Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource, created the open-source Spring Framework as a lightweight alternative to the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition. Spring caught on and has become a de facto standard for enterprise Java development. Johnson sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft to talk about the future of the Spring Framework and the SpringSource company, as well as the application server market, open-source licenses and a controversial maintenance plan that stirred uproar in the Spring community.
With your new dm Server as a lead-in and the economy making customers look for alternatives, do you think SpringSource can make some inroads on folks like IBM and Oracle? The combo of Spring + [Apache] Tomcat is a lot cheaper than IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's WebLogic. That said, would you also share your thoughts on the competitive landscape?
In the present economy, customers are looking to control IT budgets. This means taking a close look at costs, including license costs, but also trying to avoid unnecessary complexity in their IT infrastructure. Unnecessary complexity means a lot of unnecessary ongoing costs in development and maintenance. Complexity and bloat are luxuries that no one can afford in lean times. We see Spring and SpringSource technologies in general as major beneficiaries in this environment, because we've always helped companies to simplify their enterprise Java development and run-time. It's in our DNA.
Many companies are adopting Tomcat as their deployment platform for enterprise Java. Many find that it suits their needs better than traditional application servers, as the Java EE [Enterprise Edition] APIs become less used. As the leading contributor to and provider of services around Tomcat, SpringSource is doing well out of this. We don't really need to promote Tomcat use-just make sure that customers understand that when they need enterprise-grade support for Tomcat, we're the obvious destination.
Dm Server isn't in quite the same space as Tomcat and the traditional Java EE servers. Sure, it can run Web applications, and that's the default use of Version 1.0. But the biggest driver to adoption is its modular deployment options, which are way ahead of the competition. Most of the customers we have on dm Server see this modularity as central to their requirements, and more and more companies are experiencing the same compelling business drivers toward modular infrastructures. So it's not just a cost issue.
Has taking VC money changed your business outlook and philosophy about open source? How?
No. When we took Series A funding, we had been operating for over three years. We had an established culture and vision and an ambitious plan to build dm Server. It was a question of funding our vision and plan, rather than creating a new culture. With funding, we've been able to make that plan reality.
I've never believed in enterprise open source as charity. I've always believed that sustainable, innovative open source requires a viable business model behind it, and I've always been vocal about that belief. I think there is a degree of "demonization" of investors in the open-source community that doesn't make sense. For every dollar that has funded an open-source company, the communities that use the software have derived many times the benefit. All businesses need to make money-businesses without funding are just likely to fail even faster if they don't make money. The idea that businesses that haven't taken funding don't need to worry about revenue and profitability is strange, but strangely prevalent.