Which is more expensive – JBoss or WebSphere?

If you ask average IT professional “Which is more expensive – WebSphere Application Server or JBoss?” nine times out of ten you get the wrong answer: “WebSphere”. In this article I would like to compare the costs of WAS and JBoss and surprise those nine people. My cost comparison is based on publicly available information and can be easily reproduced by anyone who is willing to look at the facts.

In this article I will primarily focus on the Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA) as opposed to the more comprehensive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). For the purpose of our discussion let me define TCA as the cost to purchase software license and support over a period of time. This is in contrast to the TCO, which in addition to the license and support costs also includes cost of hardware, downtime costs, cost of time to market, education and training costs, installation, management, cost of development, bug fixing, systems integration, testing, and other labor costs. According to many industry studies by independent universities TCA is usually only about 10% of the TCO, therefore it is much more important to consider TCO as it truly reflects the cost to the business. However TCO is much more difficult to measure and is closer to “art” whereas TCA is very easy to calculate and is closer to “science”. Hence I will leave TCO discussion for the next time and will solely look at the TCA in this comparison. In the meantime, feel free to download this Summa Technologies white paper comparing TCO of WAS v7 vs. JBoss EAP v5 (39 pages). This paper was published about 12 months ago and compares the latest version of JBoss EAP to now outdated version of WAS v7 (IBM shipped much improved WAS v8 in June 2011).

“New” JBoss licensing
In the “good old times” JBoss was sold on the socket basis regardless of the number of cores on a socket. Since November 2010 all of the JBoss software (including EAP, Portal, BRMS, etc.) is licensed based on the total number of processor cores. For example, if you have a server with two quad core processors, you must purchase support for a total of 8 cores. You can see latest JBoss pricing on the Red Hat web site. I have met customers who had to renew their JBoss support contracts and saw their support cost double for the exact same hardware simply because their new contract counted all of the cores. You mileage will vary – depending on the types of processors you are using. In fact, if you are one of the few and proud and still run on single core chips, your new JBoss support cost will go down. On the opposite, if you are running on the latest and greatest multi-core chips, then you are out of luck. I can only imagine customer reaction if IBM had doubled or tripled its software support cost overnight, like Red Hat did with JBoss.

IBM WebSphere Application Server licensing
What are the IBM products that compete with the JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP)? Here we have several different WAS bundles. Table below shows three different options for IBM and compares features to the JBoss EAP.
Based on the features map above, it is only fare to compare JBoss EAP to WAS Express and WAS. WAS Express can be licensed in two different ways:

  • Option 1: can be licensed using standard IBM PVU metric, but is limited to run on servers with no more than 480 PVUs. If you have a server with more PVUs, you can partition that server using your favorite hypervisor and limit WAS Express to run on no more than 480 PVUs (between 4 to 7 cores per server – depending on the core PVU rating).
  • Option 2: can be licensed based on the number of intranet users (bundles of 20 users), but limited to single server per location. This is not very popular option as you can not use it for internet facing applications and are limited to single server. However this is often being considered for intranets for retail offices or remote offices and branches.

WAS Base can be licensed in two different ways:

  • Option 1: just like with almost any IBM software, it can be licensed using standard IBM PVU metric with no limit on the number of PVUs per server.
  • Option 2: since November 2010 there is new license option for WAS Base, which allows to purchase licenses based on the number of sockets, regardless of the number of cores on the socket. This option makes sense for those customers running WAS on multi-core chips and is usually less expensive on chips with more than 4 cores per socket. Going forward, as IBM, Intel and AMD introduce octa-core, twelve-core and other multi-core chips, this option will be much more cost effective compared to the PVU model. I should also mention that new WAS Base license allows it to be configured in a cluster with up to 5 JVMs with HTTPSession failover via database.

Finally, the comparison of WAS and JBoss license and support costs
Taking into consideration different license options described above and applying those to several different hardware configurations, here is what we get for the software license plus support cost over a period of 5 (five) years when comparing IBM and Red Hat application servers. The cells highlighted in light brown color are the ones that are the least expensive option (comparing IBM to JBoss). As you can see, more often than not, IBM WAS costs less than JBoss EAP over the period of 5 years, even when no additional TCO items are being considered:


Note: Table above represents USA based list prices and does not include volume discounts. To get your own cost, please contact IBM and Red Hat sales representatives for pricing and discounts.

For the application development IBM provides WebSphere for Developers free of charge for laptop and desktop environment with support being an optional purchase. I will compare costs of the development environments in a future article and show that once again, WAS is cheaper there than most alternatives.

Comparison of additional components
Surprised yet? You have not seen anything yet. To say that app server runtime is all you need for the project is the same as to say you only need bike for the triathlon competition. To finish the race you need bike helmet, running shoes, bike shoes, swim goggles, water bottles, tri suit, sunglasses, running hat, socks, gels and energy bars, and lots and lots of training. Same with app servers. You can’t run Java without JVM, can you? Do you need loadbalancer? Proxy? HTTP server? LDAP? You get the idea. The table below compares WAS and JBoss packaging and highlights the fact that you need to buy those extra things to make JBoss work and most of those things are included in the WAS distribution at no additional cost to IBM customers:


Impact of performance on license cost
Is it fare to compare products as if they required exactly the same number of compute capacity? You wont compare the cost of a 4 ton truck to the cost of the 50 ton truck without considering the number of trucks needed to carry the load. Why would you do the same with app servers? In this article I did mention that JBoss has never published a single SPECjAppServerXXXX benchmark. Not once. I have been involved into a number of customer driven performance benchmarks of WAS and JBoss and 99% of the time WAS is faster by a significant margin. Depending on the test and whether it uses JMS, Web Services and other components I have seen WAS being up to 3 times faster. However taking conservative WAS performance advantage, here are two sample TCA configurations that I priced:


Forrester study on the WAS ROI compared to Open Source
Since the time IBM introduced new socket based pricing for WAS Base I have shown my cost comparison to many customers, often to their surprise. However I am not the only one who noticed the cost difference. Forrester published white paper describing one customer experience on migrating from an open source application server to WAS and 42% ROI they experienced over 3 years because of that migration: “Forrester Total Economic Impact study for WAS vs Open Source”.

Next time someone says “JBoss costs less than ‘proprietary’ app servers” you can reply in confidence that it is no longer the case. Prices have been rising on JBoss side and they have been falling on the WAS Express and WAS Base side. And if someone invites you to race triathlon, you would know that bike alone is not enough. “It’s not about the bike” as Lance Armstrong once said. (BTW: an absolute must read book for anyone)

Categories: Cost & Licensing

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