Although some are quick to credit the long term success and dominance of Microsoft Office (over the competition it devastated) to the unnatural advantage Microsoft may have afforded to it by way of undocumented Windows interfaces back in the 90's, it's impossible to rule out the one stop shop thinking that that applications from one operating system vendor will run better on that vendor's operating systems than will competing applications from a third party.
Now that Red Hat has acquired Java app server solution provider JBoss, one can't help but wonder to what degree JBoss's solutions will have an advantage over the ones they compete with from BEA (WebLogic Server), IBM (WebSphere), Oracle (Oracle 9iAS), and others. Other questions linger as well. For example, if Red Hat's acquisition of JBoss triggers a wave of industry consolidation --- and I think it will --- will BEA get swept up or will it end up as odd man out?
Via telephone, I spoke with Blake Connell, BEA's director of Weblogic Server Marketing to get his perspective on how game changing the JBoss acquisition might be. Although Connell's audio is weak, I managed to capture the call publish it as a podcast. The audio is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded, or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in. [Editor's Note: Currently, the streaming option, available by clicking the PLAY button above, isn't working properly. We're working on it]
Not surprisingly, Connell can't comment on the chances of BEA getting acquired or doing any acquiring. But in contrast to what I and many others have said about the JBoss news, BEA's Connell is spinning it in the other direction, saying that the acquisition may in fact play into BEA's hand now that it, in Switzerland-like fashion, practically stands alone as a neutral provider of J2EE solutions with no alternate agenda that could potentially stand in the way of doing what's best for buyers of Java-based application servers. Connell and I spoke at length about BEA's neutrality, whether or not Red Hat would be the same sort of partner to BEA it was before the acquisition (now that they're competitors) and host of other related issues.
Separately, BEA's director of investor relations Eric Stahl sent me a note with his take on the acquisition. Here's what he had to say(assertions and facts are were not double-checked by me):
Whether Stahl's analysis is spot on or some of it is just FUD (eg: the "tied to one operating system bit") remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure. Things are going to get interesting.
BEA’s application server business is thriving.
- On our Q4 earnings call we broke out the license revenue for WebLogic. The WebLogic license business grew 12% year/year.
- IBM’s Q4 results tell a different story. WebSphere license plus maintenance grew 4% year/year in Q4. If you take out the maintenance you can be reasonably sure that WebSphere licenses are in decline. If JBoss is affecting anyone’s business it’s IBM.
- If you do a job search on dice.com, one of the biggest technical job sites, JBoss yields 672 results. WebLogic yields 2,412 results, 4 times the size of JBoss. If you were a developer, where would you bet your skills?
- Regardless of who owns the JBoss products, people should understand that we have been competing with free alternatives to WebLogic for the last five years. IBM and Oracle give their products away for free with hardware, services, database and applications. We understand what it is to compete with free. It’s part of our selling DBA. Open source app servers have also existed for some time. WebLogic thrives when customers do a real proof of concept to test the developer productivity, performance, scale, manageability, security, reliability and other qualities that differentiate these products. If you look at the relative cost of application servers, it is easy to see how the savings attained by a free app server licenses can easily be dwarfed by losses in developer/administrator productivity, increased hardware consumption, etc.
The Red Hat acquisition may tie JBoss to one operating system.
- RedHat Linux is hot but is a small % of what gets deployed out there. Most of BEA’s business is running on Solaris, HP-UX, Windows and other operating systems.
BEA has never been more differentiated and diversified.
- BEA has expanded the application server functionality horizontally with SIP, RFID and Real Time capabilities to stay ahead of the competition. We have also moved up the stack with ESB, EII, EAI, security, BPM and portal capabilities.
If a customer chooses JBoss BEA has tools and products that run on JBoss and other application servers.
- In some use cases JBoss can get the job done. Workshop, Kodo, WebLogic RFID, ALUI, and ALBPM all run on WebLogic and other application servers to broaden their addressable markets.