Open-source contribution brews stronger Java

IBM's donation of the Cloudscape database to open source secures stronger Java application development and a few benefits that will trickle down to WebSphere.

IBM's donation to the open source community of the Cloudscape database source code may not be as altruistic as Big Blue may lead you to believe. Analysts agree it's a generous move, but add that anything that bolsters the Java development community also gives IBM's WebSphere a boost.

IBM announced last week at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo that it had released the source code to the Java-based relational database to the Apache Software Foundation, which would license it under the Apache Software License. Developers now have easy access to a Java-based database they can embed in Java applications and ensure tighter interoperability than with other external data stores.

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As with any open source project, IBM will not need to devote as many resources to Cloudscape development, but will still reap the benefits by putting new features back into commercial versions of the product.

Cloudscape, estimated by IBM to be worth $85 million, was acquired by IBM when it bought database firm Informix in 2001.

Under the watch of Apache, Cloudscape (renamed Derby), will become part of the DB Project, which Apache characterizes as a collaborative, consensus-based development process.

Tony Iams, vice president of Port Chester, N.Y.-based D.H. Brown Associates Inc., said the availability of Cloudscape will strengthen the overall Java ecosystem, since it provides a new option that didn't exist for Java developers before.

"There are really two parts to the value of [Cloudscape]," Iams said. "It is really the first technology [of its kind] that is written in Java. It makes a little more sense to have Java [application program interfaces]. With more flexibility, the database will be able to run wherever Java runs."

Iams also said embedded databases that need minimal maintenance do not require a database administrator, which he said is important because there aren't many other Java database options available right now.

"Right now it's all mid-range and high-end databases [like Oracle]; with this you can just snap it in just about anywhere," Iams said.

Ted Schadler, vice president of devices, media, and marketing at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said WebSphere stands to gain as well.

"Anything that will make Java more powerful will make WebSphere more powerful," he said.

WebSphere is a set of Java-based tools that enables developers to build business Web sites. It includes an application server that connects to Java apps or servlets and a Web server that enables developers to immediately test and deploy Web pages.

Iams added that while the Apache contribution means that potentially "any" Java-based product will benefit -- including IBM competitors such as BEA Systems Inc. or Sun Microsystems Inc. -- WebSphere has a strong enough position in the Java market that any growth for Java will likely benefit WebSphere.

Anything that will make Java more powerful will make WebSphere more powerful.
Ted Schadler
AnalystForrester Research Inc.

"With Cloudscape, IBM is primarily addressing the competition between Java and Microsoft .NET … .NET tends to appeal to low-end users, who do not necessarily have a lot of administrative resources that they can dedicate to maintaining databases, and they value the ease-of-use of Microsoft products," he said.

By contrast, Iams said Java has been particularly successful in high-end enterprise environments that have the resources to maintain advanced databases such as DB2 or Oracle. By providing a database that optimizes for ease-of-use, IBM will make Java (and WebSphere) more attractive for users that might otherwise have chosen .NET.

Meanwhile, as more proprietary code is donated to open source, stalwarts like DB2 and Oracle needn't doubt the future of their investments, Schadler said.

"The myth out there is that databases are commodities like Coke and Pepsi," Schadler said. "But I think there is intense competition out there for back-end databases."

Schadler said that no one at IBM is going to start "cannibalizing" DB2, for example, since there is still a market for databases designed for specific purposes and a convenient upgrade path for DB2 in place.

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