If I had to compile a list of most frequently asked questions that I get, one of the top 10 is a question on the differences between WebSphere Application Server (WAS) and Apache Tomcat and their relative values as a function of cost. I assume that most of you are aware of the fact that WAS is a commercial product sold and supported by IBM and Tomcat is free Open Source product from Apache. At some point in the past Tomcat was the reference implementation for JSP and Servlet APIs and developed by a community of vendors and independent committers, including IBM, Oracle, Sun, BEA, Red Hat, JBoss, VMware, SpringSource (now part of VMware) and many others. It was (and still is) a great community effort. Most of the vendors listed above still contribute code and bug fixes to Apache Tomcat.
However software companies listed on public stock exchanges do not exist to contribute code to Apache and not expect anything out of that effort. Quite the contrary, the “big” Open Source of our day is very much commercially driven process (with few exceptions). Today several commercial software companies package Tomcat as part of their offerings, in some cases enhancing the product (as is the case with VMware tc Server), or simply selling Tomcat support directly to users (such as the case with OpenLogic and many others). As you might expect the cost of support for the free Apache product is not very expensive.
Apache Tomcat (and one of its commercial versions being tc Server) provide JSP and Servlet support and none other parts of the Java EE 6. How can you compare Tomcat to WebSphere, which is a full Java EE 6 implementation and some? The answer found by Prolifics is that you look at the Total Cost of Ownership for a certain configuration. There is no one answer fits all as Tomcat might be appropriate for some projects, but not others. One really needs to consider the project scope and requirements to compare the fitness of Tomcat or WebSphere for what one is trying to achieve.
Having done hands-on research in their lab, Prolifics published their findings in their new white paper “IBM WebSphere Application Server v8.5 vs. VMware vFabric tc Server v2.8 Technical and TCO Analysis”. Prolifics priced several different configurations and included two of them in the paper. Here is the five year TCO for WAS vs. tc Server for medium size configuration, NOT including the cost of JDK support (the one with JDK support adds another 30% to tc Server cost):
Click on the image above to download the full report.
To quote the paper: “After testing out tc Server, we observed that for the most part it performs as advertised – as a lightweight environment for simple applications that can be easily managed and monitored with the included tools. It is not suitable for large or Enterprise applications that require High Availability or robust failover. The comparable product in the WebSphere family is WebSphere Liberty Profile 8.5, the lightweight offering that is fully compatible with the rest of the WebSphere family, and thus provides a growth path that does not require any recoding. Our performance tests indicate that IBM WebSphere Application Server outperforms tc Server on common benchmarks, has better documentation, and is fully supported by a single vendor: IBM.”