einstein-php-developerZend has a problem.

While there are five million PHP developers around the globe, only some small fraction of them pay Zend for its server and IDE tools that make PHP sites faster, better, more debuggable, and more maintainable.

So Andi Gutmans, Zend CEO and one of the original fathers of the PHP programming language, is going freemium.

Zend Server version six, released yesterday, includes new features that automate deployment, make debugging much easier and faster — especially when bugs are a result of the inevitable differences between production, staging, and development environments — and proactive application monitoring tools that help developers and ops teams optimize running applications.

But the free version could really help propel Zend into a more prominent position in the average PHP developer’s toolkit.

Zend Server 6, free edition, helps developers who want advanced debugging and performance metrics in development states. It’ll help optimize server performance, run code traces for advanced debugging, and even assist in deploying your application to a live server. But of course, it is freemium, and has what Zend calls “limited production capabilities” and will only keep performance metrics for a short period of time.

Zend is, of course, hoping that the first-hit-is-always-free strategy will lead to more developers buying the whole stack to get all the goodies in production as well as development.

And there are some goodies:

“Within three days of our first site launch, Zend helped us optimize performance by more than 200 percent,” Robert Kerner, Chief Digital Officer of NYSE Euronext, said in a statement.

When I chatted to Zend’s Elaine Lennox and Andi Gutmans about the new version, they said the main goal of the new version was improving speed of deployment and maintenance of web apps.

“We’re helping app developers solve their problems,” Lennox said. “These days we see a very rapid release cycle … Facebook, for example, releases software multiple times per day, and more than half of enterprises are releasing several times a week.”

In those extremely rapid scenarios, teams don’t have time to waste finding bugs that need fixing. Lennox said that 70 percent of the time spending fixing bugs is actually spent just finding the problem, and that Zend 6’s new features would significantly reduce that waste.

“Whether you’re deploying in the cloud or on premise, a lot of the problems are the same,” Gutmans said. “So you want to have a very high level of automation.”

With the new software, developers can now write a script to deploy apps to production which ops staff can run, significantly cutting deployment time and problems. And they have “instant ability” to see the app’s behavior in the wild, get safe access to the production system in a read-only manner, and run code-tracing to see, line-by-line, what’s happening.

“It proactively monitors the application, and code tracing acts like a flight recorder, providing root-cause diagnostics so we can resolve issues quickly and definitively,” NYSE Euronext’s Kerner said. “In one example, Zend Server helped us resolve a problem related to SSL in our replicated environment that might otherwise have gone undetected.”

All of which sounds good, especially when some of it is available for free. One other bonus? The new environment is available, by default, through Amazon, Redhat, and other cloud service providers.

“There’s a lot of pressure in companies to deliver mobile, cloud-enabled apps,” Gutmans told me. “We’re getting used more and more by companies that traditionally used Java, and realized that Java just cannot perform this … we believe we have all the necessary components on the cloud and client side to help companies win.”

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