Java thriving after 30 years

Why OpenJDK is as important as ever in the big picture of IT

Sponsored Feature For nearly 30 years, Java has been one of the most widely used programming languages in the world, thanks to its versatility, reliability, stability and continuous evolution in addressing the needs of the DevOps community.

Java is a critically important component for applications such as cloud services, big data, e-commerce, payments, fraud and identity, trading and many others.

With time comes inevitable change, however. Oracle, which acquired the Java franchise when it bought Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion in 2009 and released version 22 on March 19 of this year, threw the Java licensing community into turmoil when it moved to an employee-based pricing and licensing model last year, one that includes all staff workers and contractors in the organization, regardless of how much Java is actually used. This was the fourth major update to Oracle pricing or licensing in as many years.

Previously, Oracle's site licensing was based on the number of desktops and server processors an enterprise used to run Java apps. But as a result of the changes, Oracle Java pricing is going up, up and away. And many frustrated customers are naturally seeking alternatives.

"After Oracle changed the pricing policy in January 2023, there was a major 'What in the world is going on?' reaction by the Java community, because they moved to, in our opinion, a very nonsensical way of charging for Java that's frankly, very unfair," says Scott Sellers, President, CEO & co-founder of Azul.

How OpenJDK created a level playing field

Sun open-sourced a version of the Java virtual machine (JVM) and the development kit (JDK) in 2006 – something the open source community had requested for several years – by creating the OpenJDK project and in the process created an entirely new market. Azul exclusively focuses on Java and the OpenJDK and builds enterprise Java runtime solutions, for example, while major players like Amazon, Google and IBM also work cooperatively in the OpenJDK community.

"What (OpenJDK) created is a very level playing field so that different vendors like Azul can offer competing products relative to Oracle Java," explains Sellers. "And I think as a result of that, the open source nature of what Java is and the fact that it all comes from the same place, there is no different code that Oracle uses versus what we use or others use, and that's kept Java unified and collaborative. Additionally, the Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK), part of the Java SE specification, gives users confidence that their OpenJDK runtime is functionally identical to Oracle Java SE. Other platforms, whether it's Python or others, have all sorts of different forks and variants which cause a lot of incompatibilities and developer confusion. Java has really been amazing in terms of all versions being on the same page and having full compatibility across different vendor stacks."

The company also makes Zing JVM (included in its Platform Prime product), an enhanced version of OpenJDK, which is designed for workloads requiring high performance, low latency, highly consistent response times or faster startup and warmup times.

2023 State of Java report findings

Azul researches and produces a State of Java Survey & Report, the first of which launched last year. This study found that:

- more than 8 out of 10 respondents (82 percent) using Oracle Java said they are concerned about the new Java SE employee-based pricing and licensing model introduced last year; and

- more than 7 out of 10 (72 percent) respondents said they were considering open source alternatives such OpenJDK, and of those who were not, 14 percent said it didn't occur to them that they could do so.

- 42 percent of respondents indicated they still use at least one instance of Oracle Java, 74 percent of those organizations stated they also use a JDK from at least one OpenJDK provider.

- About 60 percent of companies have chosen an OpenJDK distribution rather than using Oracle Java SE.

Regarding the shift away from Oracle in favor of non-Oracle JVMs, respected Gartner VP and analyst Anne Thomas was quite clear: "Java is a really nice, mature programming language," Thomas told longtime IT journalist John K. Waters, "and it continues to be enormously popular for good reason. But Oracle's licensing and pricing is an issue for many of the organizations I talk to. Some of them are definitely reconsidering their Java commitments."

Finally, Azul's State of Java Report also found that 98 percent of companies surveyed use Java in some fashion, with 57 percent saying it is the backbone of most of their application and infrastructure estate. The fact that Java is integral to the world's IT environment has never been in question.

Oracle still profits immensely from Java

With the various changes in licensing and pricing, Oracle Java has experienced a sharp decline in market share from approximately 75 percent in 2020 to 34 percent in 2022 to 28 percent in 2023, according to the 2023 State of the Java Ecosystem report by New Relic. This drop was noted particularly after the more restrictive licensing was introduced with Oracle's JDK 11 distribution. Despite these changes, Oracle made attempts to attract more users by adopting a more open stance with Java 17. However, Oracle's market share continued to decrease, while Amazon's share increased with the popularity and adoption of the AWS cloud infrastructure, rising to 31 percent in 2023 from 2.18 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2022, becoming the most popular OpenJDK vendor.​

"Nonetheless, we are hearing that Java-related revenue has more than tripled at Oracle," Sellers said. "You have this fascinating dynamic of the number of users using Oracle Java is dropping dramatically, yet Oracle's revenue continues to go up and up."

What that suggests is that Oracle is requiring customers using Oracle Java to sign a commercial license agreement and for those who already have a subscription to pay more and more, but what does it mean for the overall Java community? Because Oracle Java is no different from any other OpenJDK, enterprises can still easily migrate from one to the other.

"It's not like Oracle Java is coming from some magic source base that no one has access to other than Oracle and that the rest of us are dealing with some other source base," says Sellers. "We don't have to reinvent something Oracle has done or re-do implementations or any of that kind of stuff that is impractical to do. All this is coming from the same source base. OpenJDK is pure open-source code and the TCK validates that a vendor's distribution operates exactly the same. It is a true drop-in replacement for the Oracle JDK."

Where Azul partners bring value

OpenValue, based in the Netherlands, is an IT integrator/consultant that is adding to its business by helping companies maintain and upgrade their Java installations.

"While we're primarily a consulting company, something we did as an extra was to help prevent our clients from paying a huge sum of money for something that used to be free while there's also an alternative," OpenValue co-founder Roy Wasse says. "We help them get a far more friendly price, or maybe even switch to an OpenJDK community version if they want to stay on totally free Java."

But firstly customers need to understand what they need to migrate and if they want to move from an expensive Oracle Java implementation to an OpenJDK distribution. "So they need to discover their Java installations; we can help clients do that," Wasse said. "For example, discovering JDK installations is actually an expertise on its own. The client has to understand which Java roots there are. Then they need to understand 'Can we actually migrate it, and where are the challenges?'

That's where OpenValue steps in, using its specific expertise to explain to customers how difficult or easy it will be to migrate their entire Java estate and why they should pick an alternative JDK distribution like Azul. And of course the company can also handle the actual migration.

Azul, a freemium non-Oracle JVM based on OpenJDK, currently is seeing Oracle Java customers switch in droves. During the first three full quarters of 2023, Oracle customers moving to Azul Platform Core comprised 40 percent of new Azul customers and 47 percent of company revenue. Azul Platform Core (which includes the Zulu JDK) is equivalent to Oracle JDK; Azul Platform Prime (which includes the Zing JDK) offers more value and cost savings (loved by FinOps), performance benefits and more scale, according to Wasse.

"Generally our customers report 20 percent to 50 percent less cloud compute costs by using Azul Platform Prime due to lower latency, higher throughput, and faster performance," he said.

Java 22 was released March 19 by Oracle and the OpenJDK community. The latest JDK provides updates and improvements with 12 JDK Enhancement Proposals (JEPs). JDK 22 features language improvements from Project Amber, Unnamed Variables & Patterns, String Templates, and Implicitly Declared Classes and Instance Main Methods); enhancements from Project Panama (Foreign Function & Memory API and Vector API); features related to Project Loom (Structured Concurrency and Scoped Values); core libraries and tools capabilities (Class-File API, Launch Multi-File Source-Code Programs, and Stream Gatherers); and performance updates (Region Pinning for G1).

There are several other non-Oracle Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) available. They include:

Azul Platform Core (Zulu) and Azul Platform Prime (Zing): Based on OpenJDK with a wide range of platform and version support, including enhancements (Platform Prime), with commercial support available.

Corretto: Based on OpenJDK and supported by Amazon for deployments on AWS.

Eclipse OpenJ9: An open-source JVM from IBM, supporting various platforms.

Eclipse Temurin: Based on OpenJDK and sponsored by the Eclipse Foundation.

GraalVM: Java runtime based on OpenJDK, it also offers a polyglot feature, allowing seamless mixing of supported languages.

Microsoft Build of OpenJDK: Based on OpenJDK and supported by Microsoft for deployments on Azure.

SapMachine: Based on OpenJDK and supported by SAP for SAP customers.

Azul claims 36 percent of the Fortune 100 use its OpenJDK-based JVM. Specific customers include The University of Sydney, Parnassia Group, Mastercard, Kyocera, BIDS Trading and Curity. As with most educational establishments, The University of Sydney is always looking for efficiency from its IT vendor relationships, not just in terms of lowering costs, but also through the elimination of uncertainty and distractions.

"Supporting so many departments and managing a wide range of vendor relationships means I can't afford to worry about unexpected headaches such as price increases and audits," said Emiliano Fisanotti, Vendor Management Specialist at The University of Sydney. "With Azul we found a trusted partner who was easy to work with and provided a secure, drop-in replacement for Oracle Java."

Elsewhere Melanie van Leeuwen, Contract Manager IT at Parnassia Groep reports that its migration saved the company "80 percent in subscription costs and helped us gain an excellent overview of our Java landscape," while Travis Spencer, CEO of Curity, described Azul Platform Core as "a robust option from a trusted vendor that fits our software development lifecycle." Curity also highlighted the value of having a trusted relationship which was continually reinforced by the "excellent" support the company received from Azul.

These customers illustrate what appears to be unstoppable enterprise momentum behind Java and OpenJDK, a trend which is being confirmed by analyst expectations.

Sponsored by Azul Systems.

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