Market Guide for Application Platforms

Published: 30 November 2017 ID: G00321147



The application platform market is morphing in response to digital business requirements. As Java EE and other three-tier frameworks, such as ASP.NET, fade in relevance, application leaders must build a strategy to shift to alternative platforms that support cloud-native applications.


Key Findings

  • Although Java remains the most popular programming language, Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) has shifted from strategic to legacy platform status, indicated by lagging vendor revenue and Oracle's announcement to transfer responsibility for Java EE to the Eclipse Foundation.

  • Application platform as a service (aPaaS) revenue grew 41% in 2016, while application platform software revenue had low single-digit growth. aPaaS sales will supersede platform software sales by 2022.

  • The application platform market is becoming more diverse as vendors and open-source communities produce innovative and specialized platforms to support new technologies and modern application requirements that aren't supported in traditional platforms.


For application leaders responsible for modernizing application infrastructure:

  • Move beyond Java EE and other three-tier frameworks and design all new applications to be cloud-native, whether or not you plan to deploy them in the cloud, so that you have more options later.

  • Adopt a hybrid application platform (HAP) strategy that supports legacy and modern applications, multiple deployment options, different developer skill sets, as well as various application types, architectures and pace layers.

  • Develop a strategy to deal with the obsolescence of Java EE, and define a roadmap to add support for platform as a service (PaaS), microservices infrastructure, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and other digital business technologies to your application platform portfolio.

Strategic Planning Assumptions

By 2019, fewer than 35% of all new business applications will be deployed in Java EE application servers.

By 2020, at least 50% of all new business applications will be created with high-productivity toolsets.

By 2021, new aPaaS deployments will exceed new on-premises deployments.

By 2022, aPaaS revenue will exceed that of application platform software.

Market Definition

Application platforms provide runtime environments for application logic. They manage the life cycle of an application or application component, and ensure the availability, reliability, scalability, security and monitoring of application logic. They typically support distributed application deployments across multiple nodes. Some also support cloud-style operations (elasticity, multitenancy and self-service).

Gartner tracks three application platform market segments:

  • Transaction processing (TP) monitors are software products that host preweb, online-transaction-processing (OLTP)-style applications.

  • Application platform software is packaged and delivered as software products that organizations can deploy on-premises or on provider-managed infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

  • Application platform as a service (aPaaS) is a provider-managed platform capability (either public or private) that is operated as a cloud service.

Application platforms typically come with associated development, monitoring, management and administration tools. They may include a variety of features, such as load balancers, autoscaling orchestrators, automated deployment tools, in-memory data grids (IMDGs), event processing and external adapters.

Application platforms often have an affinity with a particular application programming language and framework, which can limit the types of applications they can host. For example, Java EE application servers can only host applications built with the Java language and the Java EE framework, and high-productivity aPaaS platforms can only host applications built with their associated high-productivity development tool. Other platforms support polyglot languages and frameworks; for example, most examples of high-control aPaaS support a broad array of languages and frameworks, and can also host other application platforms, such as deploying a Ruby on Rails platform as a buildpack in Salesforce Heroku.

Numerous vendors include platform capabilities in packaged applications or other application infrastructure products, such as portal products, mobile application development platforms, enterprise service buses (ESBs) and business process management (BPM) suites.

This research examines the stand-alone application platform market.

Market Direction

The application platform market (encompassing all three segments) is large (worth approximately $8 billion in revenue in 2016) and growing (it will be worth approximately $11.4 billion by 2021). This market growth stems primarily from the aPaaS segment. Currently, aPaaS accounts for about 30% of the market, but it is growing rapidly, with a 16% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2021. The platform software segment is almost double the size of the aPaaS segment, but this market segment is growing slowly with an expected 3% CAGR through 2021. The TP monitor segment currently makes up 16% of the market, but is expected to stay flat. The aPaaS segment is likely to bypass the platform software segment by 2022.

Figure 1 compares the relative size and estimated growth of the three market segments through 2021. 1

Figure 1. Application Platform Market Segments

CAGR = compound annual growth rate; aPaaS = application platform as a service
See "Forecast: Enterprise Software Markets, Worldwide, 2014-2021, 3Q17 Update"

Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (November 2017)

Application Platform Software Segment

The application platform software segment includes application servers, lightweight web-scale servers, embeddable servers, high-productivity platforms, specialized platforms, PaaS frameworks and cloud-enabled application platforms (CEAPs).

The year 2016 reinforced the bleak future of the application platform software segment. Overall, the market grew at a modest 3.3%, but megavendors are being hit hard as organizations shift from traditional application servers to cloud, open-source and specialized alternatives.

Currently, the lion's share of application platform software revenue comes from license sales of Java EE application servers. From a revenue perspective, the application platform software market is dominated by just two vendors: Oracle and IBM. Their combined revenue account for a little less than three-quarters of the market.

Revenue market share doesn't accurately reflect platform usage, though. Microsoft is a major player in the application platform software market, but because its application server technology is embedded in the Windows Server operating system and doesn't generate stand-alone revenue, it's difficult to make a direct market share comparison between Microsoft and other vendors. However, the Microsoft platform installed base is comparable to — and possibly larger than — the combined installed base of Oracle and IBM.

Open-source software also plays a significant role in this market. Open-source application server products generate only a fraction of their closed-source counterparts' revenue, but their installed base is massive — most likely larger than IBM, Oracle and Microsoft combined. The leading open-source platform provider, Red Hat, is the fourth largest player by revenue, with 5.7% of the platform software market in 2016.

Figure 2 illustrates the significant changes happening in this market. Oracle's and IBM's platform software revenue declined in 2016 by 2% and 1%, respectively. Meanwhile, vendors that provide open-source and private PaaS technologies, including Amazon and Red Hat, showed sharp growth in 2016 (100% and 33%, respectively). 1

Figure 2. The Application Platform Software Market Is in Transition

See "Market Share: Application Infrastructure and Middleware, Worldwide, 2016"

Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (November 2017)

Application-Platform-as-a-Service Segment

The aPaaS market segment is young, vibrant, competitive and rapidly growing. Salesforce dominates this market, with over 54% market share in 2016 based on revenue. All other leading vendors, such as Google, Microsoft, SAP, Quick Base, Mendix and OutSystems, have single-digit market shares, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. aPaaS Vendor Market Share in 2016

See "Market Share: Application Infrastructure and Middleware, Worldwide, 2016"

Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (November 2017)

The aPaaS market segment includes two types of offerings:

  • High-productivity aPaaS (hpaPaaS) supports a no-code or low-code graphical, model-driven development model that enables professional and nonprofessional developers to rapidly build and deploy cloud-native applications. The platform completely hides the infrastructure below the application runtime. Organizations use these platforms for building employee-facing business and productivity applications. Due to pricing model constraints, however, these platforms are typically less appropriate for customer-facing applications. See "Reduce Costs of Custom Applications by Leveraging Public PaaS Pricing Models."

  • High-control aPaaS (hcaPaaS) supports multiple third-generation programming languages. Developers can use a variety of frameworks to build applications, but it is their responsibility to ensure that the applications are cloud-native. DevOps personnel have significant control over how application components are deployed and how resources are allocated to those components. These platforms are suitable for professional developers building customer-facing, front-office, back-office and advanced, cloud-native software solutions.

Cloud Spectrum Alternatives to aPaaS

The aPaaS market segment is new compared to the other two segments, and, not surprisingly, it is evolving along with the rest of cloud computing services. Not too long ago, the boundaries between IaaS and PaaS and between aPaaS and other types of PaaS were clear. Recently, those boundaries have become rather blurred. The two types of aPaaS offerings (hcaPaaS and hpaPaaS) fit the expected characteristics of an application platform, but other types of cloud services can also be used to host applications. Cloud services come in a variety of forms, and organizations should understand these options when selecting platforms for specific applications. See "Not Just PaaS: Know and Use the Cloud Platform Continuum."

In particular, organizations should consider the following options:

  • Function platform as a service (fPaaS) and serverless platforms provide environments for running event-driven applications. An fPaaS enables you to deploy and run functions without provisioning or managing any underlying system or application infrastructure, and it automatically scales to support increasing or decreasing loads. Examples of fPaaS offerings include Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, IBM Cloud Functions and Microsoft Azure Functions. An fPaaS can only run back-end functions, and therefore doesn't qualify as a fully-fledged application platform by itself. A serverless platform must include a variety of additional services, such as API gateway services (apiPaaS), event streaming services (esPaaS), data persistence services (dbPaaS), and function orchestration services. For example, the AWS Serverless platform aggregates nine serverless cloud services, including AWS Lambda (fPaaS), Amazon API Gateway (apiPaaS), Amazon DynamoDB (dbPaaS), AWS Step Functions (orchestration tool), and Amazon Kinesis (esPaaS). Serverless platforms are appropriate for sophisticated developers and architects building web-scale, event-driven, microservices-based applications. See "Adding Serverless Computing and fPaaS to Your Cloud-Native Architecture Toolbox."

  • Container infrastructure as a service (cIaaS) provides a managed container environment, but does not provide curated application platform infrastructure. With the growing popularity of the Docker image format, a number of organizations have opted to forgo the predefined application platform environments that come with aPaaS environments, and instead they allow their DevOps teams to build their application infrastructure configurations using Docker and deploy them in managed container systems or in cIaaS, such as Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS), Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and Microsoft Azure Container Service (AKS). See "Market Guide for Public Cloud Container Services."

Transaction Processing Monitor Segment

The industry's original and now legacy application platform, TP monitors are available for both mainframe and distributed server platforms. A TP monitor implements most of the core features of an application platform, but on the basis of "pre-web" programming models and languages such as COBOL, PL/1 and C/C++. Many TP monitors now also support Java and other modern programming languages.

The TP monitor market segment is still large (approximately $1.32 billion in 2016), but shrinking in terms of both revenue and installed base. User organizations rarely start new projects on TP monitors, although they keep running established, large and business-critical workloads on these platforms. However, given the high cost of operation, the diminishing skills pool and the very slow pace of adoption of new technologies, a growing number of organizations — especially at the low end of the market — are migrating these workloads to application servers or cloud platforms, or replacing them with packaged or SaaS applications (see "Decision Point for Choosing a Cloud Application Migration Strategy" ).

Market Analysis

Java EE Still Dominates — But Not for Long

Java-EE-based application platforms (such as IBM WebSphere Application Server and Oracle WebLogic Server) are mature products that have traditionally been used for enterprise-class projects. Over the past decade though, Java EE has gained a reputation for heavyweight bloat that is slow to add support for emerging application architectures. In 2009, the Java community responded to these complaints by defining a more lightweight version of Java EE called the Web Profile, which removes a number of back-end application server capabilities that typically aren't used in web applications. However, the Web Profile still contains features that typically aren't required in modern applications and, more significantly, it's missing a host of cloud-native features that Java developers need.

Java remains the industry's most popular programming language. 2 But, at this point, many Java developers eschew Java EE and use a wide variety of lightweight frameworks instead. Popular Java frameworks and platforms for building cloud-native applications include Apache Tomcat, Dropwizard, Spring Boot, Spring Cloud and Play Framework.

Java EE is a framework for building three-tier client/server applications, but the three-tier model is obsolete and no longer meets the needs of modern applications. As noted in "IT Market Clock for Application Development, 2017," Java EE has moved into the "Replacement" phase of its market life, and we predict obsolescence in two to five years.

Java EE has not kept pace with modern architectural trends. Following a protracted three-year development effort, Oracle finally released Java EE version 8 in September 2017, and this release falls far short of modern cloud-native requirements. Version 8 will be the last Java EE version. Oracle plans to transfer responsibility for Java EE to The Eclipse Foundation by the end of 2017. The Eclipse project and future versions of the framework will be known as Eclipse Enterprise for Java (EE4J). 3

All new applications should be designed to support the future, rather than the past. New applications should be designed using a cloud-native architecture that enables them to leverage cloud-native platform capabilities — even if you intend to deploy them on-premises for now. They should be built using the mesh app and service architecture (MASA) and be designed with self-healing capabilities. A cloud-native architecture gives you the flexibility to move new applications to a cloud platform in the future (see "Adopt a Multigrained Mesh App and Service Architecture to Enable Your Digital Business Technology Platform" ).

Specialized Platforms Are Gaining Ground

Specialized platform technologies provide interesting alternatives to general-purpose application platforms. A variety of specialized platforms (offered as self-managed platform software or provider-managed aPaaS) are beginning to encroach on mainstream application servers.

For example:

  • High productivity — A number of vendors provide platforms with metadata-driven development tooling. Examples include Mendix, OutSystems and Salesforce. See "Market Guide for High-Productivity Rapid Application Development Tools" and "Magic Quadrant for Enterprise High-Productivity Application Platform as a Service."

  • Alternative languages — Application platforms based on alternative languages and programming models, such as Microsoft .NET, Node.js, PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails and Scala, often compete with mainstream application servers for innovative digital business applications. Examples include Akka, Meteor, Phusion Passenger, Slim and Rogue Wave Zend Server. Most of these platforms are available as open-source and, in some cases, as supported and curated aPaaS platforms.

  • High-performance platforms — These highly resilient platforms support high-volume, data-intensive applications. Examples include GigaSpaces XAP, GridGain Systems In-Memory Data Fabric and Lightbend Fast Data Platform.

  • Microservices infrastructure — Today, most adopters of microservices architecture assemble a variety of open-source technologies and cloud services. A small but growing number of vendors provide commercial products and aggregated platforms. Figure 4 shows a representative sample of the competitive mix of microservices infrastructure technologies. See "Innovation Insight for Microservice Infrastructure."

Figure 4. Burgeoning Microservices Infrastructure Market
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (November 2017)

Vendors Are Shifting Their Strategic Investments to aPaaS

Most application platform vendors recognize that the traditional application server market is dying, and so have shifted their strategic investments to aPaaS technologies, including aPaaS cloud services, PaaS frameworks and CEAPs. This is where the most significant innovation is happening. Indeed, PaaS technologies offer modern features and capabilities not found in traditional platforms, including self-service provisioning, cloud-native frameworks, autoscaling, efficient resource management, service health monitoring and autorecovery. aPaaS solutions typically include support for mobile, event processing, IoT and data-intensive processing. Many players also support machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities. All the megavendors have public and private aPaaS technology offerings, including IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud and SAP Hana Cloud Platform.

Public aPaaS offerings provide the most turnkey platform solutions, but many organizations still feel uneasy about putting their business-critical applications and data on shared infrastructure. Organizations looking to construct a private aPaaS have four options:

  1. PaaS frameworks are open-source software distributions that provide high-control foundational infrastructure to enable cloud qualities such as multitenancy, elastic scalability, self-service provisioning and high density. The leading PaaS frameworks are Cloud Foundry and Red Hat OpenShift Origin. See "Comparing Leading Cloud-Native Application Platforms: Pivotal Cloud Foundry and Red Hat OpenShift."

  2. Container management software provides a basic high-control, cloud-oriented foundation similar to a PaaS framework, but it includes less application-level infrastructure. These systems support managed orchestration and scheduling of clustered containers using technologies like Kubernetes or Apache Mesos. Examples include CoreOS Tectonic, Docker Enterprise Edition and Mesosphere Enterprise Edition Datacenter Operating System (DC/OS). See "Market Guide for Container Management Software."

  3. Cloud-enabled application platforms (CEAPs) provide a commercial, private PaaS software solution with curated platform middleware. They typically supply development tools or opinionated frameworks that guide developers via predefined conventions to build cloud-friendly applications that optimize resource usage and support modern architectural models. CEAPs are available in both high-control (such as Apprenda, Pivotal Cloud Foundry and Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform) and high-productivity (such as Appian, Mendix and OutSystems) flavors.

  4. Dedicated aPaaS provides a public aPaaS experience on dedicated, cloud-hosted services. Vendors include IBM, Red Hat and Salesforce (Heroku).

The Need for a Hybrid Application Platform Strategy

As they evolve their application platform strategies, application leaders face conflicting challenges. First and foremost, they must support the established system-of-record application portfolio at the lowest possible cost and, thus, look for stable, low-risk products that are focused primarily on reducing total cost of ownership. At the same time, application leaders must also provide platforms that enable rapid innovation for their digital business initiatives. Modern applications require new technologies and architectures such as cloud, mobile, in-memory computing, web scale, microservices, hybrid IT and APIs. Standardizing on a single application platform is impossible. Traditional platforms don't support cloud-native applications, and legacy applications won't run on cloud-native platforms.

Consequently, application leaders must also devise a hybrid application platform (HAP) strategy that combines multiple products to support disparate use cases and application concerns (see "Technology Insight: The Hybrid Application Platform" ).

Figure 5 illustrates some of the critical concerns that your HAP strategy must support.

Figure 5. Hybrid Application Platform Concerns
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (November 2017)

Representative Vendors

The vendors listed in this Market Guide do not imply an exhaustive list. This section is intended to provide more understanding of the market and its offerings.

The application platform market includes a wide spectrum of platform types. Table 1 provides a representational list of vendors and products for each platform category.

Table 1.   Representative Vendors by Platform Category

Type of Market


Mainframe-Based Transaction Processing (TP) Monitors

  • IBM CICS Transaction Server

  • IBM z/Transaction Processing Facility (TPF)

Distributed TP Monitors

  • IBM TXSeries for Multiplatforms


  • Oracle Tuxedo

Closed-Source Java EE Full-Platform-Compatible Application Servers

  • Fujitsu Software Interstage Application Server

  • IBM WebSphere Application Server

  • Oracle WebLogic Server

Open-Source Java EE Full-Platform-Compatible Application Servers

  • Apache Geronimo

  • GlassFish Server Open Source Edition (sponsored by Oracle)

  • Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform

Closed-Source Java EE Web-Profile-Compatible Application Servers

  • Caucho Resin Pro

  • IBM WebSphere Application Server Liberty Core

Open-Source Java EE Web-Profile-Compatible Application Servers

  • Apache TomEE

  • Caucho Resin

  • GlassFish Server Web Profile (sponsored by Oracle)

Open-Source Embeddable Lightweight Java Application Servers

  • Apache Tomcat

  • Eclipse Jetty

  • JBoss Undertow (sponsored by Red Hat)

High-Productivity Application Servers

  • Magic xpa Application Platform

  • NTT Data Intra-mart WebPlatform

  • Progress OpenEdge

Other Language Application Servers

  • Meteor.js (JavaScript)

  • Microsoft .NET platform

  • Phusion Passenger (JavaScript, Python, Ruby on Rails)

  • Rogue Wave Zend Server (PHP)

Specialized Platforms

  • Apache Spark (data analytics platform)

  • GigaSpaces eXtreme Application Platform (in-memory platform)

  • Lightbend Reactive Platform (microservices platform)

PaaS Frameworks

  • Cloud Foundry

  • Red Hat OpenShift Origin

High-Control Cloud-Enabled Application Platform (CEAP) Software

  • Apprenda

  • Pivotal Cloud Foundry

  • Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform

High Productivity CEAP Software

  • Gnúbila G

  • Mendix platform

  • OutSystems Platform

  • Progress Rollbase

High-Control, Provider-Managed Private PaaS

  • IBM Cloud Dedicated

  • Oracle Application Container Cloud

  • Red Hat OpenShift Dedicated

  • Salesforce Heroku Private Spaces

High-Control aPaaS

  • Google App Engine

  • Microsoft Azure App Service

  • Salesforce Heroku

  • SAP Hana Cloud Platform

High-Productivity aPaaS

  • Mendix

  • OutSystems

  • Salesforce

  • ServiceNow

Function PaaS (fPaaS)

  • Amazon Web Services Lambda

  • Google Cloud Functions

  • IBM Cloud Functions

  • Microsoft Azure Functions

Open-Source fPaaS Software

  • Apache OpenWhisk

  • IronFunctions

  • OpenFaaS

Source: Gartner (November 2017)

Market Recommendations

When building a platform strategy, take the following recommendations into account:

  • Create a HAP strategy to manage your adoption of, exposure to, and maintenance of your on-premises and cloud application-supporting platforms. This strategy covers platform life cycles, costs and risks. It will ensure correct governance and cost control of your application platform portfolio.

  • Adopt public and/or private cloud platforms (aPaaS, cIaaS, serverless, CEAPs, PaaS frameworks, or container management software) to increase agility and to obtain capabilities required for digital business.

  • Design all new applications to be cloud-native, whether or not you plan to deploy them in the cloud — shift from three-tier to MASA and adopt miniservices or microservices to improve agility and scalability. See "Innovation Insight for Miniservices" and "Innovation Insight for Microservices."

  • Evaluate nontraditional and specialized tooling to use with aPaaS. High-productivity platforms (both software and hpaPaaS) provide metadata-driven tools for rapid development of cloud-native applications, and they can enable citizen developers to build their own applications. Dynamic languages, such as JavaScript and Ruby, can also supply productivity advantages. High-performance platforms leverage in-memory computing to support data-intensive applications.

  • Develop a strategy to deal with the obsolescence of Java EE and other three-tier application frameworks. Retain Java EE servers for legacy and system-of-record applications, but look beyond Java EE for digital business application development projects.

  • Treat your Java EE applications as you would any other legacy application, and evaluate them using a fitness and value review process to determine your best course of action. See "How to Assess Your Current Application Portfolio Using Fitness and Value Review Processes."

  • Resist the temptation to simply lift and shift Java EE applications from closed-source to open-source application servers for modest license savings. If you are contemplating porting an application, consider rearchitecting it to be cloud-native and moving it to aPaaS — presuming that business drivers warrant the investment. See "How to Assess Your Application to Adopt Cloud-Native Architecture."

Acronym Key and Glossary Terms

aPaaS application platform as a service
CEAP cloud-enabled application platform
cIaaS container infrastructure as a service
fPaaS function platform as a service
HAP hybrid application platform
hcaPaaS high-control aPaaS
hpaPaaS high-productivity aPaaS
IaaS infrastructure as a service
IoT Internet of Things
MASA mesh app and service architecture
PaaS platform as a service
TP transaction processing


1 "Forecast: Enterprise Software Markets, Worldwide, 2014-2021, 3Q17 Update"

2 The TIOBE Programming Community index measures the popularity of programming languages — see "TIOBE Index for October 2017," TIOBE Software

3 "EE4J — Eclipse Enterprise for Java," Oracle