Has Application Server Software Reached Commodity Status?


If you attended the Red Hat middleware virtual conference recently, you later received an offer of some free Forrester research on the subject, specifically a 2008 report, Application Server Quality: Review Your Assumptions, by John R. Rymer and Jeffrey S. Hammond. Actually I was a little surprised to see that the report is about a year old, but it still provided some good food for thought.


The report opens with the lines:

"Which application server has the fewest critical bugs? Is easiest to configure? Has the best quality overall? .... Experience with early app servers has created a canon of popular wisdom about the quality of app server products, but five long-held assumptions within this canon are out of dateThe result: Application development professionals have better platform options to choose from than they might think."

That sure looked like a good set up for a high-tech bar brawl to me.The premise was that misperceptions about Red Hat JBoss' and Sun Glassfish's scalability and other enterprise-ready features led to the two products - as well as the app server functionality within Windows Server versions - losing out to good-old WebLogic and WebSphere. The other options should not be overlooked, says Forrester, based on findings from interviews with over 600 application developers.


One finding backs up some untested theories of mine relating to how middleware functionality becomes commoditized. Web servers have already passed through that stage and are basically now built into something else, app servers are in the throes of commoditization, and the new areas of functionality needing developer attention are enterprise service buses (ESBs) and integration servers. (Since the research is a year old, maybe app servers are already commoditized. What do you think?) The report pointed out that IT folks needed a lot of training and usage experience to become better versed in using ESBs and integration servers.


The other interesting finding: Microsoft offers a top-tier app server. Do you think of Windows that way? Shouldn't the statists at the European Union Competition Commission sue Microsoft for builting an app server into Windows?


I am still a show-me-the-money guy. As long as you are voting the way you are for good-old WebSphere and WebLogic with your pocketbooks - especially when two of the other options mentioned above require no specific outlay to start - the market is telling me that there is a difference. On the other hand, I did some proprietary research years ago (I think I've said this publicly in the past) that found that JBoss as a separate entity was not growing the way it had hoped because it was "too good." None of you were buying the maintenance subscription (on which the freestanding JBoss Group mostly depended) because you didn't think it would break.


Even if they are not yet commodities, app servers are reaching that level of dependability, which is why BEA (now Oracle) and IBM are layering industry-specific and similar features on top of good old WebLogic and WebSphere.


By the way, Red Hat sent me this report without my asking so I assume they'll send it to you if you ask. It can also be found here, at a Microsoft site.