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Following in Linux's Footsteps

How open source Java technology is shaking up the market

Is open source and the commoditization of certain technologies cannibalizing software license revenue? Possibly, but many argue that this market dynamic stimulates many vendors to accelerate innovation and to create new technologies and applications. And, while this market dynamic can be disruptive, it creates a roaring buyer's market for IT decision makers.

Nowhere is the case for this more apparent than in the middleware and application server sectors. Falling prices and a maturing market are also resulting in consolidation among the vendors. At the same time, open source alternatives, combined with tightening IT budgets, are changing the application server software market.

The Times - They Are A-Changin'

The Internet and open source make it possible to economically produce and distribute software. This is especially true with middleware, where stable standards are defined and open source is both a high-quality way of implementing these standards and an excellent way to achieve true definitions of the standards. Of course, the consumers of open source benefit from the low cost. Proprietary vendors are grappling with the commoditization of infrastructure software that today is firmly entrenched as a large, macro-economic force.

In the case of application server technology, some other key factors are accelerating its commoditization, including the Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform. This standard has been widely accepted by multiple application servers, which levels the playing field among vendors and makes portability of applications relatively straightforward.

In addition, Linux has played the role of a big brother, paving the way for young newcomers. Little brothers and sisters usually get to drive the car sooner or stay out later - the older sibling greases the wheel and makes life easier for them. So, the adoption of open source middleware is going much faster than Linux since the pathway has already been cleared and the open source OS has already been embraced by mainstream enterprises.

Where It's Successful

On the server side, combining open source with Java has pushed the limits of what modern middleware technology can do. JBoss, a Java-based, open source application server that has achieved 4 million downloads since 2001 so far, is a popular application server for companies that want a high-quality, cost-effective platform for developing scalable, secure Web applications.

This is also happening on the database front. According to an August 2003 brief by Forrester Research's Ted Schadler, with the open source database MySQL "....nipping at the heels of commercial databases, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Sybase will ramp up their already busy research teams."

Furthermore, SAP has recently handed its SAPDB database software to the open source development community and keeps 100 developers working on the software. Anyone can download the database from the SAP Web site, and the company provides support for its ERP software customers who are using the database.

In fact, MySQL AB now offers MaxDB. MaxDB is the result of an alliance between MySQL and SAP to jointly develop and market an enterprise open source database.

Free, high-quality products like this are changing the competitive landscape. Two years ago there were 30 application server vendors; today there are less than 10 proprietary vendors and only 4 have significant market share. At this rate, JBoss may become to application servers what Apache is to Web servers - a dominant open source platform in critical IT infrastructure and a deciding force in promoting open standards on the Internet.

What's a Commercial Vendor to Do?

Increased competition from both commercial and open source companies is pushing everyone to continue innovating and improving their technology. As a result, many vendors are now trying to differentiate themselves by adding extensions to their application servers. Although, according to Gartner's 2003 Enterprise Application Server Magic Quadrant, "The mainstream majority of enterprise projects will succeed equally well using an application server, embedded into a larger framework of tools, applications, or infrastructure technologies."

Other industry experts predict the emergence of specialized application servers dedicated to presenting data-base information to a variety of handheld devices, for example. Some are even rethinking the traditional practice of tying software licenses to mandatory service.

The Net-Net

The consumer, a discriminating IT buyer in a down market, is tired of multiple startups and even established vendors putting out the same technology and noise. As a result, the IT buyer is increasingly looking to open source products. At the same time, many proprietary vendors, losing market share due to the commoditization of such technologies are redirecting R&D into new Web services, integration, and portal technology, which ultimately may also benefit end users as well.

Like the Internet itself, the modern enterprise now increasingly relies on successful open source projects. Plus, the commoditization of operating systems, compilers, and servers is only the beginning. Many forms of infra-structure software can benefit from the open source model. Even non-proprietary business software likely to have a large user base may soon be ripe for commoditization too.

Ultimately, all this new thinking and ingenuity gives consumers increased choices, better products and services, and more cost-effective ways for building cutting-edge IT infrastructures and the next wave of distributed applications.

More Stories By Bob Bickel

As Executive Vice President at JBoss, Inc., Bob is responsible for strategy, corporate development and partnerships. Prior to founding Bickel Advisory Services, he was the General Manager of the HP Middleware Division. Before joining HP, Bickel was executive vice president of products for Bluestone Software Inc., acquired by HP in January 2001. Bickel was one of the original creators who brought Bluestone's application server technology to the marketplace and a reputation for product excellence. Before Bluestone, Bickel spent eleven years at Digital Equipment Corporation. Bickel holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Bucknell University and a master's degree in business administration in finance from Temple University. Bob also serves as an advisor or board member to Arjuna, Apax Partners, Baker Capital, Bristol Technologies, JBoss, Inc., Metaverse, ProductSoft, Sembleware, and Solstice Software.

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