Don't call it Little Blue quite yet, but IBM yesterday announced that in mid-November it will roll out an open source J2EE application server based on the Apache Geronimo project.
Called the WebSphere Application Server Community Edition (WAS CE), the roughly 60 MB free download builds on the May acquisition of Gluecode Software, which had made significant contributions to the Geronimo project, including a user interface and administration.
"Open source J2EE has become a market phenomenon that cannot be ignored, just like Linux," said Yefim Natis, a vice president at Gartner Inc. "Every major vendor is entering the space."
Natis pointed out that the WebSphere branding may create some confusion since "there is almost nothing in common between the WebSphere application server and Geronimo." Indeed, the only major changes to the Geronimo project in WAS CE will be the addition of IBM's Java Runtime Environment and its Cloudscape database.
According to Scott Cosby, Gluecode transition executive for IBM WebSphere, while WAS CE may not share a lot of code with the flagship in the WebSphere product line, it will be certified for J2EE 1.4.
"This gives you basic Java functionality," he said. "If you build to J2EE standards, you should be able to port, recompile, test and go inside of any other J2EE-compliant app server."
Geronimo also hasn't reached a version 1.0 release yet. Currently, it has crossed what it calls Milestone 5, but Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with Denver-based RedMonk, believes that the reputation of the Apache Software Foundation and "the intelligent people in charge of the project" will make sure IBM builds WAS CE around a solid platform. Like Natis, he argued it has become critical for established vendors "to embrace some measure of disruptive technologies."
"The success of [open source software vendor] JBoss is certainly a big part of the reason IBM has gone in this direction," O'Grady said.
Atlanta-based JBoss Inc. has made a business out of open software, licensing on a subscription model instead of per CPU and selling support for its open source offerings. IBM will look to sell support with WAS CE, both for the application server and the Cloudscape database.
Despite the entrance of a tech titan into the open source arena, Shaun Connolly, JBoss vice president of product management, viewed IBM's established offerings as its true competition.
"Our focus has been on the enterprise field," he said. "We're building out an open source platform for SOA, which obviously entails a lot more than an application server."
Cosby, however, sees a big future for Geronimo, which he called "not just another J2EE personality." With a pluggable architecture for additional services, he believes Geronimo will prove adept at importing functionality from other open source projects, bringing the open source best of breed into its ecosystem.
Natis considers WAS CE to be a bit of an experiment for IBM. If it goes well, he expects Big Blue to imbed Geronimo functionality into its standard WebSphere application server.
"It also opens the possibility that down the road IBM could expand into the software as subscription model," he said.