The Application Server War Escalates

  • Written By: M. Reed
  • Published: June 25 2001

The Application Server War Escalates
M. Reed - June 25, 2001

Event Summary

At JavaOne in San Francisco, a battle ensued between BEA Systems CEO Bill Coleman, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. In a truly ugly display of how contentious the application server market has become, they argued over whose product was better, faster, cheaper. The keynote was so rife with charges and countercharges that they had to hold an after-keynote press conference to explain themselves.

BEA is the leading Web Application Server vendor, with the largest market share for their WebLogic product. Oracle hopes to be the new leader with the release of Oracle's application server, Oracle 9iAS. The purpose of the JavaOne conference was to extol the virtues of the Java programming language, its ROI for business, and its speed of implementation. This keynote speech indicated that there is more to the application server war than meets the eye.

The keynote started off innocuously enough, with BEA CEO Coleman speaking about BEA's "future proof" concept of development. Coleman discussed at length the wonders of J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), J2SE (Standard Edition), and J2ME (Micro Edition for embedded applications). His presentation was 85% "Java is so cool" and 15% "BEA rules". He discussed the concept that businesses have to be "adaptive and fast", and that BEA is the "de facto standard" product for these types of implementations.

After Coleman spoke, things got interesting. Mr. Ellison took the stage and spent the majority of his time shooting directly at BEA, complete with charts and graphs. Some excerpts from his speech:

  • "Oracle response times are 4-10 times faster than BEA"

  • IBM claims to be twice as fast as BEA, but Oracle has tested the product and IBM is much worse

  • "BEA has to accept that other people will compete"

  • "Oracle J2EE is much faster than BEA and IBM"

  • "Just because you have BEA (now) doesn't mean that you have to have it forever"

And in the piece de resistance, Ellison explained "They asked me not to speak because it is considered impolite to speak about Java performance". Needless to say, that didn't stop him.

In a follow up press conference, Coleman's strongest reply on the subject of Ellison's presentation was "Larry made them up on stage. We have real stuff that real people use". He also stated that "talk and press releases are cheap".

Market Impact

The fight at JavaOne is a good illustration of how the Application Server wars are heating up in a major way. The major players now are BEA, IBM, Oracle (they hope), iPlanet, and others. The concept of developing a server application that can expose your internal data to the web in ways that are acceptable to the company is very powerful, and it isn't going away any time soon. Other, application specific vendors are now hopping on board; the latest example is the recent announcement of an SAP Web Application Server for SAP applications at Sapphire in Orlando.

The winner of this battle is going to reap major benefits. Up until now, most companies have been coding their own "middleware" using technologies such as CGI, Java, PERL, and others. Being able to buy an "out of the box" solution is tempting indeed.

User Recommendations

Customers involved in technology selections for application integration products for web applications need to keep a close eye on the Application Server market. TEC predicts that, after the inevitable fallout, the major players will still be BEA, IBM, Oracle, and iPlanet (a Sun/Netscape alliance). There will undoubtedly still be niche players, such as SAP, which appeal to companies with specific application requirements, but the more generic application server market will remain with a small number of players. Customers should make sure that they perform a rigorous technology selection process, but only after they have carefully defined their exact requirements.

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