At Last, Java App Servers Arrive for AS/400s

Java is finally moving from promise to reality in the AS/400 enterprise application arena. Now, AS/400 managers can leverage products such as Sapphire/Web from Bluestone Software Inc. (Mt. Laurel, N.J.) to drop in and almost immediately start running multiplatform applications. In December, Bluestone announced that Sapphire/Web 5.1, a Java-based application server, has been tested at IBM's Rochester facility and now runs on the AS/400.

In addition to OS/400, Bluestone's Sapphire/Web application server framework runs on any platform supporting Java Virtual Machine, and has been tested on AIX and OS/390, Windows 95/98 and NT, Unix and Linux. Bluestone also supports 100 percent pure Java, JavaBeans, Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs), XML, C, C++, servlets and CORBA Services.

Bluestone has been testing Sapphire/Web on the AS/400 since last spring, says John Capobianco, senior VP of marketing at Bluestone. However, "the AS/400's JVM was not running up to speed until a little later on in the fall," he explains. At that time, Bluestone was able to "deploy a Java application server on the AS/400, right out of the box -- no porting needed."

Sapphire/Web competes with IBM's Websphere application server product, which was introduced for AS/400 environments last year.

Platform-independent application servers are useful for sites that require back-up servers, or are migrating applications to new platforms, Capobianco says. "If you want to set up another application server on an NT box to increase response times, you won't have to have two different sets of programs. It doesn't matter what your hardware is, your application will run on it."

Release 6.0 of Bluestone's Sapphire/Web was scheduled to begin beta trials in February, according to Capobianco. Version 5.1 includes complete support for both application and server versions of EJBs, load balancing capability both within and outside of firewalls, and XML support.

AS/400 developers can deploy Bluestone's framework to run the same applications on OS/400, Linux, Unix, Windows NT or OS/390, without recompiling. In addition, Sapphire/Web for DB2 Universal Database provides native support for DB2 for AS/400 data. Sold through IBM's BESTeam value added distributors and VARs, this Web-to-database solution gives users a way to develop new applications that leverage Web technologies in deploying DB2, CICS and MQSeries applications.

In other Bluestone news, the company also unveiled its XML Server, a scaled-down version of the Sapphire/Web product that will also run on the AS/400. The XML Server is a Java-based Web application server that provides a platform for the distribution and deployment of XML applications.

Bluestone XML Server supports EJB, and includes an XML content translator, generator and transport scripting vehicle. It enables users to create and read XML pages for communication between Web and non-Web applications and data objects. The server is intended to speed the retrieval and integration of data from multiple sources, as well as modify or generate XML code on the fly.

XML's impact will match that of the Web itself within the next three years, says Rita Knox, research director with Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.). "What makes XML interesting is the new vertical applications and industries it will spawn, and the chaos it will create in the computer industry."

Gartner Group projects that XML will represent a $1 billion market within the year. XML -- based on SGML -- provides a universal method for describing and formatting messages by placing information in context with simple markup tags, similar in appearance to HTML tags. As a result, users will be able to access and exchange data from differing applications. XML documents are accompanied by Dynamic Table Definitions (DTDs) that define the fields. Data can be delivered using HTTP -- in the same way HTML can today -- without any changes to existing networks and across corporate firewalls.

Soon, XML will enable the exchange of data between ERP/MRP applications such as SAP R/3, SSA BPCS and J.D. Edwards OneWorld, says Capobianco. Application servers such as Sapphire Web will enable companies to exchange data with any number of trading partners in the supply chain.

--J. McKendrick