Evans Data Corporation just released a report titled “Application Servers 2008 Ranking”. You can get your hands on the free report here.

Evans asked over 700 developers to rate leading application servers on over 21 attributes including performance, security, DB connectivity, scalability and support. Respondents had to have experience with the app server in order to rate it. Eight products were considered: Apache Geronimo, ColdFusion, JBoss, Netweaver, Oracle WebLogic, Sun GlassFish, WebSphere Application Server and Windows Server.

Apache Geronimo came in at #2, the highest ranked open source application server by developers. This warms my heart since I used to be the product manager for WebSphere Application Server Community Edition (WAS CE). Many of you know that WAS CE is IBM’s distribution of Apache Geronimo. It’s been an uphill battle for the Geronimo community, but this is an achievement they should all savor.

Since we’ve discussed #2 in the rankings, let’s turn to numero uno. The #1 application server as ranked by developers is…drum roll please…WebSphere Application Server (WAS).

It’s one thing for WebSphere to be ranked highly by IT decision makers. This is an audience that IBM resonates with. But this survey is based on respondents who have actually used the products, namely developers. Yes, early versions of WAS (i.e. v3.5) were not the slickest or easiest to use. But we’ve focused on changing that perception over the past 5 years. The Evans study is proof that we’ve made significant progress. With IBM WAS version 7 released last week, I’m extremely confident that developers, and their peers on the operations team, will be even more impressed with WebSphere going forward.

I do not want this to be a ra-ra-IBM post. Many of you know that I don’t cover IBM news very much here. Additionally, readers will note that I usually write positive things about “my competitors”. I’ve always believed that strong competitors are a customer’s nirvana.

I do however, want to take a minute and repeat what I believe will be the most successful strategy for software vendors over the next decade. Providing customer choice that includes free/open source options.

A keen eye on developer and administer needs has been at the heart of WebSphere’s success. However, by itself, this would not have been enough. I strongly believe that our embrace of free/open source is the reason that WebSphere grew while other closed-source vendors had challenges against JBoss.

Offering Geronimo/WAS CE and the proven WAS family gave customers choice. Outgrowing the market is evidence that choice resonates with customers. The Evans study is icing on the cake that speaks to the quality of products that our customers have been choosing.

[UPDATE 2009-01-05: PLEASE see Eduardo’s comment about the Evans not weighting the results by # of respondents. I think that is a mistake on the part of Evans from a pure market research standpoint].