At first glance, it looks as if IBM is cannibalizing its own product line with its acquisition of Gluecode Software Inc., a purveyor of an open-source software stack that competes with part of IBM's WebSphere software. But the deal gives IBM two key benefits: a competitor to the fast-growing open-source rival JBoss and a chance to generate subscription revenue for supporting open-source software.
IBM said last week it had acquired Gluecode, a small, privately held company that offers software and services around the open-source Apache Geronimo application server, for an undisclosed sum. Application servers are a key piece of Web-site middleware, since they allow applications to scale to many users.
The software stack that Gluecode offers includes the free Geronimo application server that theoretically could take business away from IBM's WebSphere commercial application-server software. However, JBoss, another open-source application server, already is eroding the use of WebSphere--and BEA Systems' WebLogic and Oracle's Oracle Application Server--among Java developers and in low-end production settings. The deal lets IBM offer a more-direct alternative to JBoss. "JBoss is exerting downward pressure on all application server revenues," says Nathaniel Palmer, chief analyst with the Delphi Group, a Perot Systems company.
Geronimo remains a project of the open-source Apache Software Foundation, which will continue to shepherd its development. Palmer predicts that if the subscription-fee approach is successful, IBM will be able to take open-source software emerging from Apache and convert it more quickly into revenue through integration and support services.
Though Geronimo remains an open-source project, IBM can help shape its development. Many key Geronimo developers will become IBM employees in the Gluecode acquisition, and IBM will contribute to Geronimo's ongoing development. That hasn't been a possibility with JBoss, which has a company, JBoss Inc., backing the project and employing any developer crucial to JBoss' future. Hewlett-Packard and Novell last year partnered with JBoss and offer it in their customers' integration projects. IBM now has a way of responding without encouraging further growth of JBoss.
Gluecode is a small company--16 to 18 employees--that recently received $5 million in funding from venture firms Rustic Canyon Partners and Palomar Ventures. Developers who used to work on the JBoss application-server project founded the Geronimo project.
However, JBoss has a lead in the market. Shaun Connolly, VP of product management at JBoss, warns Geronimo users to watch for "a bait and switch" as they get started on an open-source-code application server but get pushed onto WebSphere. Connolly points to JBoss versions for hardware clusters and the ability to incorporate simplified Java programming called aspect management as areas in which JBoss is ahead of Geronimo.