Vendors jockey on road to Java performance

The leading Java vendors might agree on the need to accelerate Java's server-side performance, but they are far from agreement on how to do it.

And the divergent paths that such Java stalwarts as IBM, Oracle, and Symantec are taking show a lingering distrust of Sun Microsystems to guide Java impartially, and could leave users with confusing choices for making Java work best within their environments.

At this week's JavaOne conference in San Francisco, Sun will officially trot out its HotSpot 1.0 technology for Java 2 implementations on 32-bit Windows (Win32) operating systems and Sun Solaris. Sun says the technology, which swaps out Java virtual machines (JVMs) and just in time (JIT) compilers for Sun's own code, doubles performance.

But IBM is not buying it. Instead, IBM is building its own set of JVMs that work within the much more broadly deployed Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1x environment. IBM will show at JavaOne and deliver in July a JDK 1.1.8-based JVM for Win32 and OS/2 that closes the performance gap with HotSpot on Java 2, the company says. Furthermore, IBM will bring out faster JVMs for AIX in September and S/390 in November.

Meanwhile, Oracle is off on its own Java tangent by offering what it calls the fastest JVM, Oracle J Server, for accessing its widely deployed database, Oracle8i. The JVM will be ported to Java 2 by year's end, providing a faster alternative to Sun's HotSpot, Oracle officials said.

"What all this proves is that no one can say that Java is slow anymore. You may only be using the wrong JVM," said Dom Lindars, director of sever marketing at Oracle, in Redwood Shores, California.

Calling all of these approaches to Java speed misguided, Symantec is finishing development of a new JIT as well as a related technology due by year's end, code-named Excaliber, that Symantec claims will outdo IBM's JVM, Microsoft's court-order imperiled Windows JVM, and Sun's HotSpot.

An executive for a leading application server maker, who wished to remain anonymous, said Sun is holding up the quick evolution of fast Java on Java 2 by high-pressure and costly tactics for licensing the technology to potentially competitive platforms.

The executive said he and his customers first and foremost want fast JVMs for Intel 32-bit and upcoming Intel Merced 64-bit hardware, including for Windows 2000 and Linux operating systems, which often cost less than Sun Solaris platforms.

Behind closed doors, Sun is trying to get more platform vendors to buy into its HotSpot technology by licensing it above and beyond the current JDK 1.1x licenses. So far, only Hewlett-Packard has shown serious interest for its HP-UX in HotSpot, Sun said.

And while Sun will deliver Hotspot 2.0 in early beta version in August, with a purported additional 40 percent increase in Java speed over HotSpot 1.0, many server vendors want the speed on Windows NT equal to or more than on Sun's own Solaris.

Vendors typically say their customers are not calling for Java 2 and that is why they have not taken Sun's bait. But end-users want speed, regardless of vendor politics and posturing.

"Whichever gets the best results is what's going to win. I don't care if it's in the compilation level or in HotSpot level, as long as it's fast," said Manu Kumar, founder of PittJUG, a Java user group in Pittsburgh, and president and CEO at SneakerLabs there.

Some of Kumar's cohorts have said they would rather have the speed before going to Java 2, so the IBM and Symantec offerings have more initial and broader appeal, Kumar said.

And that may leave Sun holding its HotSpot as a seemingly proprietary method to reach Java performance heights.

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