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Java EE servers said giving way to lightweight application frameworks

You can add the venerable Java application server to the growing list of purported 'dead technologies,' says Rod Johnson, creator of the Spring Framework, speaking at TheServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas.

You can add the venerable Java application server to the growing list of purported 'dead technologies,' suggests...

Rod Johnson, creator of the Spring Framework and founder of open-source software up-start SpringSource. If this is the case, a reported IBM move to buy Sun Microsystems would have little impact – at least in the Java field – according to Johnson.

The standard, multipurpose, somewhat heavy-weight Java application server, he says, is giving way to light-weight frameworks. "The Java application server is effectively dead," he maintained in a keynote speech this week at TheServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas.

"The monolithic application server is not in step with the times," said Johnson, whose firm is a major proponent of a stripped-down framework that eases development for assorted types of popular (mostly Web) application building.

Johnson suggests that less is more. For the Java app server platform, "the recession was the final blow," he said. "In a recession people will not pay for features they don't need."

This move is part of a bottom-up process which sees developers ignoring the 'Websphere model,' he asserted, referring to IBM's flagship Java EE server. He likened the process to developers' moves in recent years away from managment-endorsed commercial IDEs to open-source Eclipse plug-ins.

The so-called 'heavy' Java EE (formerly J2EE) stack is noted for use of Enterprise Java Bean (EJB) component architecture, criticized by many as too unwieldy.

The Spring framework can be deployed on various application servers, but is most often perhaps deployed on the simplified open-source Tomcat app server.

Spring Framework gaining ground

Certainly, Spring is a genuine phenomenon. Its simplified implementation of popular development patterns has proved popular. The Spring Framework use is measured at 76.8% among architects and developers polled in TheServerSide.com's 2008 Java survey. In the same study, EJB use is set at 37.5% of Java-related architectures regularly employed.

In terms of application servers deployed, the 2008 study showed the open-source Apache Tomcat far ahead in use at 71.1%. BEA Weblogic (32.4%), IBM Websphere (27.9%) and RedHat JBoss (26.2%) were all in close contention for the second spot.[BEA is now part of Oracle.]

At the same time SpringSource's Johnson downgrades the big app servers' prospects, his firm is moving into an integration space that is to some degree the province of big app server makers. Last year, the company began rolling out Spring Integration which, according to Josh Long, Senior Software Engineer, Wells Fargo, "provides an API geared toward ESB solutions." In recent years, Enterprise Service Buses - touted by IBM, JBoss, MuleSource, Oracle, Progress Software, and many others – have taken on a lot of the integration work initially envisioned for the Java application server.

Is the app server still dead yet?

"Is the application server dead?" asks Reza Rahman, Independent Consultant and EJB specialist. He answers: "I don't think so."

"People are going to need a runtime that supports application development services," he said.

But the move to lighter implementation is under way, says Gil Tene, Co-Founder, Azul Systems. "It's a done deal."

"I have seen a shift. Most applications are being developed in lightweight frameworks," he said. "Even a five years ago, the use of EJB was thin. Servlets were more prevalent."

In practice, cautions Reza Rahman, there are not two server extremes of "heavy" and "light." He points out to that major Java EE server vendors have created simplified versions of their offerings.

At TheServerSide Java Symposium, Rahman presented an example of EJB integration with Spring.

"Spring has good integration from a framework standpoint that a platform is going to have trouble delivering. Once you see how you can integrate EJB and Spring, the sky's the limit," said Rahman.

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