Open source vendors are moving into the application server space, but how much of a competitive force they will be against big-name players remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Open source is moving beyond Linux into middleware.

During the next two years, open source application servers

will gain share in the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) market, forcing further vendor consolidation, according to the Meta Group. By 2006, it expects Linux to become the preferred platform for J2EE execution.

John Rymer, a vice-president with Forrester Research, says open source is a substantial competitive force in the application server market. JBoss leads the market (and has rolled out its second-generation technology); other players include ObjectWeb Consortium, developers of Jonas — which is now being packaged by Red Hat — as well as The Apache Software Foundation with its Geronimo Project.

“”What I found is that the shops that tend to use JBoss are the leading-edge Java shops … and as a result some of the spending that normally might go to the primary vendors like IBM or BEA is being funneled into open source,”” he says.

JBoss is far and away the most common open source application server, he says. And while he hasn’t seen many Jonas deployments, that could change now that Red Hat has licensed the technology.

“”So it might have an impact,”” he says. “”It remains to be seen, but certainly Red Hat is a powerful force and potentially big sales channel for Jonas.”” Project Geronimo is interesting, he says, because of the people behind it. “”Apache is a big name and Geronimo is very new, but people are kind of rooting for it to succeed as they add more features and stability and make it more mature,”” he says.

In September, JBoss announced the general availability of JBoss Application Server 4.0 for enterprise production deployment. And it’s going head-to-head with IBM and BEA. “”We’ve been competing against them even when we were two guys in this company,”” says Marc Fleury, CEO of JBoss.

“”We think we can get into any market we please and deliver infrastructure software at low cost and commoditize those markets, so there’s an ambition to provide a complete range of open source middleware offerings, and that in itself is a big ambition,”” he says.

Apache, as a non-profit foundation, is taking a different approach.

“”We don’t compete with anybody, we’re not out here to build products and compete for market share with commercial or other non-commercial entities,”” says Geir Magnusson Jr., Geronimo PMC chair.

Apache approved of Geronimo as an official project in June. Its objective is to produce a certified open source implementation of the J2EE specification under the Apache licence and offer it to the public at no charge.

While it’s a newcomer to this space, Magnusson sees this as an advantage.

“”We started from scratch,”” he says. “”Other projects had a long history before they decided to become certified.””

Red Hat, for its part, launched its Red Hat Application Server in August, an open source application server based on the Jonas technology from ObjectWeb.

“”What we’re trying to do is build a platform that reduces the amount of integration pain that’s occurred,”” says Deb Woods, vice-president of product management for Red Hat. “”What we’re seeing is to have a really functional application server you need to have a strong tool suite that goes with it.”” For Red Hat, this includes Apache Tomcat, IBM’s Eclipse tool suite, as well as BEA’s Beehive open source foundation for building enterprise Java and SOA application servers.

“”The (IBM) WebSpheres and (BEA) WebLogics and Oracle application servers are tremendous tools — they have so much more functionality than what a Red Hat application server has,”” she adds. “”But if you look at some of the very base technologies that all three of the highest-level proprietary application servers have, a lot of that is really becoming commoditized technology.””

And in a lot of cases, she says, that is good enough.

“”That can meet probably 80 per cent of a lot of companies’ infrastructures if they’re doing basic Web services, e-business or simple CRM applications,”” she says.

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