Pioneers push app distribution alternatives

The demands for improving the speed, performance, and availability of e-business transactions on the Web often run in direct opposition to the Internet's heavy-footed application distribution limitations.

But users still need distributed, on-demand database and server applications, available from multiple locations. The technology to make this happen is moving from the theoretical stage to practical solutions.

Despite skepticism from users and industry experts, some vendors are taking on the task of laying the groundwork for this next stage of application distribution, complete with data synchronization, integrity, and security, done either automatically or at scheduled intervals.

Hedging their bets on promises of improved customer reliability and performance as well as faster application deployment, vendors including Zembu Inc., International Interactive Commerce Ltd. (IICL), and Ejacent feel the time is right to lead administrators toward a centralized yet remote-focused model of application dispersal and management. Unlike Zembu and IICL, Ejacent offers a hosted, subscription-based service.

Touting its recently launched Distributed Application Platform (DAP) suite, Palo Alto, California-based Zembu is zeroing in on enterprise customers with a technology that aims to push the entire application to the edge of the network.

Pushing application access to the edge helps users avert network traffic-hindering issues and makes enterprises less dependent on mainframe and client/server technologies, says David Henkel-Wallace, Zembu founder and CEO. "We distribute subsets of the database and we do that dynamically," Henkel-Wallace says. "We are enabling a necessary phase change [of application distribution]."

DAP nodes are placed in multiple data centers to geographically link a company's data. The data is propagated and synchronized to each database on the network. DAP supports Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris 2.5 and higher as well as Oracle Corp.'s relational database,Version 7.3 and higher. DAP has been optimized to work with Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-compliant application servers.

The Zembu distribution model faces a difficult challenge because it has to oversee the rapid-fire distribution of multiple changes such as transaction, authentication, e-commerce, and inventory updates, in a real-time stampede -- a major task for any network to handle, says Michael Hoch, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group.

"[The technology] hasn't really been demanded [by users] because it hasn't seemed possible before -- particularly what Zembu is doing," Hoch says. "If it works, there will be uses for it," such as e-commerce opportunities, he adds.

Hoch noted that IICL offers a similar technology but it sends smaller loads of changes out to the synchronization location (where the databases are) and according to a scheduled, multistep process.

Hoch says the IICL solution could be effective for a user operating several branch offices that record data on a daily basis.

IICL's Distributed Internet Server Suite 2.0 is designed to distribute applications across three tiers of servers: enterprise, deployment, and client, says Shuang Chen, CEO of Armonk, New York-based IICL.

Chen says the enterprise tier, which is licensed to corporate customers, is installed in conjunction with a customer's enterprise servers. The deployment tier, installed with the back-end servers of a network, is typically licensed to content delivery providers, telecommunications customers, and service providers.

The IICL client-tier software is much smaller and can be installed or embedded on a personal device or handheld appliance via the Internet. "We save [user cost] by being able to speed their application [and] by reducing the hardware and software cost on [their] central server," Chen says.

Global Online Marketing Enterprise (GOME) is using IICL's product for the New York-based Korean American Grocery Store Association, which has 25,000 members. Chen says GOME uses the enterprise server and client tier offerings, deploying the client piece on PCs at each store. "Store owners are using these [IICL] applications on a daily basis for business use, and the application is literally running on their PC," Chen says.

Clearly, a widespread application distribution model needs beefed-up security, which isn't likely to be a major hurdle for enterprises that have cut their teeth on e-commerce efforts that have similar requirements, says Neal Goldman, an analyst at The Yankee Group, in Boston.

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