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Interview with Jeremy Allaire of Allaire Corporation, Inc.

Interview with Jeremy Allaire of Allaire Corporation, Inc.

XML-J: Recently, Allaire has been in the acquisition and partnership mode. Can you give us a brief history of the events over the last couple of years and the rationale behind these decisions?

Allaire: One of the primary reasons for going public over a year ago was to create a base of assets that could be leveraged into mergers and acquisitions. We saw a number of areas for expansion for our platform, all of which underlined a long-term strategy for becoming one of the leading Internet business platforms. In 1999 we undertook three acquisitions. The first, BrightTiger Technologies, makers of advanced scalability and Web systems management technology, underpinned our efforts to bolster our Enterprise-level application server offering. The last two, LiveSoftware and Valto Systems, helped to accelerate Allaire's entry into the Java server marketspace, and have formed the foundation for our next-generation products. Both LiveSoftware and Valto were 100% focused on pure, standards-based Java architectures, including JSP, Servlets, EJB, JTA and JMS. Unlike many other players in the Java server field who were carrying forward their own proprietary Java offerings, we saw that the end of 1999 was the time for a pure-play, standards offering.

XML-J: It seems that this rapid evolution has confused the marketplace. Is there a uniform message Allaire wants to send out to the Web community?

Allaire: A lot has happened with Allaire in the last year. We've evolved from being a leading provider of tools and application servers to supplying a comprehensive Internet software platform covering core server infrastructure, packaged applications and development and productivity tools. If there is a uniform message for the Web community, it's that Allaire intends to be a dominant provider of Internet software platforms, enabling any organization to successfully build their business on the Web. We intend to provide top-to-bottom platform infrastructure, as well as a wide range of horizontal packaged applications necessary to running an Internet business.

XML-J: Nowadays, in order to get wide acceptance in the computer industry, companies try to adhere to technology standards. Does Allaire plan to standardize any of its technologies so as to get a larger audience?

Allaire: Broad adoption of any platform requires a unique combination of proprietary innovation and open standards. This has certainly been the case in the Internet world. For Allaire, this means building and supplying infrastructure based on Internet and industry standards, innovating beyond standards in territories that aren't developed, and in turn collaborating to ensure that that innovation eventually contributes to open standards efforts. Our efforts in the Servlet and JSP community are indicative of our approach. The JRun team has consistently extended what's possible with server-side Java, and has aggressively contributed that work to the Sun Community Process. Allaire is committed to a similar effort with XML protocols.

XML-J: What does your roadmap for the coming year look like?

Allaire: We've got a lot of things in the works. First off, we're shipping JRun 3.0 - a comprehensive Java application-server offering, including full support for J2EE standards and support for distributed transactions and message queuing - as well as JRun Studio, our first Java-focused IDE product. Later in the year we expect to ship Spectra 2.0, which will add new modules for customer intelligence, personalization and merchandising, as well as expanding the core capabilities of the 1.0 offering. We'll also be delivering Tron, the code name for a new B2B integration server product based on XML middleware. Into 2001 we're planning to deliver next-generation versions of ColdFusion and JRun through an integrated server code-named Pharaoh, as well as a new offering codenamed Harvest, providing comprehensive Web systems management capabilities for managing large farms of Web application servers.

XML-J:What are your thoughts on XML as a standard technology? What do you think are its strengths and weaknesses? Is it truly the epitome of data formatting and transport?

Allaire: We're obviously very bullish on XML as the core infrastructure for the Web and have anticipated its arrival for years. Like other original Web innovations such as HTML and HTTP, XML is extremely simple. For many people, it's so simple that it's a "nontechnology" - like ASCII. But the reality is that because of XML's simplicity and its explicit design for the requirements of Internet applications infrastructure, it will flourish. I think its applications are pretty well understood at this point: structured data storage, structured data exchange and as a framework for developing richer Internet protocols on top of base infrastructure such as HTTP and SMTP.

XML-J: How does Allaire feel about XML and its impact on e-business?

Allaire: It's clearly very radical. Until XML, the principal use and role of Web applications was delivering applications to end users. Web servers delivered applications to end users in Web browsers. With XML, all of a sudden the promise of network effects, of business-to-business integration and of the distributed Web are fueling radical new business models and transforming the "Internet economy." While behind XML there will always be an application platform executing logic and integrating data, XML is what enables the world of transparent information exchange.

XML-J:What is WDDX and how does it relate to XML?

Allaire: One of the most obvious uses of XML is as a middleware layer for the exchange of complex structured data used by Internet programming languages. WDDX, or the Web Distributed Data Exchange, is a simple protocol for the serialization and exchange of programming language data over the Web. It was designed to make simple, lightweight distributed objects possible over the Internet, using any Internet programming environment. WDDX simplifies the work a developer must undertake to tunnel data between sites and business partners. As a technology, it's in the same class or family as SOAP or XML-RPC. WDDX was introduced in late 1998 as an open source technology, and well over 10,000 developers have used it in a variety of applications. Modules are available for Perl, Python, Java, PHP, ColdFusion, COM/ASP and JavaScript. Developers interested in learning more can download the WDDX SDK from www.Wddx.org.

XML-J: CFML is your proprietary markup language. What's the relationship between CFML and XML?

Allaire: CFML is a programming language, while XML is a format for encapsulating data. CFML was designed to provide a highly flexible, highly productive tag-based programming environment for dynamic content generation using HTML and XML. CFML can easily generate XML, or any other text format for that matter, and also has object scripting functions to do things like parse XML or transform it using XSLT. CFML is an equal cousin to languages like JavaScript and Perl but was designed from the ground up for server-side applications focused on HTML and XML delivery.

Because XML is principally designed to encapsulate and store data, it has a very strict set of syntax rules that would make it quite cumbersome if used to create a standard scripting language. Syntax for things like variable assignment and expression evaluation don't translate well to pure tags. Declarative functions, on the other hand, translate very well to tags and this is where CFML is used to encapsulate complex components and functions.

XML-J:Is WDDX a consortium standard? Will it ever be one?

Allaire: WDDX is an open source technology, driven through a reference standard implemented by Wddx.org. We think this is a model for de facto standardization that will continue to evolve in the Internet era. Because WDDX has potential applicability to next-generation XML protocol work, the WDDX community is actively engaged in discussions around Web- distributed objects and XML messaging protocols - and we expect to see a lot of this work show up in formal standards bodies such as the W3C and the IETF.

XML-J:Are you planning to use XML for any B2B application integration?

Allaire: This has been a core technology and product focus for the company over the past year, and will become a deeper focus in coming years. The first and obvious mechanism for using XML for B2B integration stems from work we've done in our application servers. All of these supply native XML and XSLT processors, which combined with all of the connectivity, integration and data processing services of the application server provide a great foundation for XML integration. Additionally we introduced WDDX, a higher-level XML framework for distributed Web applications. This ships as a native component of both ColdFusion and JRun. So that's the app server side of the house.

With the introduction of Allaire Spectra, we provide a cutting-edge module for business syndication, allowing a customer to expose both data and services or APIs for integration with other businesses over HTTP. This is really our first-generation take at a B2B framework.

XML-J:How does your XML direction fit into Allaire's overall strategy for enabling distributed applications?

Allaire: It's the central technology for our distributed application infrastructure. We strongly believe that XML protocols for distributed objects and messaging will form the glue that ties together Internet applications.

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XML-J:What is Spectra?

Allaire: Spectra is Allaire's packaged applications suite, focused on packaged modules for content management, e-commerce and customer relationship management. Spectra sits on top of ColdFusion, and can be customized and implemented using our tools.

XML-J:What kind of XML support does Spectra include?

Allaire: Because Spectra was designed from scratch in 1999, we had an opportunity to really think about a new architecture for XML and Internet-centric applications, and this was baked into the core of the system. Using Spectra, a customer is required to develop what we call a Site Object Model. We then use a hybrid XML-based object-relational schema to provide object persistence for site assets. Essentially, the developer gets XML-based content storage for free. At runtime a developer can access the XML object structure and use XSLT or CFML (bundled in the application server) to transform this into custom formats, HTML, and so on.

More exciting is the Syndication framework included with Spectra. This includes both Content Syndication (e.g., publish/subscribe data exchange via standard Internet protocols) and Application Syndication. Both of these are anchored in XML and provide a foundation for affiliate networks and B2B applications.

XML-J:Is Allaire planning to supply technologies for enabling other markets such as CRM, ERM and wireless?

Allaire: Absolutely. As your readers may know, we just acquired OpenSesame, a leading provider of customer profiling, analysis and personalization capabilities. OS will form the core of a Spectra module focused on improving customer relationships over the Internet. On the wireless front, Allaire and Phone.com have been collaborating on developer technology for the "wireless Web" for the past three years. In December we announced the availability of a WAP Toolkit for ColdFusion, and have included this in our visual tools, and it's also included as a native component in Phone.com's UP.SDK. Also, because of the XML foundation in Spectra's content management system, it makes a great foundation for delivering Web sites simultaneously to browsers and WAP browsers. We're very committed to making this a core part of all our servers and applications going forward.

XML-J:With your recent technology directions it seems that you're making a play for the B2B market. Will this be as an enabler or as a provider of services? Where's XML going to fit into Allaire's B2B strategy?

Allaire: As already noted, we've made significant headway in providing B2B-oriented functions in both our application servers and packaged applications. Going forward, we're expanding this significantly. As outlined in our Technology Roadmap, we'll be releasing a next-generation B2B Integration Server code-named Tron. This server will provide three major areas of functionality: an XML data transformation engine, a WebORB for application syndication and remote services, and an XML messaging engine. All of these are the core components needed for a robust XML middleware offering. Obviously, this server will be coupled to and usable within our application server offerings.

XML-J:The term Application Syndication is used frequently in your collateral. How does it differ from content syndication?

Allaire: As we've thought about the B2B universe, we realized that a lot of things converged around site-to-site relationships. Often these relationships are just content sharing, but increasingly they involve the sharing of application data and even application services or APIs. Syndication as a concept really works in describing how companies are forming network alliances or syndicates to create new forms of value in the Internet economy. So for us there are two primary forms of syndication: content syndication, focused on sharing packages of formatted content between Web sites, and application syndication, focused on exposing a remote API to a Web application via an XML-based WebORB.

XML-J:Is this something Allaire defined? How do you leverage XML for application syndication?

Allaire: Others have used the phrase and many have used the concept of syndication. I think it's building up a head of steam.

XML is used for two major purposes in application syndication. First, it's used to package application data via serialized data structures. Second, it's used to provide ORB-like protocol semantics (e.g., interfaces, request-response mechanisms and security context).

XML-J:What contradistinguishes you from other B2B enablers such as WebMethods, BroadVision, Vignette and eXcelon?

Allaire: I think our biggest differentiator is the breadth of our offering. We've built a complete platform spanning core server infrastructure, packaged solutions and development tools. We sell and market our platform on a broad basis, unlike many competitors who price and sell strictly for the top tier of the market. We're leveraging our market strength in application servers to enter key adjacent markets, such as packaged commerce software, B2B integration servers and Web systems management. I think developers will also find that Allaire has a core, very focused Internet-centric culture that pervades all of our products and underlines our technology innovations.

XML-J:How can developers new to XML start taking advantage of Allaire products?

Allaire: With our application servers we provide native support for simple XML processing and transformation. More important, developers new to XML can use Allaire Spectra to easily take advantage, without the pain of developing their own infrastructure from scratch, of the two most central promises of XML: structured data and document storage, and data and application integration.

XML-J:How can our readers get more information on your products? How can they gain access to them?

Allaire: XML Reference www.allaire.com/tech_roadmap/

More Stories By XML News Desk

The XML-Journal News Desk monitors the world of XML and SOA /Web services to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances and business trends, as well as new products and standards.

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