The Sun-Netscape Alliance has announced that it has enhanced its high-end electronic commerce server and added support for the latest Java standards in an attempt to solidify the companies' hold on transaction-heavy customer Web sites.
Netscape Application Server 4.0 supports the recently released Java 2 Enterprise Edition, a package of programming interfaces and network services for building large-scale applications. The e-commerce server software also includes an integrated transaction monitoring system and improved performance with third-party network management and application development tools.
Taken together, these enhancements make Version 4.0 the fastest and most scalable e-commerce server on the market, Alliance officials claim.
"The bar is much higher than it was before," says Yuan Huntington, group product marketing manager for the Netscape Application Server. "With the scalability that we're offering now, we can support sites with millions of users."
The Netscape Application Server is on a roll, reporting its highest-ever sales in the quarter ended June 30. Alliance officials say that half of the 10 most-popular financial Web sites use earlier versions of the software, as do a majority of the top 10 ISPs.
"A year ago, application servers were really for early adopters, people experimenting with e-commerce. But now they've become mainstream products," Huntington says. "Companies are looking at application servers as the foundation to build their online businesses."
Available for four years, the Netscape Application Server is a relative old-timer in the Web application server marketplace. Analysts report that the package has more large-scale deployments - including online stock trading site E-Trade Securities and health care information provider drkoop.com - than competitors such as IBM and BEA Systems.
Support for the Java 2 platform is important for application portability. Other Web application server vendors have announced plans to adopt the Java 2 platform.
By moving away from a proprietary programming interface to industry standards, the Sun-Netscape Alliance is offering its customers investment protection, industry observers say.
But what customers will like even better is the fact that performance doesn't suffer with support for the new Java standards. In fact, Alliance officials say that by coding to the Java 2 standards instead of the older proprietary interface, customers can improve the performance of their applications by 20% or more.
"There's always a risk that when you try to achieve a level of portability across a wide set of platforms, you will sacrifice something in performance, look and feel or behavior," says Tom Dwyer, research director for Enterprise Java at Aberdeen Group. "[The Sun-Netscape Alliance] didn't sacrifice performance."
Dwyer says the Netscape offering has traditionally been the leader at providing high performance and high availability in environments with unpredictable amounts of Web traffic. He says these areas of strength continue with the latest version.
Another performance enhancement is the built-in transaction monitor from IBM, which is also found in IBM's competing WebSphere product. "Companies that are doing a large amount of e-commerce transactions, where they are exchanging money or data, will appreciate . . . the data integrity that this offering provides," Huntington explains.
Coupled with improvements in load balancing and failover functionality, the transaction processing enhancements are "a good thing," says Nicholas Gall, a vice president at Meta Group consulting firm. "These advancements in availability are important, as a lot more attention is given to situations like the e-Bay fiasco, where people were offline for hours."
In a related announcement, Netscape Application Builder 4.0 has been enhanced with JavaBeans support, a variety of wizards and interoperability with third-party application development tools such as Symantec Visual Café and Macromedia Dreamweaver.
Expected to ship in August, Netscape Application Server 4.0 is priced at $US35,000 per CPU, the same price as earlier versions.
The Sun-Netscape Alliance was formed in March when Sun and America Online (which had acquired Netscape) joined forces to offer a complete line of Web and e-commerce products and services for enterprise customers. The next version of the Netscape Application Server, expected in the first half of 2000, will marry Netscape's software with Sun's NetDynamics Application Server.