Standards, open source,
Java, and the Web are combining to force a huge shift in the infrastructure
software industry. Middleware is becoming a strategic commodity. Free
J2EE application servers are just the beginning of this movement. It’s crucial
to understand that the major forces driving these changes will lead to lower
costs, increased collaboration, and reduced time to develop and deploy new
Standards have reached a critical mass where users
expect and demand standards-based implementations. Historically, users have
preferred to leverage an existing standard to solve a particular problem
before expending major funds to develop and deploy new systems. In addition,
users will shun vendors for going beyond standards, or not completely implementing
them in a timely manner. This forces more industry effort to create and implement
these standards – bringing competitors together to bridge differences and
arrive at new solutions. Proprietary systems are no longer accepted. This
focus on standards minimizes the difference between vendor implementations
and has the effect of commoditizing software. However, the effort and investment
put forth by vendors to create these standards within the middleware space
highlights its strategic importance.
Open source supplements this trend since standards-based
APIs are sufficiently defined so that any group of developers can create
an implementation. Many developers are being drawn to open source as a direct
way of getting their creations to market at a low cost as well as a means
to improving the quality of the software by leveraging the resources of the
development community. Companies like HP, IBM, and Sun are increasingly dedicating
significant engineering resources to many of the open source communities.
While Java is not open sourced, Sun’s widespread
distribution of the technology and the formation of the Java Community Process
has been a loss leader to drive the systems business at Sun. In fact, the
Java Community Process is a unique and clever balance that results in widespread
de facto standards being created, such as J2EE.
As middleware becomes a strategic commodity, the
Web serves as the focal point by:
• Being developed on open source and standards models
– HTTP, HTML, and Mosaic
• Enabling easy collaboration for open source development
• Leading to the creation of powerful open source
and standards organizations (Apache and W3C)
• Demonstrating that the price for software (e.g.,
browsers and Web servers) built around open standards would decline sharply
and ultimately become free
J2EE Application Servers
Open standards and the resulting open source initiatives
have played a major role in the evolution of the J2EE landscape. It’s becoming
a well-accepted fact that the application server is the new keystone to any
significant middleware infrastructure. The Java community’s efforts to standardize
J2EE have been significant and have yielded a robust, resilient, and enterprise-capable
platform, which has resulted in more users adopting the technology while
decreasing the difference between application server implementations.
The combination of smaller differentiation and a
larger user base is driving down the cost of J2EE application servers. Initially,
application server vendors were able to charge huge sums for this strategic
software, several times the amount of the accompanying hardware. Open source
efforts like Apache Tomcat, JBoss, Orion, and the early Lutris work have
proven that application servers can be created through open source initiatives.
The resultant software is an attractive alternative for many end users due
to its low/free pricing.
It’s clear that the concept of middleware becoming
a strategic commodity will only accelerate in the future and go well beyond
the application server. J2EE continues to grow and embrace technology such
as messaging and EAI with the JMS and JCA standards. The early implementations
may not stack up yet to the sophistication of proprietary EAI and message
bus products, but the low cost of the implementations makes them attractive
for many applications. In addition, the amount of investment in these standards
will continue to drive the functionality beyond today’s proprietary systems
with the added benefit of no vendor lock-in, lower training costs, and increased
Web services are obviously moving in the same direction.
Many of the base pieces – like SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI - are becoming standardized.
Users are waiting for higher levels of standardization in such areas as transactions,
mediation, and conversational flow control before adopting Web services
in a significant way.
The Java community must embrace this trend toward
a low-cost strategic commodity to be a viable platform in comparison to Microsoft.
The low cost and relative standardization across the Microsoft platform are
powerful attraction points. The Java community can’t afford to live only
at the high end of the market, charging tens of thousands of dollars per
CPU of functionality.
The current trend of creating strategic software
in the Java community is encouraging – J2EE continues to be the choice for
large Web applications. And the new adoption of lower-cost models will help
drive widespread adoption of the technology.
Users as diverse as IT departments in small companies
to major enterprises and independent software vendors are starting to select
J2EE application servers as their strategic deployment choice. The standardization
efforts of the JCP and the open source community as well as the low cost
are turning the technology into a commodity. This evolution toward a reasonably
priced middleware solution significantly augments the transition of users
to these new operating environments. The commoditization of Java middleware
marks the next pivotal step toward a ubiquitous enterprise deployment platform.
Bob Bickel, general manager of the Middleware Division at Hewlett-Packard,
is one of the original creators of the application server technology. Bob holds a BA in electrical engineering from Bucknell University and an
MBA in finance from Temple University.