Oracle's release cadence opens door for Java support rivals

Oracle has opened the door for competitors to chip away at its hold on the market for providing Java support to enterprise customers.

As it switches to a paid support model for Java, Oracle may leave a considerable amount of money on the table for competitors to swoop in and grab.

Although many customers will continue to choose to use the proprietary Oracle JDK, for which they will have to pay a subscription fee for Java support, many users are looking at alternatives, according to a recent survey of enterprise Java users.

The survey, commissioned by Azul Systems, indicates that 80% of Oracle JDK users are looking at other options, which include OpenJDK and OpenJDK-based offerings such as Azul OpenJDK, AdoptOpenJDK, and Amazon's Corretto. Azul said its OpenJDK-based Java support offering costs less than Oracle support while remaining in compliance with Java SE standards.

Last year, Oracle shifted from providing free Java updates to requiring paid subscriptions if customers wanted to keep their Java SE 8 and Java SE 11 deployments secure and up to date. That shift leaves a total addressable market of $2.5 billion for Oracle and its competitors to provide Java support, according to the survey.

Citing the onset of its quiet period, Oracle declined comment.

JDK users seek Oracle alternatives

A 2018 survey commissioned by Oracle and security vendor Snyk showed that 70% of Java users said they used Oracle JDK, 21% used OpenJDK, 4% used Eclipse OpenJ9/IBM J9, 2% used Android SDK and 1% used Azul.

Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst, ForresterJeffrey Hammond

The 2020 version of that same report showed that 36% of developers switched from Oracle JDK to an alternate OpenJDK distribution over the last year, such that 34% said they use currently use Oracle JDK, 24% said they use AdoptOpenJDK, 15% said they use an OpenJDK implementation from Oracle, 14% said they use OpenJDK implementations from "other" providers, 4% use Amazon Corretto and 4% use Azul.

The 2020 JVM report also indicated that 86% of enterprises are not currently paying for Java support and do not wish to, while only 9% said they are paying for support.

"Over time, I expect most developers will adopt OpenJDK and I'd expect that would gradually reduce the number of customers that feel compelled to buy licensed support," said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research.

How big is the Java support opportunity?

Meanwhile, other observers agreed that Oracle is leaving money on the table but expressed skepticism about the $2.5 billion figure.

"I'm not sure I would bank on that huge number, as the premise behind it is based on the Java release cycle prior to and including Java 8," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Omdia in Longmeadow, Mass.

From there on, Oracle moved to a six-month update cycle with the intent of helping customers move more in lockstep with Oracle in terms of upgrading Java. The motivation behind this, from Oracle's perspective, is to enable them to dedicate more energy to the task of bringing Java forward rather than supporting legacy implementations.

Over time, I expect most developers will adopt OpenJDK and I'd expect that would gradually reduce the number of customers that feel compelled to buy licensed support.
Jeffrey HammondAnalyst, Forrester

"Obviously, not all companies can or wish to move at that pace, which brings OpenJDK support contracts into the picture," Shimmin said. "Customers wishing to stay on aging versions, such as Java 8, can seek third-party support from vendors like Red Hat, IBM, Azul, Perforce and, of course, Oracle."

The $2.5 billion figure is questionable because Java adoption was largely driven by a distaste for Microsoft and the promise of writing apps once and running them anyplace -- all backed by a then very powerful Sun Microsystems, said Rob Enderle, founder of the Enderle Group in Bend, Ore. Oracle acquired Sun, and Java, in 2009 for $7.4 billion.

"The hate for Microsoft has largely evaporated, hardware diversity makes write once, run anyplace largely a fool's game due to the massive difference in screen size and platform performance, and Azul is no Sun Microsystems," Enderle said.

However, other observers said the large estimate for the Java support market is justified because Java remains viable and can even grow with the advent of cloud-native computing strategies such as containers and microservices.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director, Eclipse FoundationMike Milinkovich

Java, Java EE and Jakarta EE remain dominant in deployed enterprise systems, and microservices in Java via Spring and MicroProfile represents a significant portion of cloud-based systems, said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation.

"So, yes, I believe that Azul's estimates are plausible," he said. "It will be interesting to see if any community-led solutions such as AdoptOpenJDK gain traction as a vendor-independent solution to Java's long-term support challenges in the enterprise."

The Snyk-sponsored 2020 JVM ecosystem report showed that 23% of enterprises surveyed said the switch to a six-month release cadence had an impact on their decision to pay for support. And for those willing to pay for support 55% said they would pay Oracle, 17% said Red Hat, 16% said IBM and 12% said Azul.

"Azul definitely has proven that there is a significant business opportunity in providing support for OpenJDK and older versions of Java," said Cameron Purdy, CEO of stealth startup and former senior vice president of development at Oracle. "While Oracle will likely be able to vacuum up the largest enterprise deals, as part of their enterprise sales bundling model, the price of Oracle support and its general inapplicability to smaller businesses means that there is a vast, underserved market."

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