At PC Expo this week, the companies announced a partnership to create what officials claim will be the fastest Java Virtual Machine available for the Intel platform.
As part of the deal, Novell has licensed various Intel source-code-level technologies that will enable it to further tune the Novell JVM in the areas of scalability and performance said officials. They declined to offer more specifics on which Intel products or technologies Novell will be able to access but Novell Vice President of Strategy Chris Stone said the company will be optimising a JVM called "NetFire" for Intel's 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. The jointly developed JVM is expected to ship in 1999.
Novell officials reiterated their commitment to Sun's Java standard and emphasised that their work with Intel does not mean Novell and Sun are now adversaries. "There's been a loosening up of Java from Sun and the Java community in general that is allowing us to really add value to Java without actually changing Java," said Stone.
But Will Swope, Intel's vice president of business desktop marketing, said that today's announcement should be interpreted as "if Java, then Intel." He added that "[Intel] wants anyone who develops anything in Java to do it first and foremost on Intel silicon." Swope said the Novell deal is not exclusive, and that Intel will continue to work with Microsoft on its Visual J++ and Java Virtual Machine technologies as well.
Novell officials said that when NetWare 5.0 ships this summer, it will feature the fastest JVM, "bar none."
Stone said that, according to independent VolanoMark benchmarks, Novell's current JVM for NetWare 5.0 runs approximately five times faster than many Unix-hosted JVMs, including IBM's AIX and Sun's Solaris, and twice as fast as Microsoft's NT-hosted JVM.
While Novell's JVM is part of the NetWare 5.0 kernel, other JVMs will work with the operating system, company officials said, and developers will be able to use any "standard" third-party Java tools to create Java applications for NetWare 5.0.
Specifically, the areas in which Java performance is being enhanced include memory management, scalability and "garbage collection." In addition to speed, Stone said Novell can offer developers a higher level of application security and ease of management through integration with NDS (Novell Directory Services) and other core NetWare services. "We can attract developers to NetWare by offering them the best Java runtime environment available," Stone said.
Other vendors are also looking to speed up their JVMs to optimise their OSs for Java application serving. IBM and Sun, for example, are also trying to woo customers with the promise of the fastest JVM available. "The benefits of Java are far more critical than performance," although performance is probably the biggest inhibitor right now to server-side Java application deployment, said John McFarlane, president of Sun's Solaris Software group. "We're getting closer performance-wise to [matching] performance of applications written in C++."
According to analysts, speed is one of the few areas where OS vendors can differentiate their JVM offerings. "Theoretically, applications written in Java shouldn't care what platform they run on," said Dan Kusnetsky, research director at IDC. "The downside of this is, how do you optimise Java and still make your platform desirable?"
In the past, corporate customers found themselves having to standardise on a particular OS platform to maintain application compatibility. That kind of vendor lock-in is no longer acceptable, Kusnetsky said.
Meanwhile, corporate customers who are considering embarking on server-side Java development projects are finding themselves re-evaluating OS platforms on the basis of Java application development and hosting capabilities. "We're definitely interested in JVM performance," said Derrick Barbour, senior network engineer at DCMS Consulting in the U.S. "Our current project is directly related to open systems and directory services, so the news that Novell and Intel are committing to have the fastest JVM is icing on the cake for us."