Last week, IBM acquired Apache Geronimo application server specialist Gluecode Software. This marks IBM's entry into the open source Java application server market. IBM sees special use for such software in small and medium businesses (SMBs) and in some departments in large companies.
With this move, declare analysts, IBM challenges open-source J2EE leader JBoss. The move also shows that IBM is ready to help turn the app server into a commodity, they say.
This is a difficult strategy, but IBM's recent ability to nurture Linux on the low-end (and even in the more costly mainframe realm), while still modestly improving its high-end businesses has emboldened it to do something similar with Java.
From its first days, the Java application server has been on a hell-bent drive to commodity status. But IBM has been adding services on top of the server all along, and growing its integration business coffers. As we have seen, in IBM's hand, this middleware type expanded to include standard means to many ends. Beside server pages and RDB links, the J2EE suite, epitomized by IBM's WebSphere app server and BEA's WebLogic as well, came to include persistence, a component framework, a messaging bus, and more.
But, as Ideas International analyst Steve Garone points out, when developers wanted to cut their teeth on J2EE, they downloaded cheap "open-source" J2EE engines. JBoss has been the most popular. And it has become a comfortable part of many tool boxes. JBoss, Jonas or Apache Geronimo might or might not be less robust than WebSphere, but such software could very well do 80 percent or more of what was needed in SMBs and small departments. Not just in development, but in deployment too. And the cost was right.
Lotus Domino shops have been looking at this issue since Lotus became part of IBM. Many are running applications at the department level. WebSphere may be the right answer for enterprise integration in some cases. But a simpler, less expensive solution would not be bad either, Domino people are the first to tell you. The Gluecode purchase seems to say that IBM gets that fact, and is moving to provide more choices.
IBM has done a better job of rolling out a roadmap for Domino-WebSphere co-existence, but the move to add Java skills and absorb WebSphere price points is not an easy one for every Domino development manager.
Analyst house and open-source champion Ovum says of the Gluecode move: "This deal could have a huge impact on the application server market as IBM forces commoditisation at the application server layer. IBM's Websphere family is based on IBM's own J2EE application server, but the value of Websphere lies in the raft of products that sit on top of it." We agree.