HP makes app server free

In what can be construed as further evidence that application servers are becoming commodities, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) on Monday said its application server will be available for free later this month.

Andre Pino, marketing general manager of Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP, said that the free version will be a new edition of the application server.

"We didn't just decide to make our current application server free. This is a newly architected app server designed for a services architecture," Pino said. "We want to accelerate the adoption of Web services because Web services is absolutely fundamental to our strategy."

This latest iteration of the application server is based on J2EE 1.3 (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), the most recent version of the Java specification that application servers are built on, and is compatible with software from other J2EE application server vendors, such as BEA Systems' WebLogic. It also includes tighter integration with HP-UX, and beefed up functionality for mobility, phones, PCs, servers, and mainframes, which Pino said are important to Web services.

Whereas the application server is now free, the layers on top of it, which HP also obtained from the Bluestone Software Inc. acquisition, still come at a cost.

For instance, the SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL (Web Services Description Language) servers, as well as the private and public registry capabilities based upon UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), are not free, Pino said.

The additional layers also run on other companies' application servers.

Analysts have been saying for some time that the application server itself is becoming a commodity and that vendors are increasingly relying on other technologies with the application server stack, such as integration and messaging, as means to differentiate themselves. Summit Strategies Inc., in Boston, last week issued a report saying that customers are really looking for more complete solutions that integrate other capabilities, such as databases, portals, and wireless functions, into their infrastructures.

In the two-horse race that is the application server market, HP has its work cut out for it.

While BEA Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif., is the current market leader by most analyst accounts, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. is running close on its heels, and iPlanet, in Santa Clara, Calif., is carrying the third spot.

The latest numbers from Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn., indicate that BEA owns 41 percent of the new direct license revenue, while IBM has 31 percent and iPlanet 13 percent. Oracle Corp. and HP, meanwhile, each have 4 percent.

And HP has a major issue to contend with for the time being: the proposed merger with Compaq Computer Corp.

"With the cloud of the merger hanging over their head, they're going to have a tough time expanding markets in the near future," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

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