Oracle Targets SMBs With App Server Lite

Looking to better compete with IBM and Microsoft for the hearts, minds and dollars of small and mid-sized businesses, Oracle used its Open World show in London as a springboard to launch an application server that it dubbed a “lite” version of App Server 10g.

Application servers, sometimes referred to as middleware, typically connect end users with database servers. Oracle Application Server Standard Edition (SE) is designed to let smaller companies create portals and J2EE-based Web applications for much less than they would typically pay for the technology.

Available by year’s end, Oracle Application Server SE is designed to provide the full functionality of its Application Server 10g at half the price, though the company’s lack of support for the latest Java technologies might hinder acceptance.

To reach the price point for companies that don’t have the size — or resources — of an enterprise network, officials at the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software giant are limiting the software’s reach to two processors — at $4,995 per processor — or named user licensing at $149 per user with a minimum of five named users.

App Server 10g SE is designed as an out-of-the-box application, Oracle officials said, and will come installed with a pre-built portal with some content management and publishing capabilities along with portlets to incorporate business-specific application server requirements (sales, marketing, financial and so on).

Since it’s essentially a limited-scope version of the enterprise-grade App Server 10g, it’s also ready-made for upgrade when customers want to include more departments or people to the software.

Rob Cheng, product marketing director for Oracle’s application server and tools group, said the “lite” version of App Server 10g addresses a need in the SMB environment for full functionality at a more manageable price.

“The idea here is just to provide a lower-cost entry point for some of these smaller businesses that are a little easier for them to begin with,” he said.

Oracle is significantly behind the competition in one regard, though, which could force SMBs to pause before adopting App Server 10g: It’s not J2EE 1.4 certified. J2EE 1.4 is considered the “Web services” edition of enterprise-grade Java development and includes essential interoperability and Web services architecture implementation. App server makers have been scrambling to provide the functionality since the technology’s release last November.

The company’s had more than a year to get certified on the new Java specification after the September 2003 release of a developer preview edition for App Server 10g with J2EE 1.4 functionality. While certification isn’t a necessary requirement for adoption, many companies wait on certification before deploying it network-wide.

Carl Lehmann, an analyst with META Group, said Oracle app server fares poorly as a standalone product when compared to competitors like BEA, IBM and SAP.

“Oracle, as an app server, is really only targeted at companies that have either Oracle apps or an Oracle database; as a standalone development environment it really hasn’t succeeded as compared to the likes of IBM or BEA, for example,” he said. “The issue is what commitment, from a developer’s perspective and from an investment perspective, does Oracle have to this platform?”

Commitment might come in the form of acquiring the technology to deliver a robust application server. Lehmann mentions the rumors that are circulating the tech industry of a possible Oracle buy of BEA, among others, to shore up its weaknesses as well as gain footing within the SMB market.

The SMB offering at Oracle is part of a campaign launched by Chuck Phillips, Oracle president, in January to compete more effectively against the likes of IBM and Microsoft, mainly in the database arena though Phillips also included collaboration and app servers. In February, Oracle released Database 10g
Standard Edition One as an SMB foil to Microsoft’s SQL Server and IBM’s
DB2 Express.

The application server market is strikingly similar to the database
community in that both feature strong alternatives in the open source
community for smaller companies to adopt. Where SQL Server, DB2 and
Database 10g have to compete against the immensely popular MySQL, app server
vendors have to compete against the very popular JBoss and Apache Tomcat
application servers. And also like the database market, competition among
vendors is fierce — IBM, BEA Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Sybase all put out competing app servers.

With the raft of open source and vendor-supplied alternatives, many think
app server software has become commoditized, or so readily available as to
defeat advantage by one company over another. It’s a contention that was
infamously (to software vendors, that is) codified in Nicholas Carr’s “IT Doesn’t

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