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The year 2000 saw J2EE compliancy move out of the realm of marketing and into nine shipping products. The threat of commoditization of J2EE application servers forced vendors to switch gears in 2001 toward leveraging J2EE servers as platforms for Web services, wireless, and EAI development.

The dominant players in the game surfaced, but a variety of strategic takeovers may reshape the J2EE app server market in 2001. This article walks you through the events, trends, and players of last year and describes the changes in the application server market landscape today.

2000: Year of the J2EE-Compliant Arms Race
For the app server market 2000 will be remembered as the year of the J2EE-compliant arms race. The first step toward compliance was offering a complete suite of J2EE products. The second: these products had to pass Sun's J2EE compliancy test suite, which consists of about 5,000 tests designed to certify that the compliant application server can run any J2EE application.

Allaire, owner of the popular servlet engine product JRun, purchased an EJB application server vendor and announced the new complete JRun J2EE server in June 2000. Oracle Corporation became a J2EE licensee at the end of May 2000 and announced full JSP, servlet, and EJB support in July 2000.

Also in July Bluestone, a traditional middleware powerhouse, announced servlet and JSP support to complement its popular Sapphire/Web EJB server with its new Total-E-Server product launch. Unify corporation began shipping the full suite of J2EE products around the same time.

By the end of summer, vendors that hadn't yet integrated complete J2EE offerings were not even on the radar of most analysts and project managers, and at this point catching up was very difficult.

The race was on. Now that J2EE vendors had complete and integrated J2EE product offerings, the focus switched to J2EE compliancy. Leveraging its competitive advantage as the J2EE specification provider, Sun was the first to ship a J2EE-compliant server with its IPlanet Application Server in June 2000. Other vendors engaged in an amusing battle of press releases, during which they all fought to be remembered as the first independent company outside of Sun to pass the J2EE compliancy test suite.

The first such announcement came from BEA on July 31, 2000. On September 8 ATG made a similar claim regarding its own application server. On October 19 Sybase announced it too had passed the tests, with Iona issuing a similar press release on November 15. Silverstream followed on November 17, Borland on December 15, and Bluestone on December 19.

Commoditization of the Servers: The Great Debate
In August 2000 a new debate flared up on TheServerSide.com: How do you choose between vendors once all the vendors are J2EE compliant?

Once a J2EE application has been written, what would differentiate the $1,500 Orion Application Server from the $30,000 Bluestone Total-e-Server? The unpopular opinion was that, essentially, shopping for J2EE servers would become like buying apples from a grocery store. That is, small vendors who couldn't afford to produce the best quality or who had small marketing budgets would disappear in a matter of time, leaving two or three industry giants as the sole providers of J2EE servers.

Another theory was that if J2EE servers commoditize, open-source servers like jBoss or low-cost commercial application servers like Orion and Unify eWave would be in a position to bring down companies like BEA. From a purely J2EE API perspective, jBoss, Orion, and BEA WebLogic are identical, so why would you pay extra for WebLogic when they can use jBoss?

Scott Dietzen, CTO of BEA, believes that "It is hard for a complex software stack to commoditize." Just because two servers implement the same specifications doesn't mean that the two servers will be considered identical. Dietsen points to SQL servers as an example. "SQL was a standard, but SQL servers did not become commodities." The emergence of the SQL specification did not allow cheap SQL databases to steal market share from the giants. Rather, it was the underlying quality and stability of implementation that won, resulting in Oracle's becoming the leader in the database industry.

2001: The Year of Web Services
"The application server days are over. The future is integrated offerings. J2EE compliancy will just be one of the many check boxes on the list," says Dave Brown, technical director of GemStone Systems.

In 2001 the focus of vendors is moving away from the J2EE server and into complementary products that will be built as J2EE applications, running on top of their existing J2EE servers. These new applications will leverage built-in support for transaction handling and scalability provided by J2EE servers, providing a fully integrated platform for development. ColdFusion is one such exciting example. Macromedia/Allaire plans to port the ColdFusion development platform to a generic J2EE application that can run on top of any J2EE-compliant application server.

The trend toward supporting complementary offerings built on top of J2EE began in 2000 with the emergence of the commerce server. Commerce servers, such as those provided by BEA and SilverStream, are out-of-the-box B2B and B2C frameworks combined with simplified rules-based development environments targeted at business analysts and script-level programmers. These products allow rapid visual development with a focus on personalization and customer relationship management features (CRM).

Given recent predictions that the B2B market could reach anywhere from $1.5 trillion to $8 trillion in revenue by 2004, B2B-enabling technologies such as Web services and enterprise application integration (EAI) will be a key area for vendors to support.

In a nutshell, Web services are a way for businesses to expose their services programmatically over the Internet, leveraging standards-based protocols and document interchange formats to execute any kind of online transaction. Web services initiatives such as ebXML and UDDI are currently the realm of early development, but should serve as viable deployment options by the end of this year. Vendors with investments in XML and Web-based protocols stand to ride that wave when it mushrooms at year's end.

Unlike Web services, EAI is a fundamental complement to J2EE products, that is, a requirement for enterprise-scale applications. Essentially, EAI products are message-oriented middleware (MOM) products (IBM MQSeries, MS BizTalk) that tie together heterogeneous systems within an enterprise by supporting custom protocols and document exchange, often based on XML.

The final major trend to capitalize on for 2001 is the wireless explosion. Most vendors have added the word wireless to their Web sites, with WAP gateways and component frameworks for supporting wireless devices.

App Server Market Share at the End of 2000
With no one clear survey on application server market share, it's difficult to properly gauge the market share of J2EE application server vendors. In August 1999 the Giga Information Group published a report that predicted that BEA and IBM would share the market lead at 24% market share each, with iPlanet third at 9%.

Recent vendor presentations, however, have pegged the market at WebLogic 32%, WebSphere 16%, and Sybase 15%. The most recent statistics came from a Web-based survey run by Giga in December 2000. The survey gave BEA a 56% market share, 33% for IBM, 3% for IPlanet, and 7% for all others combined. However, since the survey was Web-based and not controlled, these figures are probably not reflective of real market share.

All of the surveys are consistent in placing BEA as the market leader in 2000, followed by IBM. A clear third place isn't apparent at this time, but it's likely a close tie between Sybase, iPlanet, SilverStream, Iona, and HP/ Bluestone.

Three Major J2EE Vendor Acquisitions Level the Playing Field for 2001
Three acquisitions that began in 2000 added three new giants to the J2EE arena: Brokat Infosystems/Gemstone, HP/Bluestone, and Macromedia/Allaire.

Brokat is a European software giant, a powerhouse in the European financial, integration, and wireless markets. Last July Brokat strategically expanded its offerings by acquiring Blaze Software, maker of rules engines for enterprise applications, and GemStone Systems. The Gemstone/J application server product was bleeding market share loss. However, the product itself stood in a league of its own, recognized by many as one of the most advanced application servers available due to its powerful object database-based background and multi-VM clustering features. This year Brokat plans to focus on being the wireless champion, utilizing its new software platform to build industry-specific wireless applications, with an initial focus on software for Brokat's strong financial services client base.

Last October technology giant Hewlett-Packard entered the middleware market by acquiring Bluestone software, a longtime veteran in the application server market. HP and Bluestone were the ultimate marriage. HP brought trusted and established hardware and software deployment platforms combined with an extensive sales and marketing force, while Bluestone brought a mature and powerful J2EE platform to the table. Leveraging this new complete offering, HP announced the Net Action campaign (a competitor of similar offerings from Microsoft, Sun, and IBM) in February. Net Action is an integrated platform for enterprise and Web services development.

Macromedia, the undisputed leader in Internet presentation layer tools (Dreamweaver, which has 70% market share in visual HTML tools) and rich media (Flash, which has 96% market share), announced its acquisition agreement with Allaire in January of this year. Allaire owns the JRun application server and ColdFusion, a popular server-side development platform that is a predecessor of J2EE. The acquisition of Allaire combines a client base of approximately 2 million users comprising client-side Macromedia developers, ColdFusion developers, and JRun developers. If Macromedia can properly integrate its offerings into a single platform for client- and server-side development, combined with a strategy for migrating its existing client base to this new platform, it can become an overnight market-share shark. Unfortunately, the merger won't be complete until mid-2001, placing Macromedia at a time-to-market disadvantage with its competitors.

The Application Server Market Outlook for 2001
The market share winners for 2001 will be composed of companies that provide J2EE-compliant servers with support for the latest standards, such as EJB 2.0 and JCA 1.0, but also earn recognition for powerful, complementary, and integrated offerings above and beyond J2EE - EAI and commerce server offerings, Web services support, or wireless support.

BEA WebLogic was the market share leader for 2000. I believe this position will be maintained in 2001. Its server was bundled with comprehensive documentation and running examples. Its application server was the first to be bundled on a CD with popular Java magazines back when high-speed, home-based Internet was not readily available. Being the first to implement many J2EE APIs has made the WebLogic application server a favorite among thousands of independent software vendors (ISVs).

All other factors aside, the ISV client base alone could keep BEA on top in terms of market share. Not only has WebLogic achieved a critical mass of acceptance, BEA has also invested heavily in the technologies that will differentiate vendors from one another in 2001: XML integration (eventually leading to Web services support) and commerce server offerings, personalization, process/workflow automation and wireless support. Only a company with very deep pockets and strong developer incentives will succeed in driving ISV support away from BEA.

I believe that IBM WebSphere will retain its position as the No. 2 enterprise development platform. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't think IBM will trail as far behind BEA as many think. On June 29, 2000, IBM announced that it would invest $1 billion in the WebSphere platform, in technology as well as the WebSphere consulting, sales, and marketing arms. The effects of this will be felt in this year, since IBM will hopefully invest significant resources into finally keeping up with the latest specs.

IBM has traditionally been and will likely remain the champion in EAI and process/workflow automation space. What is required is for IBM to invest in J2EE hooks to tie its existing proven products into J2EE. IBM recently announced an all-Java version of its own commerce server offering. IBM also was one of the first companies to provide wireless and XML support through its alphaWorks initiatives and the Wireless Transcoding Server.

Finally, IBM will likely become the first-to-market in Web services product offerings, as the company is intimately involved in the specification process of Web services initiatives, including UDDI, ebXML, XAML, and more.

The No. 3 position in the Enterprise Java space is controversial. Last year, depending on whom you asked, another company had the honor. Whoever gets it this year - it could be Brokat, SilverStream, HP/Bluestone, IONA, Sybase, Macromedia, ATG, Borland, or iPlanet - is unlikely to lead the competition by much of a margin.

Of all the products listed, I believe HP/Bluestone has the greatest chance of taking over the No. 3 spot in server-side market share. Bluestone has learned from WebLogic and GemStone by providing comprehensive J2EE trail maps and reference implementations to help get developers up and running. Running on top of a mature app server with powerful success stories (such as American Airlines' Sabre System), Bluestone has invested in all of the trends that became apparent in 2000, with product offerings for XML, wireless, commerce, personalization, and EAI.

The HP acquisition of Bluestone will place this new company in a unique position to take on the giants. HP will likely mobilize its massive sales/marketing force around its new middleware offering, as well as invest significant amounts of money in Bluestone products. If HP/Bluestone can execute properly, it has a chance at gaining market share in 2002 and perhaps take on the giants in 2003.

Conclusion: The Future of J2EE Application Servers
In 2001 J2EE will be used as the underlying platform for developing vertical-niche applications and frameworks for specialized applications such as Web services, wireless, CRM, process/workflow automation, and EAI.

The job of the ISV and component developer will be to write these niche frameworks to be as portable as possible. An explosion in the J2EE component market is thus likely this year. The job of the project manager will turn toward deciding which of these applications should be combined to solve business problems faster. In the best-case scenario, project managers will still be able to choose the underlying application server on which these portable frameworks will be deployed. However, many companies working on enterprise-scale projects will turn toward proprietary vendor-integrated solutions.

By the end of the year, the application server market will be dominated by vendors who can provide one-stop integration of tools, frameworks, and applications.

Author Bio
Floyd Marinescu is an Enterprise Java educator at The Middleware Company, a J2EE training company. Floyd designed and implemented TheServerSide.com J2EE community, and is currently working on an EJB design patterns book. [email protected]


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