IBM’s Red Hat buy brings a Java app server dilemma

Its Red Hat buy comes with Java products that compete with IBM’s—in a market that is shrinking anyhow

IBM’s Red Hat buy brings a Java app server dilemma
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IBM’s acquisition of Linux distributor Red Hat has been positioned as a hybrid-cloud play, but the deal also gives IBM control over what have been competing Java application server lines. IBM will have to figure out what to do about these redundancies and perhaps reassess the technology itself, in an IT landscape where options such as containers have these servers diminishing in importance anyhow.

The $34 billion deal would leave IBM with its own WebSphere application server as well as its Open Liberty open source server, plus Red Hat’s open source Java server technologies, including the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, the WildFly server, and the Thorntail server. IBM’s Red Hat purchase won’t close until late 2019, so it could be some time until this is all sorted out, with both companies remaining separate entities until then.

In Java application server market share, JBoss and WildFly had a combined market share of 13.8 percent in 2017, according to software usage monitor Plumbr—far below the 63.8 percent share garnered by leader Apache Tomcat, which has fewer features than a commercial application server like WebSphere.

But WebSphere didn’t even register in Plumbr’s survey, so getting Red Hat’s Java application servers would give IBM a greater foothold in this market than it has now—especially because Red Hat’s Java application market has grown, said Rich Sharples, senior direct of product management at Red Hat.

Still, that would be a bigger slice of a possibly shrinking pie. There have been questions raised as to whether Docker container might displace Java application servers. That’s not a slam-dunk assumption: Java servers’ suitability in microservices environments has been questioned,  even though enterprise Java is now being retooled for microservices.

Red Hat’s Sharples conceded that the Java EE market is flat or shrinking, due to growing alternatives isuch as containers and Node.js. The shift to cloud-native and lightweight microservices means developers no longer need all the capabilities of Java EE. And some market segments such as financial services have moved away from Java EE, he said.

In an attempt to diversify its own portfolio, Red Hat is investing in those new Java technologies, such as Spring Boot for building standalone, production-grade Spring applications.

Oracle went down this same road multiple times, first when it acquired BEA Systems in 2008 and then when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2010. The acquisitions left Oracle with products including Oracle’s own application server line plus BEA’s WebLogic line and Sun’s open source GlassFish application server, which has since been contributed to the Eclipse Foundation. WebLogic became Oracle’s designated core Java container.

It’s logical to expect IBM to do what Oracle ultimately did: consolidate its products, shut down or spin off some, and look for growing markets to move into as old markets fade.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.