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WebLogic Server 6.0, reviewed by Jim Milbery

Bill Coleman, Edward Scott, and Alfred Chuang must be looking at their September 1998 acquisition of WebLogic as the best money they ever spent. WebLogic's Tengah product was a little-known, Java-based application server when BEA made the decision to buy their way into the growing market for Java application servers way back when. Since those early days the J2EE specification has matured and BEA has made great strides with the WebLogic product line. Their most recent effort is WebLogic Server 6.0 - a product that was touted with much fanfare at BEA's eWorld conference in Dallas, Texas.

Fresh from my indoctrination at eWorld, JDJ turned me loose on a copy of WebLogic Server 6.0 to give it a test drive.

In my opinion, the market is starting to see a division between the enterprise-class application servers (IBM, Oracle, iPlanet, and BEA) and other Java-based application servers. The enterprise J2EE servers are stocked chock-full with lots of bells and whistles, while the remaining products tend to offer "best-of-breed" solutions for specific application needs - such as JMS, servlets and JavaServer Pages. BEA's WebLogic 6.0 is clearly an enterprise-class product, and it continues to take the lead in all things related to Java as far as application servers are concerned. I've tested numerous versions of WebLogic in the past, and I've always found the product to be easy to install and configure. Each version of WLS offers new features, which in turn makes the software more complicated to install, manage, and maintain. This is not to say that BEA has not made incremental improvements in the management tools for WLS. Clearly, the new management console, shown in Figure 1, is well organized and robust.

Figure 1
Figure  1:

In fact, all of the panels in the management interface are hyperlinked to the online documentation, so it's easy to work with the administration panels. The issue is just how complex and sophisticated these enterprise-class application servers are fast becoming. BEA is supporting a wealth of functionality within the WLS 6.0 product, and there's just no getting around the fact that it's a lot of product to get your arms around. WLS 6.0 is not a product that you can expect to master overnight. BEA continues to forge ahead in the J2EE realm and WLS 6.0 supports a wealth of new and enhanced Java features such as EJB 2.0, JMS, XML, and native JDBC drivers for most of the popular RDBMS engines.

However, the new release also offers improved functionality in several other critical areas of the product. We've already mentioned the updated Web administration interface (based on Sun's Java Management Extension: JMX), which is substantially better than previous releases. BEA now provides support for HTTP 1.1 directly within WebLogic, so there's no need to install or configure a separate Web server. While this is not a critical feature for production sites (that may have already standardized on Apache/iPlanet or Microsoft IIS), it makes life a lot easier for developers to work with WebLogic. This release also includes a number of security enhancements such as ACL improvements, audit trails, and JAAS login support.

During the user conference I got the impression that WLS (rather than WLE) is quickly becoming the key product for BEA. However, underneath the covers BEA is clearly drawing from their Tuxedo expertise to flesh out the WLS platform. Updated transaction-processing features, such as distributed transaction management, are just one example of this effort. BEA was an early proponent of advanced scalability features for the application server platform (another result of their Tuxedo heritage). WLS 6.0 extends its support for servlet replication to include replication for session EJBs. This new release can even perform in-memory replication of stateful session EJBs, which provide failover for business logic. In the long haul, BEA is staking out the high ground as regards scalability and fault tolerance. The customers that I spoke with have not necessarily taken advantage of these high-end features in previous releases. (In fact, I have sat through several of Dean Jacob's highly regarded user group sessions - and Dean's advice is always the same. If you want scalability, design your applications to be stateless.) With the release of WLS 6.0, the scalability features appear to be more fully baked in, and I would venture a guess that developers will begin to leverage these features more fully in their applications. Servlet failover and EJBs tend to be the two big features that I hear developers talk about when they mention WLS 6.0.

Summary
BEA's WebLogic Server 6.0 continues to break new ground in the J2EE application server market. If you're looking for a high-end application server with extensive transaction processing capabilities, WLS 6.0 is worth a long look. You can download a free 30-day trial from BEA's Web site.

Author Bio
Jim Milbery is a software consultant based in Easton, Pennsylvania, with Kuromaku partners LLC. He has over 17 years of experience in application development and relational databases. He is the applications editor of Wireless Business & Technology, the product review editor of Java Developer's Journal, and the author of Making The Technical Sale, Jim can be reached via the company Web site at http://www.kuromaku.com.
[email protected]

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