Oracle, iPlanet aim for simpler solutions

Oracle Corp. and iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions are readying releases of their software that seize upon users' need to simplify the implementation of application servers.iPlanet plans to announce a new version of its Web server and a trio of application servers this week. Each offering is aimed at different market segments: entry-level, enterprise, and a high-end version for enterprises with heartier requirements.

The application server market is hot right now, but iPlanet's intentions are to use its application server as a means to sell the servers typically layered on top of it, such as its Web Server and Integration Server.

"We're creating this abstraction away from the core APIs," said Sanjay Sarathy, iPlanet's director of product marketing. "Developers can focus on business-process management, and iPlanet will take care of the connectivity."

Oracle, too, is looking to simplify its plumbing with the first upgrade of Oracle9i Application Server, due later this month. "Our strategy is to provide, in one install, an awful lot of the middleware that companies need," said John Magee, senior director of marketing at the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company.

Although the Oracle9i Application Server runs on nonproprietary databases, Oracle plans to leverage its market share in the database fray to sell more application servers, Magee said.

Oracle's tight integration strategy, which as of late spans nearly every facet of its business, has come under fire recently, and the application server is no exception.

"Customers want simplification, but they don't want everything from the portal to the application server to the database [in one unit]," said Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. "It's not how they think about the app server infrastructure."

Instead, Gilpin added, customers consider the application server a layer that hides the complexity associated with databases.

Gilpin added, however, that Oracle has size and power in its favor. "I would anticipate [Oracle's share] increasing. I'd be surprised if they don't take 5 percent to 6 percent this year because they have the incumbent advantage," Gilpin said.

Analysts said that smaller application server vendors will feel the pressure.

Indeed, smaller vendors are adapting by broadening their strategies. Middleware vendor Iona Technologies Inc., for instance, announced last week that it spent $270 million to purchase Netfish Technologies Inc.. Dublin, Ireland-based Iona also unveiled a new e-business integration strategy for data residing outside of and within the enterprise.

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