Zend Advances PHP and Cloud Effort at ZendCon

Zend Technologies, creator and commercial maintainer of the PHP dynamic scripting language, Wednesday released the first public beta of its Zend Server 5.0 Web-app server.

The company announced the release as it kicked off its fifth annual ZendCon developer conference in San Jose, Calif.. Zend Server is an enterprise Web application server designed for running and managing business-critical PHP applications in production. It comes with a pre-integrated PHP application stack. The Zend Server Community Edition (CE) is available as a free download; Zend Server 5.0 is the commercial version.

Version 5.0 comes with two major new features: the Job Queue, which allows developers to employ asynchronous execution in their Web apps for functions such as long-running report generation, order processing, database cleanup and pulling of RSS feeds; and Code Tracing, a new debugging/analysis tool. It’s also fully integrated with Zend’s Studio IDE and the open-source Zend Framework.

Also, the new version fully supports PHP 5.3, which was released by the open-source community in June. The Zend Server CE already included support for PHP 5.3, but the company typically waits a few months to support each release of the PHP language in its commercial releases, said Zend CEO and co-founder Andi Gutmans.

Gutmans is especially proud of the new Code Tracing feature, he said, which he personally helped architect. Code Tracing is designed to allow developers to pinpoint problems by providing a kind of "digital documentary" of the execution of an application, he explained. He compared it to the black box flight recorders used on airplanes.

"We have very deep knowledge in the company on how that was done for Java and .NET," Gutmans said in an interview. "So we took a similar idea and did it for PHP. Now, with this black box, there is no more doubt. You have a problem; you know exactly what it is. I have said that we are revolutionizing how PHP developers manage their production servers by significantly reducing the time spent on root cause analysis and resolution."

The release comes as PHP continues to grow in popularity, making significant inroads into enterprises, said RedMonk analyst Michael Coté. The popularity of PHP among enterprise coders reflects the growing importance of Web development in those environments, Coté said. "There's a generation of developers out there whose primary UI is the Web," he said.

The public beta of Zend Server 5.0 is available now for download from the Zend web site. The production release is expected by year’s end.

Reaching for the Cloud
Zend also announced a partnership with cloud management provider RightScale. Zend-based PHP apps can now be deployed across multiple clouds and managed via RightScale’s automated, Web-based management platform, Gutmans said.

 "The gap between production and development is closing, and that’s where PHP has always been very strong," he said. "We wanted a good partner that could take a product like Zend Server and make sure that it could easily be deployed and provisioned in a lot of these cloud environments. If a customer wants to deploy on Amazon [E2] and they don’t know how to do it, we can just send them to RightScale."

RightScale provides ServerTemplates, which are pre-built templates for common server configurations. "It’s a way to assemble a machine configuration out of building blocks," explained RightScale’s CTO Thorsten von Eicken. "What we have released is essentially a building block for Zend. It’s a set of ServerTemplates for different ways to deploy Apache with PHP -- the open source version -- and now you can pull that out and plug in Zend Server."

The RightScale partnership comes on the heels of the launch of the Simple API for Cloud Application Services project. Announced in September (see Simple API Opens Up Cloud Storage), the project is an open-source initiative that, its sponsors say, aims to let developers to use common application services in the cloud. Zend is hosting the project. Founding contributors include IBM, Microsoft, Nirvanix, Rackspace and GoGrid.

Von Eicken participated in one of the more well-attended ZendCon sessions, a panel discussion called "Developing on the Cloud." Moderated by RedMonk co-founder Stephen O’Grady, the panel also included Vijay Rajagopalan, principal architect on Microsoft’s Interoperability Technical Strategy team, who touched on the Simple API project.

"To really enable support for PHP full-blown in Windows Azure, we wanted to go all the way," he said. "There were a lot of proposals in the beginning. We wanted to come up with a PHP speed dial in the form of an SDK that PHP developers can use to code against Azure storage. But we soon realized that that’s not enough. We decided that we should have something that the developer experienced locally before they migrated to the cloud."

Microsoft is now making that SDK, which the Redmond software maker was working on with ICT solutions provider RealDolmen, available as part of Zend Framework.

"The Microsoft partnership is very important to us at Zend," Gutmans said. "First because a large amount of the developer community is on Windows, but also because Microsoft has a very deep understanding of the developer community," he said. "When you look at the software development landscape now, it' .NET, Java, and PHP. We know that 35 percent of the Internet runs PHP. All the players now want to work with it."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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