Future Trends

Open source vendors are moving into the application server space, but how much of a competitive force will they be against big-name players?

So far the application server market has been divided into two camps: Java and Microsoft.

The leaders on the Java side are IBM and BEA. And while

the application server market is often described as a two-horse race between these two companies, Oracle and SAP are now pushing platform suites and are considered entrants into this market.

Microsoft, meanwhile, although built on a proprietary platform, has significant market momentum and it would be unrealistic to say it is going away in the short term.

During the next two years, however, open source application servers will gain share in the market, forcing further vendor consolidation, according to the META Group. By 2006, it expects Linux (the operating system of choice for open source environments) to become the preferred platform for Java execution.

John Rymer, vice-president with Forrester Research, says open source is a substantial competitive force in the application server market. JBoss leads the market. 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. “”It’s one of the factors that has contributed to extreme price pressure in this market.””

Big ambitions

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, it remains to be seen,”” he says, “”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. “”A lot of people hope it will be a viable No. 2 to JBoss.””

In September, JBoss announced 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 in a way,”” he says.

Within the application server market, there’s already been a great deal of vendor consolidation, says Yefim Natis, vice-president with Gartner Research. “”We used to talk about a dozen or more vendors equally competing in the application server space,”” he says. “”Today, if you leave aside Microsoft which is in a separate category by itself, there are really only two vendors that have 70 to 80 per cent of the market, which is IBM and BEA.”” JBoss is a relatively new entry arriving on the scene after consolidation was more or less complete. “”There would have been absolutely no hope and no chance for a new entry to make any kind of notable difference and several have tried… but it worked for JBoss because it is open source. And open source commands its own attention.””

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 marketshare 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 License and offered to the public at no charge. Not all of the software will come directly from Apache; it’s collaborating with other projects in the larger open source community.

Reducing pain of integration

While Geronimo is 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. We started out with a clean slate with the intent of building a J2EE server, so we have no baggage we’re carrying from previous versions.””

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.””

“”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 simply 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.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.
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