App Server Vendors Looking for Steady Platform

SAN MATEO (03/13/2000) - THE RISING TIDE of e-business is lifting the hopes of yet another market as application service providers (ASPs) work to expand their offerings to provide a complete e-business platform upon which companies can build, thus avoiding the commoditization that many felt would afflict their industry.

What is driving that need to diversify, said Daryl Plummer, vice president of Internet application development at the Gartner Group in Atlanta, is the realization that, in the future, successful applications will have to work across many enterprises and many geographies while providing a core set of functionality, including personalization, commerce capabilities, and support for Web standards.

The convergence of those facts will mean ASPs must provide three basic features if they are to survive: an all-encompassing e-business platform, global class computing, and software as services.

"Application servers are becoming a commodity, and ASPs have to make themselves into a company that can address those three things or they'll be toast," Plummer said.

Two vendors Plummer feels have already done a good job of recognizing the need for such far reaching solutions are Allaire and Bluestone, both of whom have just announced new roadmaps that demonstrate their strategies to meet those demands.

Allaire's roadmap calls for a variety of product enhancements and new products that should allow the company to meet most enterprise-level e-business platform needs.

The company also announced Monday the latest in a string of acquisitions targeted at stepping up the breadth of products it is able to offer and the speed with which those products are delivered.

The difference between this acquisition, though, and the three it carried out last year is that Allaire this time has simply purchased a new technology, Open Sesame, from Bowne Internet Solutions, a Web consultant and developer for the financial services industry.

Open Sesame will provide Allaire with profiling and personalization capabilities, two of the features Plummer said are necessary in future solutions and which the company plans to integrate with its Spectra line of packaged applications.

Another company riding the e-business wave and pushing itself past the application server bounds is Bluestone, which has also announced an e-business focused roadmap for the coming year, including five new editions of its Total e-Business platform and a new product, Bluestone Syndication Server for Total e-Business.

The first Total e-Business Platform offered by the company will be the B2B Edition, which is targeted at companies who wish to expand their supply chain by more easily sharing enterprise information with trading partners.

The other four Total e-Business Platforms will be available toward the end of the second quarter. They will include the Application Server Edition and Wireless Edition targeted at providing a platform for companies extending their legacy applications to the Web and wireless worlds respectively.

The two most robust Total e-Business Platform offerings will be the B2C and Global Editions, both of which will contain at least fifteen different components. The B2C Edition will be designed to enhance customer interactions over the Web, and include software for customer interaction management, personalization, and marketing interaction management.

The Bluestone Total e-Business Platform Global Edition will contain virtually all of Bluestone's technologies and is designed to provide an all-encompassing, Web-enabled e-business platform for enterprise customers.

Those last two offerings will be bolstered by the third quarter release of Syndication Server, which is based on the ICE (Internet Content Exchange) standard and designed to automate the integration and coordination of syndicated, business-to-business information between trading partners.

Of course, while the roadmap announcements from Allaire and Bluestone demonstrate clear understanding of where the market is headed, and could give the companies a leg up on the competition, the two are far from being alone at sea.

In fact, both companies seem to be following in the footsteps of the WebSphere strategy IBM set forth earlier this year whereby Big Blue will begin to package broader solutions on top of its application server.

In addition, Plummer said, Microsoft and BEA have positioned themselves well to provide the three-masted ship necessary for sailing the e-business seas, and Oracle is slowly but surely waking up to the notion that they will have to expand their offerings to compete.

A dark horse in the race to move beyond the application server, Plummer noted, is the Sun/Netscape Alliance, iPlanet, which currently has all of the pieces required to compete, but has failed to demonstrate a clear vision for delivering them in the way customers need.

Allaire Corp., in Cambridge, Mass., is at Bluestone Software Inc., in Philadelphia, Penn., is at

Michael Lattig is an InfoWorld senior writer.

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