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Sun heats new app server

Touting the server as the linchpin for a new portal computing model, the company debuts NetDynamics 5 and says it has a plan to integrate Netscape technology.

Sun Microsystems today rolled out a new version of its NetDynamics application server and announced a new software strategy for the product to deliver portal computing services.

Touting the server as the linchpin for a new portal computing model, Sun said NetDynamics 5 will offer an array of services to help businesses build, deploy, and manage e-commerce, intranet, and extranet sites.

NetDynamics 5 supports Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM), and the eXtensible Markup Language (XML).

Last July, Sun purchased NetDynamics for about $160 million to $170 million in stock and other additional payments, as earlier reported, in an attempt to break into the application server software market.

Sun announced NetDynamics 5 in a glitzy launch party in downtown San Francisco last night. With several hundred reporters, analysts, and Sun employees crammed into a cozy hotel ballroom, Sun executives spent about 75 minutes touting the benefits of the new application server.

"It's the product that glues the browser and Web server with the backoffice systems and services," said Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java software division. "It's the heart of portal-based computing."

Ed Zander, Sun's chief operating officer, said the application server was crucial to the company's goal of offering a complete package of hardware and software for customers.

"Our message is clear. We provide the servers, storage, operating system" as well as the software to Web-enabled enterprises, he said.

"Business portals offer competitive advantage in the network economy through the new portal computing model enabled by application servers," said Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java Software division, in a statement.

NetDynamics is Sun's entry into the application server market, one that already has market watchers--and giddy Sun executives--comparing the space to the boom days of relational database software back in the 1980s.

During a question and answer period with reporters, Sun executives said they have figured out a strategy to integrate Netscape Communications' products as part of Sun's product line and will share details once America Online's purchase of Netscape is finalized.

Sun acquired use of Netscape's technology--which include directories and an application server--as part of the AOL-Netscape buyout.

Zander said Sun feels it now has two of the leading application servers on the market--and will announce a strategy in the next few weeks to several months that will benefit their customers.

"Between Sun, AOL, and Netscape, we have great technology and we're working on how to best integrate them into one complete middleware suite," Baratz said

Baratz added that the three companies will also integrate their browser technologies into one. Sun has a 100 percent pure Java browser called HotJava. Netscape has Communicator, while AOL has its own client as well, he said.

"One of the goals is to bring the initiatives together and bring an XML-based browser with first-class Java 2 support," he said. And as time goes by, the browser will be built more and more with Java, he added.

Baratz also added that the Enterprise JavaBeans specification will go through Sun's standard process that will include the participation of other companies, including IBM.

But NetDymanics' coming out party was the reason for tonight's shindig.

The interest in applications servers comes from the success of e-commerce applications, for starters. Application server software provides the so-called middleware connections between Web-based clients and back-end databases and enterprise resource planning applications.

As earlier reported, analysts also believe the application server's best new feature is its ability to handle large amounts of Web traffic.

Sun claims that the application server can handle 2,600 Web interactions a second, which translates to 225 million interactions per day.

NetDynamics 5 also integrates with popular development tools, including Inprise's JBuilder, Symantec's Visual Caf?, and Microsoft's Visual Basic. It also includes new connectors to legacy systems, including IBM's AS/400; Customer Information Control System (CICS), a software package used for processing transactions; and MQSeries, IBM's middleware messaging software.

With today's announcement, Sun also launched a new strategy for the NetDynamics server to provide portal computing services that extend the metaphor of consumer Web portals that combine information and simple applications to business portals that integrate business processes to connect customers, partners, suppliers, and employees.

As part of this new model, Sun plans to offer professional services for NetDynamics 5 product, extend its Java Center services with NetDynamics product specialists and incorporate developers accustomed to the NetDynamics application server into the Sun Developer Connection.

In addition, Sun will also offer a "Power Your Portal" program, which combines the NetDynamics 5 application server with Sun Professional Services, to provide customers with, what it calls, a one-stop shop suite of services to help customers develop, deploy, and manage NetDynamics product-based portal computing applications.

Back on the server product side, Sun will continue to offer NetDynamics PACs (platform adapter components) for both SAP R/3 and Peoplesoft applications, and the NetDynamics PAC Software Development Kit (SDK) for building custom integration with packaged applications.

Prices for the NetDynamics 5 application server start at $25,000 per CPU. The server will be available on Solaris and Windows NT by the end of March, the company said.