Developers Rank Best Application Servers: WebSphere, Apache Geronimo, Windows Server Top List

What's the best all-around application server? According to an Evans Data survey, developers rank IBM WebSphere, Apache Geronimo and Windows Server at the top of the list.

The "user's choice" for application servers, according to more than 700 software developers, include two of the oldest—one might say mature—and one relative newcomer. Developers ranked IBM WebSphere, the open-source Apache Geronimo and Windows Server among their favorite options, according to a free report distributed by Evans Data (free registration required).

Enterprise software developers are, perhaps, all too familiar with application servers: server-based software that can be called by client applications. Web servers are a subset which exclusively handle HTTP requests; in contrast, application servers can use any number of protocols to serve business logic to programs.

Evans Data interviewed more than 700 developers, asking them to rate 21 characteristics of application servers that they had personally used. Among the features and capabilities rated were performance, security features, database connectivity, scalability, support, diagnostics, event logs, and value to cost ratio.

In this survey, Adobe ColdFusion, Red Hat JBoss and Sun Java System Application Server/GlassFish also earned high marks from their users. SAP NetWeaver was also evaluated for their niche uses. And then there's WebLogic....

IBM's WebSphere ranked at the top in 10 of the 21 categories, including those which were identifies as being the most important to developers: performance, scalability, support and diagnostics.

Microsoft's Windows Server is used both as an operating system and as an application server, with its native support for ASP.NET Web development and Web Services technologies such as XML, SOAP, UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), and WSDSL (Web Services Description Language). In this survey, Windows Server garnered good marks across the board, but delivered the most satisfaction for its database connectivity, support and performance.

But Windows Server is beat out by a candidate from the open-source community: Geronimo, from the Apache Software Foundation. "As an open source program, Geronimo might have been burdened by the perception amongst users of a lack of support," says the report, because open-source software is often criticized by developers for its tech support qualities (or lack thereof). "However, this was not the case with Geronimo, and much of that has to do with IBM. IBM has provided resources and support in a variety of ways to Geronimo and the Apache Software Foundation, including technical support." As a result, Geronimo earned second place marks for quality of support, right behind IBM WebSphere. It also gets top marks from developers for performance and database connectivity.

Another open-source success, JBoss, was marked as delivering the best value to cost ratio, the best compatibility with other software and the best security—all of which matter particularly for enterprise software development.

Adobe ColdFusion has a long history. Originally introduced by Allaire, it was acquired by Macromedia, then became part of Adobe in yet another acquisition. ColdFusion version 8.0 was released in July 2007, featuring Microsoft .NET integration, integration with Adobe Acrobat forms, and enhanced performance. ColdFusion scored best with developers for its scalability, support and security.

Like ColdFusion, WebLogic is the child of many acquisitions. Originally founded in 1995, WebLogic, Inc. was acquired by BEA; BEA was acquired by Oracle in the spring of 2008. The latest iteration, version 10 R3, was announced in August. Says the report, "Over the ten years that BEA published WebLogic, it evolved from one of the first Java application servers into one of the most capable application servers designed with large enterprise SOA in mind." Developers value most Oracle WebLogic's scalability, performance and server infrastructure, according to the survey.

But developers don't value those features with quite the same fervor as in the past. In the 2006 version of this report, BEA WebLogic earned the best application user scores, but today, virtually all of WebLogic's rankings are down compared to '06 results; it's second from the bottom, winning out only over NetWeaver. Evans Data judges this to be a result of Oracle acquisition of BEA (which happened during the time the survey was fielded), resulting in some uncertainty about the product's future. In the short term, that spells opportunity for the company's competitors, Evans Data concludes.

Edited a day later to correct reporting because, darnit, I dropped a bit and lost that WebSphere was actually the top-ranked app server. Sorry.

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