Sun Microsystems will try to better insulate large customers from system crashes with a new version of its application server software.
Sun Open Network Environment (Sun ONE) Application Server 7, Enterprise Edition, combines an earlier version of the software with technology the company obtained with the purchase of Clustra in 2002, according to Joe Keller, Sun vice president of marketing for Java Web services and tools.
Application servers typically act as intermediaries between back-end databases and people tapping into that information through a Web browser.
The new high-end version of Sun's application server sits above a bank of independent application servers and shuttles data and workloads between them. If one hardware server fails or has to be taken down for maintenance, Sun ONE 7 will automatically assign pending tasks, such as stock trades, to other machines.
Managing the software will also be simpler than earlier versions. "Human error is the biggest problem" in maintaining networks, Keller said.
Sun ONE Application Server 7, Standard Edition, for use on a single hardware server already exists. The enterprise edition will come out in about a month, Keller said. Sun initially said the enterprise edition would ship in early 2003.
Right now, the new software can "easily" handle four servers that contain up to 24 processors each and can probably handle as many as 16 servers. "We're in the hundreds of CPUs," Keller said.
Currently, BEA Systems and IBM are dominant in the upper end of this market, which can be fairly lucrative. Sun will sell Sun ONE 7, Enterprise Edition, for $10,000 per processor.
The room for error in this market is slight. Financial institutions, telecommunications companies and others that buy high-end application server software insist on "five nines" availability--a guarantee that the software will work 99.999 percent of the time. By the clock, that limits downtime to about five minutes a year.
"People have talked about it (five nines reliability) as a goal, but I don't know if anyone has achieved it" for a wide variety of reasons, Keller said, adding "there's nothing more maddening than bad customer service on the Web."
One of the key features, according to Keller, is that administrators can adjust the load balancing features separately.
The software is based around version 1.3 of Java 2 Enterprise Edition, the Java standard for business applications. J2EE 1.4 will come out in November, but it doesn't mean that Sun ONE 7 will be outdated soon, Keller said. It takes several months for a specification to be embodied in a product.
Customers testing the new software include Italian financial institution BPB, a large mutual fund company and an Asian telecommunications company, according to Sun.