IBM WebSphere Earns Top Rating In User Survey

The upset of BEA's WebLogic was only the first surprise in a survey of developers' preferences for application servers.
A survey of 700 developers found IBM's WebSphere the application server with the strongest ratings by its users, displacing the previous survey's favorite, BEA Systems WebLogic, according to an Evans Data survey conducted this summer.

The timing of the survey by the research firm may have colored the results: Oracle acquired BEA Systems at the end of April, shortly before the survey was completed, and BEA WebLogic users may have been unsure of their preferred product's future. Oracle announced in July that WebLogic would become its strategic application server, displacing its own Oracle Application Server, at the head of its middleware product lineup.

"WebLogic had the best user scores of all the application servers" when Evans Data conducted the user satisfaction survey in 2006. This year, "virtually all its rankings were down," the report concluded, noting the Oracle acquisition. With WebLogic now the Oracle flagship product, "may well reinvigorate WebLogic's user perceptions" in a future survey, the report said. Nevertheless, IBM's 10-year-old WebSphere, now in its 7.0 version, has been a perennial favorite. In this survey, it was ranked the highest on such characteristics as performance, technical support, scalability, and diagnostics. Respondees also rated highly its support for Java's complex Enterprise Java Beans and Java Enterprise Edition. Survey respondents ranked each application server they used on 21 such characteristics.

In another surprise, the survey showed that the Apache Software Foundation's open source Geronimo application server has moved up in the rankings to the No. 2 spot, according to the ratings by its users. "Geronimo is relatively new, but its users rated many of its features very highly," the survey said. Geronimo is open source code, and open source has been typically rated less satisfactory than commercial code in application server technical support.

But Geronimo rated highly in technical support, "and much of that has to do with IBM. IBM has provided support in a variety of ways to Geronimo," including donating code and establishing an IBM support Web site for Geronimo with many resources, the report said. The IBM activity reflects its interest in having a free starter application server, based on Geronimo, that it calls WebSphere Community Edition.

The Windows Server operating system is viewed by this survey as containing an application server for Windows applications, and it was ranked third in user satisfaction. "Users gave it good scores across the board, but especially preferred its easy database connectivity," the report said.

Fourth was Adobe Systems' ColdFusion application server, a product it acquired when it purchased Macromedia, which had previously acquired it through its purchase of Allaire. ColdFusion and its supporting tools are "perfect for Adobe's other technologies, such as AIR and Flash," the report said. Adobe claimed with the launch of ColdFusion 8.0 in 2007 that performance was up to four times faster, and users agreed performance was a strong point of the new ColdFusion.

Open source JBoss, now owned by Red Hat, was fifth. JBoss was tops in its "value to cost" ratio, with open source Geronimo coming in second in that category. JBoss "is easy to configure and install. Its architecture is logical and componentized," so it's easy to tailor JBoss to particular IT environments, the survey said. JBoss is "a powerful product, and many of its features require a seasoned Java developer to understand them," the survey said.

Users rated the surrounding middleware highly, such as JBoss Hibernate, a system for mapping objects into relational databases, and JBoss Seam, a framework for tying JBoss application logic to Enterprise Java Beans, JavaServer Faces, and business processes. JBoss tooling based on the Eclipse programmer's workbench also received high marks, and JBoss got the highest ranking on security features.

Close behind JBoss was Sun Microsystems' Glassfish application server. Sun formerly sold its Enterprise Java Application Server, gaining little traction in the market. In March 2006, it used its commercial code as a base for the Glassfish open source project, then merged its commercial product into the Glassfish open source code in May at its JavaOne Conference. "Glassfish has been an undeniable hit. Just within the first seven months of 2008, 4.5 million copies have been downloaded, with 150,000 product registrations received," the report said. Sun is partnering with open source portal producer Liferay to expand Glassfish capabilities. It's partnering with Ericsson to build a Sailfin add-on geared to the telecommunications market. "Glassfish's main strengths are its performance and out-of-the-box administration, along with ease of use," the report said. Seventh was Oracle WebLogic Application Server, whose Version 10 offers "enhanced Web services support [as well as] advanced administration, operations and management capabilities," the report said. Its Eclipse-based tooling and support for the open source Spring Framework are rated highly and enable "rapid service development," it added. WebLogic can automatically capture and load configuration changes in the software set it's managing and play back the changes in the management console with a single command. The feature provides a shortcut to a frequent cause of trouble.

SAP's Netweaver was eighth and last in the survey. Its latest 7.1 release became available last December, and the report suggested few Netweaver users had adopted it by the time of the survey. The Netweaver application server comes in a Java-only version and a combined Java/ABAP language version, and the survey didn't specify which one users should comment on. Netweaver Application Server supports the latest features of Java Enterprise Edition 5 and offers full Web services standards support. Users gave it high ratings on scalability, technical support, auditing, and management tools. Its Developer Studio tooling is based on Eclipse.