Oracle adds grid and BPM functions to app server

Oracle is releasing a substantial upgrade to its application server software, as part of a planned refresh of the company's entire product line to support the grid computing model.

Grid computing's publicity notwithstanding, the new EAI and BPM features included in the release may be the most significant additions for users and could prompt some customers to upgrade to Oracle's related products, analysts said.

Grid computing allows customers to link groups of servers and shift applications and workloads across them to make the most efficient use of computing resources. Oracle, along with other grid proponents IBM and Hewlett-Packard, said the technology can help companies save money and make datacenters easier to manage.

Application Server 10g, which went on sale last week, includes several features intended to simplify the process of setting up and managing grids. Features include software that makes it easier to deploy a clone of an application configuration across a group of servers, and a new version of Oracle's workload manager that automatically shifts tasks to servers with unused resources.

"We've made a lot of enhancements to provision, manage, clone, and deploy large numbers of application servers easily," said Robert Shimp, vice president of technology marketing at Oracle. Customers don't have to rewrite existing applications to benefit from a grid computing architecture, according to Oracle.

Many of the grid features are linked to functionality in the 10g versions of Oracle's database and management software, which are due out at the end of the year. The initial versions of Oracle's 10g products won't let customers build grids that include databases from other vendors.

"We're focused on the Oracle stack with this first release," said Vijay Tella, vice president and chief strategy officer for Oracle's application server group.

Oracle is encouraging customers to use the software on low-cost servers running chips from Intel and Windows or Linux, but customers can also build grids from Unix servers.

Application Server 10g includes almost 600 new features, according to Oracle. Others focus on EAI, BPM, business activity monitoring, and support for recent Web services standards. The product also includes a bundled copy of the wireless edition of Oracle's application server, which used to be sold separately, Shimp said.

"We've had the Application Server 10g in beta for nine months, dozens of customers have been testing it and many are going into production right away," Shimp said.

"EAI, and especially BPM technology are becoming more critical inside organizations as they move to improve the effectiveness of their core business processes. If a customer is an Oracle shop and pretty much all based on Oracle applications, they have had limited functionality in that area until now," said Ken Vollmer, a research director at Forrester Research.

Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis, agreed. The EAI and integration features help Oracle catch up with capabilities already offered by IBM and BEA Systems, which lead the application server market, he said.

"But you have to give Oracle credit," Willet added. "The pricing is pretty attractive for all that functionality."

Pricing for Application Server 10g is similar to previous versions of the product. A Java Edition for developers is priced at $5,000 per CPU, a Standard Edition including portal and business intelligence functions is $10,000 per CPU, and the full Enterprise Edition is $20,000 per CPU. Initial versions are for Unix and Linux; a Windows version will follow shortly, Oracle's Tella said.

Oracle also released a preview version of JDeveloper 10g last week, the company's integrated development environment, now easier to use for programmers that aren't Java experts.

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