Application Servers: Powering the Enterprise

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Large organizations rely on thousands of pieces of software, and often hundreds of systems, to keep business running smoothly. Integrating those applications, and the information they provide to the workforce, can be a tricky process for IT departments. In addition, when the business needs a new application, ensuring that the application is available throughout the various systems in a large organization can be a huge challenge. Enter the application server.

Application servers generally include a first-tier user interface, a middle tier of business logic and a third tier that connects to the back-end systems that help an organization run its business. Application servers provide a central location for organizations to develop and deploy applications. In addition, an application server can connect data stored in diverse systems to provide end users the most up-to-date information available to help them perform a variety of mission-critical tasks. Large organizations rely on application servers to integrate legacy and other systems and databases and to help provide Web site support, among many other uses.


There are several major players in the application server market. One of the best known is BEA Systems, which offers the BEA WebLogic Server (, a standards-based application server that provides a foundation for enterprises to build applications. BEA WebLogic Server 8.1 provides an application infrastructure for development, integration, security and management of distributed applications. WebLogic Server Process Edition adds additional functionality, converging custom application development with business process management capabilities. BEA WebLogic Server, like most application servers, is compliant with Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), a popular programming model for enterprise-level developers. It also supports numerous other standards, like extensible markup language (XML), simple object access protocol (SOAP), Web services definition language (WSDL) and more. It supports several operating systems and databases, including technology from Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, IBM and Linux.


Another major application server provider is IBM, which offers several versions of IBM WebSphere ( to act as middleware to create, run and integrate applications across numerous computing platforms. WebSphere is built on open standards like J2EE, XML and others, and allows companies to deploy an operating environment that can handle high-volume, secure transactions and Web services. Several WebSphere products and tools are available, including WebSphere Application Server – Express, which provides a more affordable way for businesses to transform into e-businesses; WebSphere Application Server, a Java-based application server with advanced clustering capabilities and Web services features; WebSphere Studio, a development and deployment environment; and WebSphere Application Server Technology for Developers V6, a non-Sun J2EE V1.4-certified application server.


A third major application server provider is Oracle, which offers Oracle Application Server 10g ( This suite offers support for J2EE and grid computing with built-in portal software, business intelligence, rapid application development, application and business integration, wireless capabilities and more. Oracle Application Server is optimized for the Oracle database and is available in Java, Standard and Enterprise editions, depending on your needs.


Sun’s Java System Application Server (formerly the Sun ONE Application Server, see ware/products/appsrvr/home_appsrvr.html) provides a J2EE platform for developing and delivering Java Web services. By combining an application development environment with the Sun Java Studio Enterprise, Sun allows developers to increase their productivity. There are three editions available, each providing different functionality for different requirements and service levels.


As part of the Borland Enterprise Server suite of products, Borland offers its Borland Enterprise Server, AppServer Edition (, a certified implementation of the J2EE standard that allows enterprises to develop and deploy business-critical Java applications, as well as Web services. It supports current industry standards like Enterprise Java Beans (EJB 2.1), Servlet 2.3, Java Server Pages (JSP 1.2), XML and SOAP and is built atop Borland VisiBroker, a CORBA solution. It also is integrated with Borland’s Jbuilder, a Java development solution, to support seamless development and deployment cycles.


This is, of course, just a drop in the bucket of what’s available, and many more organizations have set up shop in the application server market or offer similar services and technologies. Products vary from simple middleware to full three-tier systems that can support the largest enterprise applications. Check out each vendor carefully before making your decision to ensure its product fully meets your needs, paying close attention to the security tools and services that are included.

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