Sun keeps pace with Web services

In an attempt to keep pace with Microsoft Corp.'s and IBM Corp.'s Web services efforts, Sun Microsystems Inc. this week bolstered its application server with new features that would help companies expose their applications as Web services.

The core of Sun's Web services strategy, known as Open Net Environment, centers on the iPlanet application server. IPlanet E-Commerce Solutions was an alliance between Sun and Netscape Communications Corp. that included e-commerce software products, programmers and salespeople. AOL Time Warner Inc. has since bought Netscape, Sun gradually absorbed iPlanet functions, and iPlanet will become a Sun division next month.

The iPlanet Application Server 6.5 will include the Forte for Java Web Services Module, which would allow Java components to function using basic Web services protocols. The components would be wrapped around Simple Object Access Protocol. Web Services Description Language would be used to describe these components as Web services, and Universal Description, Discovery Integration would be used to then publish these components as Web services.

The application server will also offer Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) 1.3 capabilities through iPlanet Message Queue, software that features the Java Messaging Service specification. The messaging software would let customers compose and send messages to either internal or external applications.

An application framework will run on top of Version 6.5, allowing developers to create and reuse Java-based components, which includes Enterprise Java Beans, to design new J2EE-based applications.

Real estate firm CB Richard Ellis plans to roll out iPlanet Application Server 6.5 by this summer and expects the application server upgrade to help modify existing applications faster.

It takes about five days to debug, test and program applications, and the framework would help CB Richard Ellis modify applications in one day, according to Gerrit Borg, director of application support at the Los Angeles firm. The application framework makes it "just cleaner" to track problems in existing applications, Borg says.

Analysts, though, say Sun's latest foray into Web services doesn't help the company gain ground against Microsoft and IBM, the first companies to develop and integrate Web services into their development tools. Sun has yet to join the Web Services Interoperability Organization, which includes Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. The WS-I, which was announced last week, would educate businesses on how to develop Web services.

The application server is "an incremental and tactical release, and they added [Web service extensions] they needed to," says Yefim Natis, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

Meanwhile, Microsoft last week released Visual Studio.Net, the linchpin of its Web services push. The collection of tools, including Visual C#, Visual Basic, and Visual C++, allow developers to build .Net applications. .Net is Microsoft's vision of Web services, application components that incorporate a variety of emerging standard protocols based on XML.

Big Blue last month expanded its Web services portfolio, upgrading its Web Services Toolkit and adding security for Web services invocations between the Internet and corporate intranets.

Application Server 6.5, which will be available next month, will be priced at US$19,995.

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