for e-commerce and other uses, analysts said.

Application server software can simplify the task of linking new Web systems, systems located in disparate locations, and legacy systems via a Web client. As Martin Marshall, an analyst with Zona Research said: It can "connect the stuff that you have with the stuff you are going to create."

In the past several months, both Netscape Communications and Sun Microsystems have bought into the application server business--Netscape through its acquisition of Kiva Software last fall and Sun by acquiring NetDynamics last month. The list of new application server vendors grows by the day.

"Suddenly, there is this convergence of factors," said Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "A lot of the middleware categories have matured to where companies realize they need application servers. Companies that have adopted CORBA [Component Object Request Broker Architecture], for instance, want something less proprietary. And Web applications need the state management, security, and other features that application servers can provide."

Then there's the money. Both Inprise and Sybase are hoping to pick up additional revenues by following the huge piles of cash lavished on Web companies. "Web stocks tend to be valued higher than others, so even though technically application server software isn't limited to the Web, some of these companies are hoping that some of that money comes their way," Gilpin added.

The Inprise Application Server, expected to ship by year's end, includes integration with Inprise's JBuilder, Delphi, and C++ tools for building Web-based enterprise applications, according to the company.

Specifically, Inprise will use object request broker software, picked up through its Visigenic acquisition, to link client development and management tools to server-based data and applications.

Application Server will also include management tools, Web integration, security services, transaction management, and integration with enterprise data and applications via CORBA and Microsoft's COM framework.

As previously reported, Sybase is attempting to bring its flagship PowerBuilder development tool more fully into the era of Web and distributed application building.

The company is also trying to untangle its somewhat confused application server lineup. Enterprise Application Studio includes Enterprise Application Server, a new application server that combines three dissimilar products: PowerBuilder Distributed Application Server, Sybase's first attempt at building an application server to work with fat client PowerBuilder applications; PowerDynamo, a thin-client application server intended to extend PowerBuilder for HTML applications; and Jaguar CTS, a component server introduced last year for handling ActiveX and Java components on the middle tier.

Sybase plans to roll out Enterprise Application Studio in stages. The first release of the bundle is expected to debut by year's end.

In the first half of next year, Sybase will ship an Enterprise Application Server update, code-named Vineyard, that will include the first efforts to link PowerBuilder more tightly to the company's middleware.

Beyond the Vineyard release, the company plans to add industry-specific features to the bundle, much like Sybase's recently announced plans for its Financial Server software.

Other industries to be targeted by Sybase will include health care, telecommunications, and entertainment, said the company.