The State of The J2EE Application Server Market

The year 2000 has seen Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) compliancy move out of the realm of marketing and into nine shipping products. J2EE vendor strategic positioning has continually changed, from focusing on core products, to an integrated range of J2EE services, to J2EE compliancy and finally to avoiding commoditization by leveraging J2EE servers as platforms for WebServices, Wireless and EAI development.

Executive Introduction

The year 2000 has seen Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) compliancy move out of the realm of marketing and into nine shipping products. J2EE vendor strategic positioning has continually changed, from focusing on core products, to an integrated range of J2EE services, to J2EE compliancy and finally to avoiding commoditization by leveraging J2EE servers as platforms for WebServices, Wireless and EAI development. The dominant players in the game have surfaced, but a variety of strategic takeovers may reshape J2EE app. server market share for 2001. In short, the server side java industry has gone through a whirl wind of change, this article will walk you through the years events and explain the trends and the players that will change the server side java landscape in 2001.

The Server Side Java market at the beginning of 2000

Before 2000, the future outlook of the java middleware market was uncertain. The popularity of the core server side java application programming interfaces (APIs) such as Servlets, Java Server Pages (JSP) and market anticipation of Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), created an explosion of start-ups which rushed to build server products to implement each of these APIs. The focus of vendors was on building and marketing API specific products. At the beginning of 2000, clear leaders such as JRun emerged in the space of presentation layer products, such as Servlet/JSP engines.

Towards the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000, over thirty vendors of EJB application servers emerged. However, only a few of which had complete EJB 1.0 implementations. The focus in the industry was on the EJB application server, and companies were fighting to be known as the premier vendor of EJB servers. Since every EJB server had to implement the EJB specification, companies began positioning themselves by investing in complementary features not found in the specifications, such as clustering and data caching.

J2EE project managers tasked with choosing the appropriate software for their J2EE projects were faced with a monumental task. That is, to evaluate and choose between different products from different vendors such as Web Servers, Servlet/JSP engines, EJB application Servers and Databases. Since few vendors had complete product offerings that spanned all of the J2EE APIs, J2EE projects built upon products from 4 different companies were common at the beginning of 2000.

J2EE integration: The reshaping of the J2EE marketplace begins

In anticipation of the final release of the J2EE 1.0 specification and reference implementation at the end of 1999, a smaller minority of forward thinking companies began to focus on offering a complete suite of J2EE products, from web server to EJB application server. These companies realized that a complete offering was the key to winning the hearts of project managers concerned with cross-vendor product integration issues.

BEA Systems championed the integration effort, and towards the end of 1999, BEA was one of the few companies that had a complete in-house built suite of products. BEA Weblogic included a web server, servlet/jsp engine and EJB application server. IBM also had a complete offering (Websphere). Although Websphere's support for the latest Servlet, JSP and EJB api's were lagging far behind the competition, IBM was first-to-market with powerful EJB RAD tools based on the popular Visual Age IDE.

Companies with core competencies and brand recognition in the application server arena such as Gemstone Systems chose to package their application server with third party servlet/jsp engines (rather than re-invent the wheel inhouse). In Gemstone's case, the New Atlanta Servlet Engine was bundled with Gemstone/J application server. Orion, a European based company was also among the first to support the full range of J2EE APIs, and whose free developer and non-profit licenses made Orion Server a favourite in the developer community.

The J2EE 1.0 final specification mandated that in-order to be J2EE compliant, a product had to offer the complete suite of J2EE API products. As the year 2000 unfolded, the compliancy requirement led to a mad rush on the part of all vendors whose products implemented only one part of the J2EE spec. These vendors had to either shift their development focus, bundle with other products, or consolidate. Focusing on one area of server side development was no longer a viable alternative.

2000: the year of the J2EE Compliant Arms race

For the application server market, 2000 will be remembered as the year of the J2EE compliant arms race. Vendors prepared massive mobilizations of developers, press release writers, and corporate acquisition money in an effort to achieve J2EE compliancy. The first step towards compliance was offering a complete suite of J2EE products. Second, their products had to pass Sun's J2EE compliancy test suite, which consists of about 5000 tests, designed to certify that the compliant application server can run any J2EE application.

Allaire, owner of the popular Servlet Engine product: Jrun, purchased an EJB application server vendor and announced the new complete Jrun J2EE server in June of 2000. Oracle Corporation became a J2EE licensee at the end of May 2000, and announced full JSP, Servlet, and EJB support in July of 2000. Bluestone, a traditional middleware powerhouse announced servlet and JSP support to complement its popular Sapphire/Web EJB server with its new Total-E-Server product launch in July of 2000. Unify corporation also began shipping the full suite of J2EE products around the same time.

By the end of the summer of 2000, J2EE project managers now had a full range of J2EE product suites to choose from. Vendors that had not yet integrated complete J2EE offerings were not even on the radar of most analysts and project managers, and at this point catching up was very difficult. The market for viable J2EE deployment platforms suddenly became a lot smaller.

The race was on. Now that J2EE vendors had complete and integrated J2EE product offerings, the focus switched to J2EE compliancy. Leveraging its competitive advantage as the J2EE specification provider, Sun was the first to ship a J2EE compliant server with its IPlanet Application Server in June 2000. Other vendors engaged in an amusing battle of press releases, where they all fought to be remembered as the first independent company outside of Sun to pass the J2EE compliancy test suite. The first such announcement came from BEA on July 31. BEA announced that Weblogic Application Server had passed Sun's compliancy test suite. On Sept 8, ATG made a similar claim regarding its own application server. Oct 19 saw Sybase also announce having passed the tests, with Iona issuing a similar press release on November 15. Silverstream followed on Nov. 17, Borland on Dec 15, and Bluestone announced its success on Dec. 19.

By the end of 2000, only a fraction of these vendors had real downloadable versions of their products. However, they all managed to get their act together and offer real shipping implementations in time to announce their J2EE compatibility at the Sun Microsystems J2EE Press event at the end of January.

Commoditization of J2EE application servers: The great debate

In August 2000, a new debate sparked up on How will one go about choosing between vendors once all vendors are J2EE compliant?

Once a J2EE application has been written, what would differentiate the $1500 Orion Application Server from the $30,000 dollar Bluestone Total-e-Server? The unpopular opinion was that shopping for J2EE servers would essentially become like buying apples from a grocery store. That is, smaller vendors who could not afford to produce the best quality or who had smaller marketing budgets would disappear in a matter of time, leaving 2 or 3 industry giants as the sole providers of J2EE servers.

Given the current climate of 15+ full J2EE suite (with 9 J2EE compliant) server vendors and over 20+ EJB Server-only vendors, this would mean a complete restructuring of the industry, as we knew it. There was ample evidence to prove that changes would happen. For example, years after the emergence of the SQL standard, only three vendors dominate the database arena: Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. Other once powerful database programs such as Interbase and SAP have gone Open source in an effort to retain market share.

Another theory was that if J2EE servers commoditize, then high quality open-source servers like jBoss or low cost application servers like Orion and JRun will be in a position to bring down companies like BEA. From a purely J2EE API perspective, jBoss and Orion implement the same API's as BEA Weblogic, and are much faster at supporting the latest specs than IBM Websphere.

Scott Dietzen, CTO of BEA believes that "It is hard for a complex software stack to commoditize". Just because two servers implement the same specifications, it does not mean that the two servers will be considered identical. Scott Dietsen points to SQL Servers as an example. "SQL was a standard, but SQL servers did not become commodities". The emergence of the SQL specification did not allow cheap SQL implementing databases to steal market share from the giants. Rather, it was the underlying quality and stability of implementation that won, resulting in todays dominance of just three products: Oracle, DB2 and SQLServer.

Standardization around J2EE compliancy has placed tremendous pressure on vendors to differentiate themselves from one another in order to fight the effects of commoditization. In order to survive, vendors have been differentiating themselves along the lines of price, legacy integration, XML support, licensing policies, clustering support, EJB 2.0 compliance, commerce frameworks, integrated IDE's, customer relationship management EAI, customer support, and more.

Application Server Market share at the end of 2000

With no one clear survey on application server market share, it is difficult to properly gauge the market share of J2EE application server vendors. In August 1999, the Giga information group published a report that predicted that BEA and IBM would share the market lead at 24% market share each, with Iplanet third at 9% market share. However, recent vendor presentations have pegged the market at WebLogic 32%, WebSphere 16%, Sybase 15%. The most recent statistics came from a Web-based survey run by Giga in December 2000. The survey gave BEA 56% marketshare, 33% for IBM, 3% for IPlanet, and 7% for all others combined. However, since the survey was web-based and not controlled, these figures are probably not reflective of real market share.

All of the surveys are consistent in placing BEA as the undisputed market leader in 2000, followed by IBM . A clear third place is not apparent at this time, but it is likely a close tie between Sybase, Iplanet, Silverstream, Iona or Bluestone.

The competition just got hotter: 3 major J2EE vendor acquisitions level the playing field for 2001

Three acquisitions began in 2000 that added three new giants to the J2EE arena: Brokat Infosystems/Gemstone, HP/Bluestone, and Macromedia/Allaire.

Brokat is a European software giant, a powerhouse in the European financial, integration and Wireless markets. In July 2000, Brokat strategically expanded its offerings by acquisition of Blaze Software, a maker of rules engines for enterprise applications, and Gemstone Systems. The Gemstone/J application server product was bleeding market share loss. However, the product itself stood in a league of its own, recognized by many as one of the most advanced application servers available due to its powerful object database based background and multi-VM clustering features. Brokat will now be able to leverage its market share in Europe together with its extensive base of client success stories (from Brokat, Gemstone and Blaze), marketing muscle and Wireless expertise.

In October of 2000, technology giant Hewlett-Packard entered the middleware market with the announcement of acquisition of Bluestone software, a long time veteran in the application server market. Until the acquisition, HP had been promoting its own competitor to J2EE: HP e-speak services. HP and Bluestone were the ultimate marriage. Bluestone brought a mature and powerful J2EE platform to the table. In addition to HP's extensive sales and marketing muscle, the new duo stands to change every analysts market share recommendations for 2001.

Macromedia, the undisputed leader in internet presentation layer tools (Dreamweaver, which has 70% market share in visual HTML tools) and rich media (Flash, which has 96% marketshare) announced its acquisition agreement with Allaire in January 2001. Allaire owns the JRun application server and Coldfusion, a server side popular development platform that is a predecessor to J2EE. The acquisition of Allaire combines a client base of approximately 2 million users comprised of client side Macromedia developers, Coldfusion developers, and a multitude of developers who are still using the original Servlet engine portion of the JRun Application Server. If Macromedia can properly integrate its offerings into a single platform for client and server side development combined with a strategy for migrating its existing client base to this new platform, it can become an overnight market share shark.

2001: The year of Web Services, Wireless, Enterprise Application Integration, and Commerce Servers

"The application server days are over. The future is integrated offerings. J2EE compliancy will just be one of the many check boxes on the list", says Dave Brown, Technical Director of Gemstone Systems.

In 1999, the onus was placed on the EJB application server, and vendors competed through quality of implementation and value-adds above and beyond the EJB specification. In 2000, the focus was on offering a complete suite of products implementing the J2EE specification and achieving J2EE compliancy. Vendors also began focusing on value-adds offered on top of the standard J2EE specification. In 2001, the focus of vendors will move away from the J2EE server and into complementary products that will be built as J2EE applications, running on top of their existing J2EE servers. These new applications will leverage built in support for transaction handling and scalability provided by a J2EE application servers, providing a fully integrated platform for development. Coldfusion is one such exciting example. Macromedia/Allaire plans to port the Coldfusion development platform to a generic J2EE application, which can run on-top of any J2EE compliant application server.

The trend towards supporting complementary offerings built on top of J2EE began in 2000 with the emergence of the Commerce Server. Commerce Servers, such as those provided by BEA and Silverstream are out of the box B2B and B2C frameworks combined with simplified rules-based development environments targeted at business analysts and script-level programmers. These products allow rapid visual development with a focus on personalization and customer relationship management features (CRM).

Given recent predictions that the B2B market could reach anywhere from $1.5 trillion to $8 trillion in revenue by 2004, B2B enabling technologies such as Web Services and Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) will be a key area for vendors to support.

In a nutshell, Web Services are way for businesses to expose their services programmatically over the Internet, leveraging standards based protocols and document interchange formats to execute any kind of online transaction between heterogeneous systems. Web Services initiatives such as ebXML, UDDI, are currently the realm of early development, but should serve as viable deployment options by the end of 2001. Vendors beginning investments in XML and web based protocols stand to ride that wave when it mushrooms in the end of 2001.

Unlike Web Services, EAI is a fundamental complement to J2EE products that is a requirement for enterprise scale applications. Essentially, EAI products are message oriented middleware (MOM) products (IBM MQSeries, MS Biztalk) that tie in heterogeneous systems within an enterprise, by supporting custom protocols and document exchange, often based on XML.

The EAI landscape will change dramatically with introduction of the J2EE connector architecture. Companies such as Toplink and Cocobase will be able to write generic connector code that will automatically work in any application server. New API's and legacy code will be easily integrated into any J2EE application using standard JCA connectors. Speed and quality of implementation of the JCA 1.0 spec will also be a decisive factor for J2EE vendors in 2001. Currently, Borland Application Server and Richard Monson-Haefel's open source server OpenEJB contain implementations based on the current draft specs. BEA and Silverstream are planning on shipping implementations before the end of Q1 2001.

The final major trend to capitalize on for 2001 is the wireless explosion. Pretty much every vendor has added the word 'wireless' to their websites, with WAP gateways and component frameworks for supporting wireless devices.

The application server market outlook for 2001

The market share winners for 2001 will be composed of companies that not only provide J2EE compliant servers with support for the latest standards such as EJB 2.0 and JCA 1.0, but also succeed in becoming recognized for powerful, complementary, and integrated offerings above and beyond J2EE: EAI and Commerce server offerings, Web Services support, or Wireless support.

BEA was the undisputed leader for 2000. I believe that this position will be maintained in 2001. Their server was bundled with comprehensive documentation and running examples. Their application server was the first to be bundled on a CD with popular Java magazines, back when high-speed home-based Internet was not readily available. These factors, along with being the first to implement many J2EE APIs has made Weblogic application server a favourite choice with thousands of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). All other factors aside, the ISV client base alone could keep BEA on top in terms of market share.

Not only has BEA achieved a critical mass of support, but it is also a remarkably forward thinking company, with heavy investments in technologies that will differentiate vendors from one another in 2001: XML integration (eventually leading to WebServices support), and heavy investments in Commerce Server offerings, Personalization, Process/Workflow automation, and Wireless support. Only a company with very deep pockets and strong developer incentives will succeed at driving ISV support away from BEA.

For 2001, I believe that IBM Websphere will retain its position of the #2 enterprise development platform. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't think that IBM will trail as far behind BEA as many think. On June 29, 2000, IBM announced that it would invest one billion dollars in the Websphere platform, both in the technology and also in the Websphere consulting, sales and marketing arms. The effects of this will be felt in 2001, since IBM will likely invest significant resources into finally keeping up with the latest specs. IBM has traditionally been and will likely remain the champion in EAI and Process/Workflow automation space. What is required is IBM to invest in J2EE hooks to tie its existing proven products into J2EE. IBM recently announced an all java version of their own Commerce Server offering. IBM also was one of the first companies to provide Wireless and XML support through its alphaWorks initiatives and the Wireless Transcoding Server. Finally, IBM will likely become the first-to-market in Web Services product offerings, as IBM is currently intimately involved in the specification process of WebServices initiatives including UDDI, ebXML, XAML and more.

The position for #3 in the Enterprise Java space is controversial. In 2000, depending on whom you asked, a different company held this position. The third position is unlikely to lead ahead of the competition by a large margin, and could be held by one of the following companies: Brokat, Silverstream, HP/Bluestone, IONA, Sybase, Macromedia, ATG, Borland, IPlanet.

I believe that of all the products listed, HP/Bluestone has the greatest chance of taking over #3 spot in server side market share. Bluestone has mimicked Weblogic and Gemstones example by providing comprehensive J2EE trail maps and reference implementations to help get developers up and running. Running on top of a mature application server with powerful success stories (such as American Airlines Sabre System), Bluestone has invested in all of the trends that became apparent in 2000, with product offerings for XML, Wireless, Commerce, Personalization and EAI. The HP acquisition of Bluestone will place this new company in a unique position to take on the giants. The HP/Bluestone integration is already complete; a battle strategy for 2001 is to be announced shortly. HP likely mobilize its massive sales/marketing force, as well investing significant amounts of money into Bluestone products. If HP/Bluestone can execute properly, they have a chance at gaining market share in 2002 and perhaps take on the giants in 2003.

The rest of the market will likely be a hard fought battle between Silverstream, Iona, and Sybase, ATG, Brokat, and other players.

The Macromedia/Allaire merger has only recently been announced, and the merger will not be complete until Q2 2001. At which point, it will still be some time before this company can organize a unified development environment between its offerings. JRun has not yet passed the compatibility test suite, thus Macromedia will be playing catch-up for most of 2001.

Brokat is in a unique position to leverage its acquisitions through Gemstone and Blaze, and is working toward establishing itself as the choice platform for Wireless development, as well as completing the integration of its products into a powerful platform for enterprise development. On top of its platform, Brokat plans to build industry specific vertical applications, with an initial focus on software for Brokats strong financial services client base. Brokat will likely set its flag in the Wireless and financials space. However, its depth of penetration into the enterprise development industry as a whole is uncertain, as Gemstone is also not even close to becoming J2EE compliant.

Conclusion: The future of J2EE

In 2001, J2EE will be used as the underlying platform for developing vertical niche applications and frameworks for specialized applications such as Web Services, Wireless, Customer Relationship Management, Process / Workflow automation and EAI. The job of the ISV and component developer will be to write these niche frameworks to be as portable as possible. An explosion in the J2EE component market is thus likely for 2001.

The job of the project manager will turn toward deciding which of these applications should be combined to solve business problems faster. In the best case scenario, project managers will still be able to choose the underlying application server upon which these frameworks will be deployed. However, many companies working on enterprise scale projects will turn towards proprietary vendor-integrated solutions. By the end of 2001, the application server market will be dominated by vendors who can provide one-stop integration between tools, frameworks, and applications.


Floyd Marinescu is Director of J2EE community and a Senior Enterprise Architect at The Middleware Company, the #1 Enterprise Java Training Company. Floyd designed and implemented J2EE Community, and is currently working on an EJB Design Patterns book, available in Summer of 2001.


The Middleware Company's mission is to train developers in the latest middleware technologies. Companies serious about protecting their investments in their mission critical J2EE projects come to us to make sure that their developers are properly trained and prepared for the challenges of server-side development. Our trainers are recognized industry experts in enterprise java technology, allowing us to deliver the highest quality of server-side training money can buy.

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