A Complex Landscape
The application market can be carved up in a variety of ways.
- The expansive “application platform” view is held by two of the groups. One — perhaps the predominant app server group — consists of companies that write to Sun’s Java Enterprise Edition (J2EE) language. This group includes the current market leaders, BEA and IBM, as well as others that have the market clout to potentially join those two, among them, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and SAP.
- The other expansive player is Microsoft, which uses various proprietary
approaches, including .NET and COM+.
- The third major category contains the surviving smaller players that don’t offer the expansive platform offered by the top players. The economy has consolidated the vendor community from about 25 vendors a few years ago to a handful today, says Rich Schultz, a group marketing manager for Sun. Companies in this group include Borland, Fujitsu, Iona, and Novell, according to the Gartner report. Application server companies that no longer exist at all or as independent entities include Bluestone (which was acquired by HP), Allaire (acquired by Macromedia), Brokat (which filed for bankruptcy), NetDynamics (acquired by Sun), and Kiva (acquired by Netscape), according to BEA’s Dietzen.
- As with just about every IT tool in today’s environment, there is also an open source option. JBoss Group, Apache Tomcat, and others fall into this group.
The predominant theme in the application server market is the law of supply and demand. “The big factor in the market right now basically is over-supply,” Giga’s Rymer says. “There are too many products chasing too few apps and projects. It’s a result of the IT recession. One of the biggest factors is that there is a high degree of discounting. The product quality is getting higher all the time. It’s a very good situation if I’m a buyer.”
The poor economy is driving enterprises to be more cautious about where they spend their IT dollars. “Customers are being a lot more careful now in their analysis of which features and functions they actual require,” Schultz says. “A couple of years ago, they would just buy the high end and use what they needed.”
The other issue driving the market is commoditization. Since the bigger players, with the exception of Microsoft, are standardized on J2EE there is an equality that shifts the battlefield to the applications that each develops. “There is a commoditization of the basic technology on J2EE,” says Shawn Willett, principal analyst for Current Analysis. “It doesn’t require an inordinate amount of expertise to build to those specs.”
That combination — a troubled economy and the commodization of the plain old app server — was the driving force behind the expansion of app servers to app platforms. By broadening the tasks of the application server, the big players are attempting to differentiate themselves. Enterprises further benefit because the servers that supported formerly separate functions (e.g., intranets) can be subsumed into the app platform environment. This all dovetails nicely with the movement of more tasks onto the Internet and other IP-based networks.
“There is a fair amount of innovation going on in the market,” Rymer says. “There are ideas out there such as the notion of an application server platform that includes the app server, an integration server, and a portal server all in a single unit.”