Zend Technologies readies a new PHP application server

Zend Server will target software appliances and virtualized environments, unlike Zend Platform, aimed at server clusters

Zend Technologies is putting the finishing touches to Zend Server, a new Web applications server aimed at mission-critical PHP applications. In beta testing since Feb. 18, the final version is now about a week from launch.

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"The release date now smells like April 8. We might pull it in by a day, unless there's a showstopper," said Zend Technologies' new CEO, Andi Gutmans.

One of the creators of PHP and a founder of Zend, he was named CEO last month.

The company already offers a Web applications server, Zend Platform, so what distinguishes the two?

"That's a question I get a lot," said Gutmans. "Zend Platform is for multiserver environments: It's a clustered application server," he said.

Zend Server, on the other hand, is a single-server offering, "channel-ready" so it can be shipped more closely integrated with the operating system, as for example in a virtual machine image.

"It's cloud-ready with support for virtualized environments," Gutmans said. "We are looking at appliance vendors to bundle it."

The clustering capabilities of Zend Platform will make it more suitable for applications that require "a certain context when the user comes to the Web site," he said.

Over the past few years, Zend has been adding tools to help enterprises write and deploy applications in PHP, including Zend Studio, a development environment, and Zend Framework, a collection of standard objects and Web services created with the help of the user community.

"Zend Server's launch is the 'finale' to everything that has come out of Zend Technologies since 2005. It completes the applications lifecycle," said Gutmans. "We deliver consistency across the application lifecycle, the same environment."

Gutmans sees that consistency as important when 75 percent of Zend's customers develop on Windows boxes -- but 95 percent of them go on to deploy on Linux.

Zend Server will run on Linux and on versions of Windows from Windows XP through Windows Server 2008, working with the Apache or Microsoft IIS Web servers.

Zend Platform offers similar support -- and the company also offers a version of Zend Platform for i5/OS, the successor to IBM's OS/400 operating system.

One of the features of the new Zend Server is the ability to roll out patches automatically.

"Zend Server gives reliability and security. If there's a security vulnerability we will do a hotfix for you," he said.

Although Gutmans touts Zend Server's integration with its development tools as one of its strong points, that doesn't mean the company is trying to shut competitors out of the market.

"We will work with competing development-tool vendors as long as they tie into our deployment environment."

One company Gutmans doesn't expect to see competing in the PHP development tool market is Microsoft: "I don't see them integrating PHP support in Virtual Studio in the near future," he said.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is looking for a larger slice of the PHP market, and now offers easy installation of the latest community version of PHP for Windows alongside its IIS Web server through the Microsoft Web Platform Installer 2.0 Beta. Version 1.0 did not include the PHP components.

Another industry giant that might be taking an interest in PHP is Google.

Ever since the company launched the Google App Engine, a service for running Web applications written in Python on Google's servers, last April, developers have been calling for Google to support other programming languages, notably PHP.

Gutmans was forthright about the search company's decision to only support Python initially: "Google would be dumb not to do PHP support on App Engine."

"If they want to do it with Zend Server I would be happy," he said - but as to whether they will, "I don't comment on discussions we are having. There is nothing immediate from Google."

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