IBM Updates Free WebSphere, Teams With Novell Against JBoss

Novell is partnering with IBM to support WebSphere Community Edition 2.0, IBM's open-source Java application server.

August 7, 2007

3 Min Read
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IBM today announced version 2.0 of WAS CE (WebSphere Application Server Community Edition), its open-source Java server, set for release sometime later this year. IBM is also joining forces with Novell, which will offer support for WAS CE and distribute it along with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Though the combination is clearly aimed at competing with Red Hat, it highlights open source's move further up the software stack, making free software a practical alternative to traditional application servers --- and perhaps more.

At the same time, IBM announced the millionth download of WAS CE 1.0, an impressive statistic considering the relatively limited customer base for application servers. Of course, downloading a free product doesn't equate to using it, but IBM also has real enterprise customers that pay for WAS CE support, and more than a thousand partners whose applications run on top of it.

According to an (Eclipse sponsored) report from Evans Data, WAS CE is gaining market share nearly three times as fast as Red Hat's JBoss. Of course, this could be because it started from a smaller base: Although WAS CE is built on technology that IBM acquired with Gluecode in 2005, it is essentially a new IBM product, whereas JBoss was already popular even before Red Hat bought it in 2006.

The growth of free alternatives to high-priced application servers is obviously good news for customers, but not necessarily for IBM. A large part of that growth has to represent users who would otherwise buy the regular version of WebSphere, and not all of them will want to spring for a support contract from IBM or Novell. However, SOA (service oriented architecture) is making application servers less important anyway, threatening to reduce them to platforms for running standardized services while the higher-value integration functionality moves up to the stack to the service orchestration layer.IBM is good at embracing technologies that might threaten it, and SOA is no exception: Big Blue has become one of its strongest proponents and market leader, so the long-term plan isn't just to beat JBoss. It wants to encourage sales of its ESB, DataPower and other SOA products, and WAS CE 2.0 looks set to do that. Based on Apache Geronimo, it will be certified to support the full Java EE (Enterprise Edition) 5 specification, and come with some of the most common services used in SOA pre-integrated. IBM hasn't set a firm shipping date, saying only that it will be available later this year, but interested users can sign up for updates or download version 1.0 here. The big question for both vendors and customers? How far up the stack can free software extend. Right now, IBM stops at the application server, but JBoss has ambitions to go much further. It already has customers using its free ESB, as do competitors MuleSource and IONA. While many users of free WebSphere will undoubtedly turn to IBM, others may want to go open source all the way.

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