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Gartner App Platform Report Calls Java EE Obsolete

Researchers at Gartner dropped something of a bomb on the enterprise Java community just before the holidays in the form of a new report in which analysts claim, among other things, that Java EE is fading from relevance and those responsible for modernizing enterprise application infrastructure should "develop a strategy to deal with the obsolescence of Java EE and other three-tier application frameworks."

Entitled "Market Guide for Application Platforms," the report was authored by veteran industry watcher Anne Thomas and contributing analyst Aashish Gupta. As Gartner defines them, application platforms provide runtime environments for app logic and manage the life cycle of an app or app component. And they typically come with development, monitoring, management, and admin tools.

In their report, Thomas and Gupta allege that Java EE has not kept pace with architectural trends and digital business initiatives requiring new features and capabilities in application platforms. Those responsible for modernizing app infrastructure, they advise, should "retain Java EE servers for existing legacy applications, but use lighter-weight Java frameworks for digital business application development projects or evaluate other language platforms."

The analysts point to a decline in commercial Java EE platform revenues in 2015 as evidence of "a clear shift in the application platform market." They expect fewer than 35 percent of all new business applications to be deployed in Java EE app servers by 2019.

The report's authors do allow that Java continues to be the industry's most popular programming language, but claim that Java developers are demonstrating a clear preference for lightweight frameworks over Java EE. They also acknowledge Oracle's effort to produce a new version of Java EE with "long-overdue features," but argue that, by the time Java EE 8 is released in late 2017, it will already be two or three years behind the times.

"Java EE is not an appropriate framework for building cloud-native applications," they conclude. "Even Oracle and IBM recognize this fact. Both vendors have shifted their strategic application platform investments to PaaS and specialized platform technologies."

I heard from a lot of people in the enterprise Java community about this report. Reza Rahman, the former Oracle Java EE evangelist now leading the Java EE Guardians, said he found the quality of the research and analysis in the report "shocking."

"The most shocking is just how out of date Gartner's views of Java EE are," he told me. "They are clearly talking about technology from the J2EE era, old-school WebLogic and WebSphere, and ignoring everything that has happened in the evolution of Java EE since version 5. For years now, people have been demonstrating at conferences in front of thousands of people how Java EE is one of the most productive platforms out there. But Gartner seems to have decided to brush aside all that, ignoring all the work vendors have put into the platform. The WebSphere Liberty Profile, for example, is vastly different from the WebSphere of the J2EE days; you couldn't get a more lightweight runtime if you tried."

Rahman reminded me that the Java EE Guardians curate "surveys from trusted sources" on their Web site that track Java EE trends. "Those surveys show that Java EE and its APIs continue to be the most widely used in the industry," he said. "The claims that Gartner is making are actually contrary to the known data that we have."

Simon Maple, developer advocate at Java toolmaker ZeroTurnaround, sent me an e-mail in which he addressed several of the report's assertions. The claim that "Java EE has not kept pace with modern architectural trends," for example, is relatively meaningless, he said, when you understand that a standards-based ecosystem like the one supporting Java EE will never be as fast-changing as the non-standard alternatives. And for many people, that's a good thing.

"A standards-based approach means they are able to pick from a number of vendors who use the same model, with limited migration pain," Maple said. "Standards can also provide a sustainable future for a technology as many major organizations adopt and support them."

It's also true that Oracle's "one year of silence on the future of Java EE" was a significant, non-technical contributor to the platform's recent snail-pace evolution, he said. But that silence has been broken (thanks in no small part to the Guardians), and the technical gap between Java EE 7 and Java EE 8 is closing. More importantly, Oracle has strengthened the future of Java EE by committing to the delivery of both microservices and cloud capabilities in Java 8 and Java 9, and by unveiling the roadmap to delivery of Java EE 8 in 2017 and Java EE 9 a year later.

"This refocus to modern architectural trends and faster paced delivery will put Java EE in a much stronger position with modern needs," Maple said, "particularly when paired with standards. The delivery of individual JSRs which comprise the full Java EE version can easily be added to application servers, such as the modular IBM Liberty Profile, without the need to wait for the full umbrella version of Java EE 8 or 9. As a result, it's much faster for application servers to bring this value to market than ever before.

For what it's worth, internal sources at Oracle tell me that the company is really (no really) going to deliver the often-delayed Java EE 8 later this year, and, in fact, is putting the necessary resources behind a 2018 release of Java EE 9. If the latter happens, it would be a record for any steward of enterprise Java, past and present.

Chicago-based developer, blogger, and author Josh Juneau also thought the report missed the marked when it referred to "the obsolescence of Java EE."

"The opposite is actually happening," he said in an e-mail. "Although Oracle took a year off and delayed Java EE 8, things are coming back on track now, and we should be seeing real progress towards Java EE 8 soon. Moreover, the report leads one to believe that Java EE is not positioned very well for developing microservices or for the cloud. That is not accurate, as there are a number of great solutions for developing Java EE microservices. The key is that these APIs are not yet standardized and made part of Java EE proper. That's okay though, because in time we will work through the kinks of developing microservices and standardize on a great API. The same goes for cloud and configuration.

"Java EE moves at a slower pace than solutions from vendors such as Pivotal," Juneau added, "as it should. The point behind Java EE is not to be on the bleeding edge of technology. Rather, it is to be using solid, tried-and-true standard solutions."

Maple admits that the Gartner analysts' statement that "Java EE is not an appropriate framework for building cloud-native applications" is "a reasonable evaluation of the current Java EE position."

"However, the future releases of Java EE do consider this a key area of its future direction," he added. "Unfortunately, the report doesn't go into any depth on this future path, nor the increased pace at which Oracle aims to deliver it. I think it's irresponsible not to mention these, or take them into account when using terms like 'the obsolescence of Java EE.'"

Ondrej Mihályi, a Java EE trainer, consultant, and Senior Services Engineer at Payara Services in the Czech Republic, sent me an e-mail just before Christmas with his reaction, which started with "Wow!" and ended with his observation that the Gartner analysts "irresponsibly provide obsolete information about the Java EE platform."

"They base most of their statements on a very traditional and old-school way of building and running Java EE applications in 3-tier architecture, using Oracle WebLogic and IBM WebSphere servers as a reference," he said. "There is clearly much more in Java EE than these two, and even IBM offers another, highly modular WebSphere Liberty Profile server as an alternative to their flagship product. Other vendors and projects, like WildFly Swarm, sponsored by Red Hat, or Payara Micro, derived from Oracle-sponsored GlassFish Server, prove that Gartner's claim that 'Java EE is a framework for building three-tier client/server applications' no longer reflects the reality."

Mihályi expands his argument on his blog. He concludes it with this paragraph:

"Rather than listening to Gartner, ask architects or experts whom you trust for recommendations based on their experience -- or, simply see for yourself and compare. If you explore beyond the 'traditional' Java EE servers mentioned by Gartner, you will realize that Java EE is already suitable for designing cloud-native applications. The Java EE platform, with its full ecosystem, provides flexible ways to run applications and is easily extensible for any current trends, as well as any future trends to come."

Others have blogged about this report, including Red Hat product manager John Clingan on his "Middle-Me" blog. He offers a detailed analysis of the report, and concludes: "My primary issue with the Gartner report is that it seems to completely ignore the advancements that Java EE vendors have made beyond the traditional Java EE APIs and runtimes, nor mention the MicroProfile efforts to develop microservices APIs for traditional Java EE developers."

Prague-based Java developer Pavel Pscheidl offers "A quick reaction to hate on Java EE in Gartner report" on his blog. (It's actually not all that quick, which is good.) In his conclusion, he invites the Gartner analysts to join him for a "quick online talk." "In a matter of minutes, I can create a microservice-architecture-driven application deployable and easily scalable in the cloud," he writes. "The very thing you claim Java EE is not capable of."

I also invited Thomas and Gupta to respond to all this, but have not yet heard from them. When/if I do, I'll let you know what they have to say.

UPDATE (1/4/17): Mark Little, vice president of engineering at Red Hat and JBoss CTO, has posted a thoughtful and unique take on the Gartner report on his blog. Little allows that Java EE will likely "pass into history" eventually, but in the short-to-medium term, "it will evolve and continue to influence the next generation of technologies, just as the dinosaurs became the birds and aspects of CORBA evolved into J2EE." But he criticizes the report's lack of evidence for its assertions and failure of insight. Its authors offer "one subjective statement after another, with no real attempt to justify them," he writes. And the report "fails miserably to differentiate between Java EE as a standard and the various implementations." Another must read on this issue.

Posted by John K. Waters on January 3, 2017