August 25, 2003

Sun renders all iPlanet code extinct with new SunONE app server

- by Chris Preimesberger -

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Sun Microsystems' latest industrial-strength
application server, SunONE 7.0, is introduced next month at the SunNetwork
Conference, all vestiges of the company's old iPlanet server code officially
will have gone the way of the pterodactyl.

In its place is an entirely new architecture that signals a fundamental
overhaul in the way Sun will construct its enterprise servers, at least for
the next few years. The key change is that a new "high-availability"
component now occupies its own layer in the structure, instead of being
integrated elsewhere.

This new component lies between the server and the database and allows for
automatic failover to another server in the event of a power outage, human
error, or other online problem. It also keeps transient information from a
customer available during an online transaction. For example, if a customer
wanted to buy theater tickets online but was unable to purchase them at that
time, the customer's contact information could be kept in the new component
until a later date without having to waste time interacting with the
database.

No other non-custom server on the market has this capability, Sun executives
said Monday. Not even Sun's 6.5-or-earlier app servers, the ones using
iPlanet code.

Not a Line of the Old Code in New Server
"It (the app server code) isn't one of the better (iPlanet) assets we
decided to keep," said Deborah Andrade, product line manager for the SunONE
app server. "There's not a line of the old code in the new server. We've
gone to a completely modular, deeply pluggable framework in (version) 7.0."

The iPlanet code base has been the foundation of most of Sun's application
servers for several years. Sun's iPlanet group (originally called the
Sun-Netscape Alliance) was created after America Online's acquisition of
Netscape Communications in 1998. As part of that deal, a number of
e-commerce developers, salespeople, and software products from Sun and
Netscape were merged into an ostensibly independent group called iPlanet.
Its chief marching orders: Build, sell, and maintain fast and scalable
servers.

Later, many of the iPlanet servers encountered a number of installation,
performance, and maintenance problems. They were also among the most
expensive enterprise servers on the market, and the brand never earned
double-figure market share. In mid-2001 came the beginning of the end: The
iPlanet brand was absorbed into the new SunONE brand.

The phase-out
continues as the outmoded code is put out to pasture.

Clustering Enables High Availability

Sun's new framework uses a structure originally designed by a small
serverware firm, Clustra Systems, six years ago. Its No. 1 selling point:
the so-called "five 9s" of high availability, meaning that the server is up
and running 99.999 percent of the time. That equates to about 3 minutes of
down time per year.

In the late 1990s, then-Oakland, Calif.-based Clustra created a database
program that had "clustering" capabilities, so that when one server failed
or locked up, another in the cluster could take over.

Sun acquired Clustra Systems in February 2002 and is now using the
fundamentals of that technology to give SunONE 7.0 the innards that will
help the company move up the charts in the application server business, said
Joe Keller, Sun's vice president of marketing for Java Web services.

Sun's close partner Oracle, among other companies, has made a big marketing
push in recent months for clustering as the basis for the "always available"
enterprise database system. Sun is now following suit in touting clustering
as a similar solution for corporate app servers.

Sun's Never Been a Top App Server Player

For the last several years, the market leaders have been BEA Systems, IBM,
Oracle, and Microsoft. Sun has never been a top-three player in the app
server market.

"With this new server, you can start small and build up," Keller said
Monday. "You can buy the standard edition and add the enterprise
functionality later, if you want. That enterprise functionality includes the
'high-availability-in real-time' component, load balancing, and all the
system management tools."

The first release of the SunONE 7.0 Application Server runs on Sun's SPARC
Solaris platform. Subsequent releases, about one every 30 days, Andrade
said, will be available for Linux and other operating systems. The
new servers will retail for $10,000 per CPU.

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