Oracle Reinforces Internet Application Server

Looking for a bigger piece of the e-business software market, Oracle Corp. last week announced a new release of its application server software that includes an enhanced caching feature designed to improve the performance of Web sites and other Internet-based applications.

Oracle 9i Application Server Release 2 aims to provide a comprehensive software platform on which businesses can deploy and manage a multitude of application types, ranging from Web sites, intranet portals and online stores to more traditional enterprise resource planning systems. Oracle 9i Application Server Release 2 updates a version of the product launched in June under the name Oracle Internet Application Server.

New features in Release 2 include Oracle 9i Application Server Cache, a technology that stores frequently accessed Web pages in memory where end users can access them quickly. Oracle runs the caching application on a separate dual-processor server at its online store. The company claims that moving the caching server to its online store has improved response times and reduced the load on its back-end server.

Oracle 9i Application Server Cache also performs load balancing and surge protection, and joins an existing caching technology introduced in June with Release 1. The two caching features make Oracle the only vendor to offer a product that can cache static and dynamic Web pages within the application server, according to Scott Clawson, Oracle director of Internet platform marketing.

Oracle 9i Application Server Release 2 includes an updated version of Oracle Portal, which is used for creating intranets, and Oracle Enterprise Manager, an enhanced console-based management system.

The product will compete with offerings from IBM, Sun, BEA Systems and Microsoft, which are jockeying for position in the application server market. That market is expected to be worth US$11.3 billion by 2004, up from $994 million in 1999, according to market research company IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Oracle's earlier attempt at an application server, called simply Oracle Application Server, had technical difficulties and was not a particularly competitive product, analysts say.

The Oracle Internet Application Server launched in June was an improvement, and Release 2 raises the performance bar higher, says Tyler McDaniel, an analyst with Hurwitz Group. Oracle has worked hard in recent years to move beyond its database roots and position itself as a leading software provider for the Internet. Oracle's new application server rounds out the firm's e-business offerings, complementing its database and applications products to provide just about everything a company would need to start doing business online, he says.

"Granted there's a lot under the hood, so it could be a little more than an enterprise would like to swallow," he says, "but it's pretty much what you need to build an enterprisewide e-business infrastructure."

While Oracle says its application server will work well with databases from other vendors, "Optimal performance naturally will come from using it with Oracle 8i or Oracle 9i," McDaniel says.

"[Oracle 9i] sounds fantastic from a [database administrator's] perspective," says Brian Snyder, a database administrator with the distributed systems support group at The Hartford in Hartford, Conn. He especially likes an array of new features that make the database more reliable and more available, minimizing costly downtime.

One new feature, called hot standby, would have prevented a six-hour outage that recently hit a critical Oracle-based sales force automation package on the insurer's internal Web, Snyder says.

The company announced the software upgrade at its OpenWorld conference. Oracle 9i Application Server Release 2 is due to ship later this month. Pricing is not yet available.

Niccolai is a correspondent with IDG Service's San Francisco bureau.

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