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Application Servers

Defining Mobile Computing Application Server

We would like to define "Mobile Computing Application Server (MCAS or simple MAS)" as a software program which runs in a server and provides the following functionality: 

  • Application level logic that handles business functions involved in a particular organization (e.g. how to handle information requests from sales personnel in the field) and its integration with backend database or business application systems such as mainframe financial accounting systems, manufacturing systems, inventory, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and emerging CRM (Customer Resource Management) systems

  • Presentation services for the Mobile client device (handheld computers, notebook, PDA, etc) i.e. application server takes raw data from database applications/queries and transforms the data on a specific thin client (or a thick client like a PC) considering its presentation space characteristics and limitations.  This is also called GUI (Graphical User Interface) in some cases though some handheld are more like older text terminals than PC. It includes breaking the messages into smaller chunks, filtering redundant information, and even logically compressing the data , etc.

  • Transaction services, in some cases - including multi-threading for heavy volumes and persistency i.e. recovery across session failures 

  • Application programming level interfaces (APIs) with specialized communications protocols

An application server may be considered as part of a multi-tier (mostly three tier) architecture. Conventional tiers are:

  1. First tier - A thin client based on handheld devices or a thick client on a PC - typically a browser-based interface in the Web context

  2. Middle tier consists of business applications on a set of servers - communications and business applications 

  3. Third Tier - backend legacy data base systems and mission-critical ERP systems on a large server or mainframe

Are All Application Servers Same and Provide the Same Functionality?

Actual implementations of Application Server varies from one vendor to another. Some application servers are generic web servers with an SDK (Systems Development Kit) or API capability to pull data from enterprise database systems and send it to a browser-based client software in a handheld device. Other application servers provide a business application with customization capability in a horizontal application, such as e-mail, sales force automation or field service representative computer-aided dispatch application. Still other mobile application servers are based on WAP protocol. Depending on the heritage of the vendor and their core expertise, you can categorize application servers in the following broad classes:

  • Generic application servers with a web-based SDK - e.g. Netscape, Microsoft, Sun, SilverStream, BEA  - may have support for handheld devices and wireless networks strapped on (or bolted on) to the basic application server

  • Database vendors' Application Servers - e.g. Oracle 9i and Sybase's iAnywhere Application server

  • Data synchronization vendors - e.g. Puma, Synchrologic, Extended Systems 

  • Specialized Mobile or Web Computing Application Servers - IBM's WebSphere

  • Mobile Specific Application Servers - e.g. Aligo, Air2Web, Contec Mobile Application Server (aimed at carriers), Aether System (aimed at enterprises)

  • WAP-centric Application servers - Nokia's WAP Server - not a true Application server, in IT sense

  • E-mail centric Application Servers - Microsoft's Mobile Information server, EdgeMail Application Server

It is important to note that not all application servers are strong in all the functions that you may need in a general-purpose application server.  Therefore, you must evaluate the key criteria that your application requires. As an example, application server from Oracle may be strong on integration with databases but not necessarily as strong on interfaces with a variety of handheld devices and wireless networks. It may be the right choice if your environment is primarily Oracle-centric and it supports the particular device and network that you may have chosen.

General Advisory About Mobile Application Servers

  • Mobile Application server market has already become quite saturated - a cue to startups. "Pick a niche role, develop the niche functionality around the big players' application servers (IBM, Netscape, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun).  Do not become a me-to player and expect to survive" - MobileInfo Editor

  • Role of specialized mobile application servers in large enterprises will decrease unless they can co-exist with generic application servers. In MBE (medium enterprises businesses) and SOHO, these application-specific servers will be more popular. Ultimately, they will get bundled under the major generic application servers, MobileInfo.Com thinks. 

  • Transaction services are key for future role in pervasive computing model of mobile applications.

LIST OF POPULAR APPLICATION SERVERS (alphabetical order)

1. Aether Application Services 

Aether Systems (merged with Riverbed) is an early leader in the exploding field of wireless data, providing real-time data communications and transactions services that operate over multiple wireless data networks, devices and back-end corporate data systems.  In MobileInfo's assessment, they do understand the requirements of a comprehensive and sophisticated application server in the wireless arena. They are now focusing on becoming a wireless ASP (Application Solution Provider). Go to Aether Systems Riverbed site for a review of their products and services. 

2. Airtuit's BlueMoon Application server

  • BlueMoon - A Middleware Application Server for universal device access and backend application integration 

3. Aligo Application server

  • Aligo - A Java-based Mobile Application Server - utilities, healthcare, pharmaceutical, mobile workforce automation

4. Contec's (Started in 1999 - had a beta product in 2002) Mobile Application Server - aimed at carriers 

  • Hornet -  The Hornet carrier-class mobile application server is designed to fit within a mobile operator's network. It connects with all other elements of network infrastructure and can be deployed quickly and cost effectively.

 5. EdgeMail's Wireless Application Server

EdgeMail's Application Server is a Web based software application that provides forms management and improved business process over the Web. It is able to take the majority of business processes that currently require physical information submission and distribution and streamline the processes to online real-time processes conducted over the Web, with no physical exchange of hardcopy and without the time delay associated with the exchange of hardcopy. Go to EdgeMail website for more information..

6. @Hand Application Development Environment - Primarily a development platform 

The @hand Mobile Application Server provides core infrastructure and support services including centralized administration, connectivity management, back-end systems integration, and data management. A subset of these core services resides locally on each deployed device through @hand Mobile Clients. The @hand Mobile Developer Studio provides a rapid application development environment that simplifies some of the complexity of creating mobile applications by providing a set of programming and data modeling tools (Visual Studio, Cod Warrior, and Satellite Forms. Go to @Hand site for more.

7. IBM has two offerings :

7.1  IBM's WebSphere Application Server 

Go to IBM's WebSphere Application Server pages - part of its Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) environment. MobileInfo recommends serious evaluation of this product by users because it has the underpinnings of serious application server for large enterprises.  However, user organizations must be ready to allocate enough resources to implement solutions based on this server.

7.2 Domino-based Application Server for Mobile devices - Domino is an application server that is centered around workgroup and e-mail-centric applications. IBM/Lotus and business partners have built support for handheld and Windows CE devices. Go to Microsoft Windows CE site for more information. 

8. Jacada Presentation Server for Palm

This server was announced in early 2000 by Jacada - an Atlanta based company with development offices in Israel. It addresses the needs of bringing mission-critical information from enterprise systems to the web through handheld devices. For further information, go to Jacada pages on the server

9. Microsoft Mobile Information Server 

  • Go to Microsoft MIS pages

10. Nokia's WAP Application Gateway

Go to Nokia WAP Application Server

11. Oracle's Mobile Application Server - a mobile incarnation of 9i

Go to Oracle Mobile Application server pages.

12. Sybase's Mobile Application Studio 7.0

Go to Sybase Application Studio 7.0 pages

13. Everypath Mobile Application Server 

Go to Everypath 

14. Air2Web's Application Server

14. VisionAir's Data Routing Engine (DRE) 

Go to DRE

15. Mobile Data Synchronization-Based Application Servers 

There are a number of vendors who provide limited application server functionality through their synchronization engines. The following vendors are predominant among these:

15.1 Extended Systems 

Extended Systems offer a number of application server related functions. >more info.

15.2 Mobile Application Link (MAL)

Mobile Application Link is a communications standard for allowing handheld devices to exchange data and applications directly with centralized applications in the same way. It could be considered server implementation of HotSynch or ActiveSynch technologies with the difference that original implementation of the above-mentioned technologies was meant to exchange data with desktop workstations - though enterprise or server-based extension of same technology is either available or will be available soon. Major vendors supporting MAL are AvantGo, Aether Systems, Attachmate, Certicom, Puma and others. Original code was developed by AvantGo but they have put the original version in public domain. Go to MAL site for more. 

15.3 PointBase Data Synchronization Server

PointBase is offering a small footprint pure Java tools for developing embedded systems data management applications on the Internet. PointBase is headed by ex-Oracle executives.  Therefore it has strong database heritage. PointBase Universal Synchronization Option (PointBase UniSynch option and PointBase Device Edition provide the basic framework. Go to PointBase site for more.

15.4 Puma 

Puma is offering MAL based server. Go to Puma pages on MAL server.

15.5 Synchrologic's Application Server

Synchrologic's iMobile Suite offers data management tools based on their synchronization engine. It provides file distribution, database replication and software distribution with a single interface. For more info, go to Synchrologic's iMobile Suite page on this site.

15.6 Xchange Lynx Server from Jas Concepts

Jas Concepts, Inc. develops middleware for distributed communications systems. They have announced development of XChange  Lynx Server based on Mobile Application Link standard. The Java-based plug-ins will support 

  • data collection and routing

  • web and software distribution

  • connectivity to the back office

  • profile management

  • session reporting and monitoring


Related Resources:
>
Horizontal Applications
> Vertical Applications
> Case Studies or Application Profiles
> Application Development Index
 

 

 
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