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Gartner: Companies Blowing Money on App Servers

Analysts at Gartner contend IT managers have overspent on application servers by $1 billion and are poised to blow another $2 billion on application servers from 2001 to 2003.

Microsoft Corp., which bundles application server technology for free in other products it charges for, such as Windows 2000 Server, eagerly highlighted the study.

While Gartner's research note does recommend that users consider Microsoft's application server technology if appropriate, the Gartner analysts suggest that most of the waste comes from customers buying high-end Java-based application servers when a low-end Java application server would do the trick -- or even perform better.

"The application server vendors are encouraging customers to purchase higher-end technology that they just don't need," Gartner analyst David Smith said in a statement. "It's like buying gourmet food to feed kids at summer camp. It's just not necessary."

The core source of the waste is industry confusion about the relationship between the Java 2 Enterprise Edition framework and Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), according to Gartner.

According to Gartner, the J2EE framework consists of equal parts EJB, Java Server Pages (JSP) and servlets. However, many application server vendors perpetuate a misconception that J2EE and EJB are synonymous, because they can sell their higher-end application servers that support EJB for more than 10 times as much money.

Gartner defines two tiers of Java application servers. The low-end servers, such as Enhydra, WebLogic Express, iPlanet Web Server and WebSphere Standard Edition, tend to support servlets and JSPs. Higher-end, and higher-ticket, application servers support EJB.

"During the past three years, 80 percent of Java deployments made no use of EJB -- yet 60 percent of the deployed Java application servers are high-end (EJB-capable and high-cost) servers," the Gartner analysts wrote.

Gartner recommends that Java shops pursue a dual-application server strategy, running a low-end application server for low-end tasks and a high-end application server only when needed for high-end tasks.

"By 2003, 60 percent of all new J2EE application code will remain JSP/servlets-only, and at least 70 percent of new applications will be deployed using the high-end application servers," Gartner estimates.

John Montgomery, Microsoft's group product manager for the .NET developer platform, said Microsoft agrees with the Gartner report.

"The J2EE vendors have sold their customer base a bill of goods that they'll hardly ever need, like the carriage undercoating your car dealer will try to sell you. Whether this is intended to sell more consulting, more hardware, or simply more superfluous software, the bottom line is customers simply do not need these bloated solutions. The report clearly underscores this point," Montgomery says.

Gartner did not spare Microsoft in its research note. The consultancy basically accuses Microsoft of poor marketing on its application server technology.

"There is much confusion in the industry over what the appropriate use of an application server is," the Gartner analysts say. "The unfortunate naming of Microsoft's application server as a transaction server (MTS) creates the mistaken tendency to equate application server to just J2EE."

Microsoft recommends that customers use different components of its technology in various combinations to perform the functional equivalent of an application server. Core elements include MTS, the runtime in COM and COM+, IIS, ASP, MDAC, ADO. More advanced functionality can be obtained by using those core technologies with BizTalk Server, Host Integration Server, Application Center, Visual Studio and SQL Server.

Montgomery contends that Microsoft has good reason not to create a more discrete application server.

"Part of the confusion stems from having a different philosophy. We believe in making developers' and administrators' lives easier by making this kind of functionality ubiquitous. Rather than making, say, transactions or components, a high-end buying decision, we have made them ubiquitous parts of the operating system. This enables developers to count on them being there when they build an app, and makes it easier for administrators to deploy applications that call on the features," Montgomery says.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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