The modern, application server landscape is changing. The monolithic servers of yesteryear are trying to find ways to downsize, and the trend in the coming year, if not the coming decade, will be a focus on increased modularity, as server software must become faster and more adaptable. "If you look at the application server landscape today and what people want an app server to deliver, it's vastly different than it was just 5-10 years ago. And it's going to be vastly different again in the next 5 to 10 years," says Simon Maple, the technical evangelist at ZeroTurnaround.
A decade ago, enterprises were typically deploying their applications on large scale middleware servers with production machines having slightly different footprints and configurations than the scaled down versions used for testing and staging. Maple points out the obvious problem with such solutions. "This caused huge pain in everything but production. It was hard to do development or anything else on the app server." But the introduction of lightweight application servers like Apache Tomcat, the Spring tc_server, Geronimo and Jetty have ushered in a new era of agility. Today, you can download, unzip, and set up Tomcat in less than a minute, and that includes the time required to deploy a war file to the server.
What will be the trend for 2014 and beyond?
But the future of the application server will be less about the server and more about the applications deployed to them. "What app developers and even production now want is a more application focused landscape. You don't develop an app and throw it onto your existing infrastructure. Your application is the heart of your solution. Everything is being built around your application, including the infrastructure and the operating system." The cloud, along with DevOps deployment automation tools, are making it easier than ever to build an environment around the application.
Faster, lighter, modular
Solutions like the WebSphere Liberty Profile are aggressively moving to modularize and componentize the application server. This WebSphere profile ensures that only those features required by the apps actually deployed the server are initiated. This approach is likely to become even more prevalent in the future as organizations can choose what they want to run and plug in what they need from various repositories—factors that may change based on who is writing or running the application.
In short, the app server of tomorrow will be smarter, leaner, and faster. "It's not now a product that provides a platform. It's a grouping of components that provides sufficient functionality for your application to exist and run on."
How do you expect the application server to evolve throughout 2014? Let us know.
Follow Simon Maple on Twitter: @sjmaple