Robert Sutor, IBM's director of WebSphere Foundation Software, told ZDNet UK on Friday at a press briefing in Montpellier that the open-source application server JBoss was more of threat to BEA than to IBM's own application server software WebSphere.
The open-source application server JBoss almost doubled its share last year, from 14 percent in 2002 to 27 percent in 2003, according to a study by BZ Research. Its market share in 2003 is now beginning to get closer to the three proprietary offerings that dominate the market. In 2003, IBM WebSphere had 40 percent, BEA Weblogic had 35 percent, and Oracle's Application Server had 29 percent.
Sutor said the main reason he believes this is because IBM WebSphere tends to have company-wide implementations, while BEA tends to be used in individual departments, which are more likely to make the leap to open source.
Sacha Labourey, European general manager at JBoss Inc, which provides services for the open-source application server, agreed that BEA is its main target, rather than IBM.
"I strongly agree that JBoss is more of a threat to BEA than to IBM," said Labourey. "When we get an IBM account we think, 'Wow, we have IBM account.' When it's a BEA account we don't even think about it."
Jim Rivera, a senior principal technologist at BEA, denied that JBoss is a threat, and said that BEA offers better enterprise features, rejecting the notion that BEA was somehow less focused on the enterprise.
"We're not seeing much direct competition from JBoss," said Rivera. "While we both offer J2EE application servers, BEA has always focused on the high-end enterprise market, which has very specific requirements."
Eric Stahl, a director of product marketing at BEA, said that it would be a long time before an open-source application server reached the same level of success as open-source operating systems and databases.
"The database market is at least a decade ahead of the application server market," said Stahl. "In the very long term, one could argue that the application server will follow the Linux operating system and the database to become part of a common open platform, but that is a long, long time off and assumes that no other technology disruption happens in the meantime," said Stahl.
Rivera said that open-source application servers are more important in development than actual production.
"We think open-source is important to the market as it provides a low-cost entry vehicle for sophisticated developers, particularly for development projects," said Rivera.
Labourey said the main reasons for IBM's success in the application server market is because it has a range of software, hardware and services offerings, which will suit some blue chip companies which want a single point of contact for all technology. BEA, in comparison, only has a few software and service delivery offerings.
Another possible reason for IBM's success is that its comprehensive service offering allows it to discount the software.
"If IBM wants a deal it can sell software for nothing, as it can sell 50 consultants," said Labourey.
Thomas Murphy, a vice president at META Group, said the analyst firm expects the open-source market for application servers to increase as companies realise that the both open source and proprietary servers offer comparable functionality and therefore make decisions based on price.
"The application server market has reached stabilisation point," said Murphy "When people look at application servers they are beginning to find that they are all pretty similar. If it comes to price, why not price at zero, by getting an open-source solution?"
The three main options in the open-source community are JBoss, JOnAS and Apache Geronimo, according to Murphy.
IBM's Sutor said the main problem with open source application servers, such as JBoss, are insufficient availability, scalability and interoperability.
"JBoss has nothing like the high availability and is not nearly as scalable as IBM Websphere," said Sutor. "There are also compatability issues between each of the open source offerings. If different departments use a different open source application server, can they talk to each other?"
JBoss' Labourey disagreed with Sutor's claim, stating that JBoss provided high availability and scalability through its product JBossCache. He pointed out that in August the French Ministry of Finance chose JBoss to run its mission-critical tax applications, a system which will include 200 servers.
ZDNet reported in September that the Danish Ministry of Finance used JBoss, rather than Microsoft's BizTalk, for its mission-critical data exchange application.
As for interoperability, JBoss AS 4.0 is J2EE 1.4 certified, a Sun certification which proves compatibility with the Java Enterprise specification. Much of the J2EE 1.4 standard is about compatability between different application servers, according to Labourey. In comparison, Websphere 5, is only J2EE 1.3 certified.
Apache Geronimo is also working towards J2EE certification, as is JOnAS, which announced on its Web site on Friday that a certified version is expected soon.