Like many companies, Pfizer's Global Pharmaceutical Group is focused on creating applications that can be shifted and shared as services to get more out of IT resources, a so-called service oriented architecture.

While the New York drug company has been writing these web services using J2EE and .Net, it is now piloting an open source implementation from start-up ActiveGrid that it hopes will lower costs and improve scalability.

"The issue with J2EE based technologies is they're really tightly coupled to the application server stack and they have parallel or horizontal scaling issues," says Martin Brodbeck, director of application architecture at PGP. "With open source based technologies and the way in which ActiveGrid's product has been architected you get an elegant way to scale out applications using open source and the LAMP stack."

The LAMP stack - Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl, Python and PHP - is becoming an increasingly popular way in which to buildt web-based applications. In fact, one third of all websites are written using PHP, according to a Netcraft survey conducted late last year.

Big web companies such as Amazon, eBay and Google use architectures based on LAMP, but do a lot of custom coding to get the most out of open source.

ActiveGrid intends to bring this kind of open source support for web services to the masses. At the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Oregon last week, ActiveGrid unveiled the 1.0 versions of its ActiveGrid Application Builder and its LAMP Application Server.

Already, ActiveGrid has had 5,000 downloads of the early access version of its technology. The 1.0 releases add more enterprise features such as support for web services, says Peter Yared, a former Sun executive who founded ActiveGrid and is now its CEO.

"Companies like to use LAMP. The challenge has been that there isn't a lot of enterprise class, mission critical infrastructure out there to help you quickly and easily build applications and make them scale," says Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at Burton Group. "When companies want to build really highly scalable application systems, in most cases they didn't have a choice. They had to go with .Net or J2EE. Now, with ActiveGrid, they have an alternative."

Companies like Amazon that build their own applications using LAMP have the engineering expertise to do it. "Most companies don't have supermen in house. They don't have the ability to do this on their own. ActiveGrid is saying, ‘OK, here's a turnkey solution to make LAMP scale.' That's a wonderful thing," Thomas Manes says.

Brodbeck agrees. LAMP is less complex than J2EE or .Net, less costly and platform independent, he says. "It's just a really good architecture for developing robust and scalable applications than can run on any platform."

The ActiveGrid Application Builder 1.0 and the ActiveGrid LAMP Application Server 1.0 are available as free downloads from the ActiveGrid website under the Apache Software licence. They also are available with an annual maintenance and support contract.

A commercial version of the application server, which will add features such as identity server integration and dynamic data caching in return for an annual licence and support, is expected to be available in December.