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How to Choose the Right Java Partner for Less Cost, Better Support

As Java turned 25 in May 2020 amidst the pandemic, the lynchpin of robust, resilient systems that managed extra digital load caused by the crises, it was also undergoing changes which had nothing to do with the pandemic but everything to do with Oracle. Until 2019, Oracle allowed its JDK to be used for free for commercial purposes. Oracle had provided all Java users with free updates and sold licenses to customers for added support and tools (“support” meaning a commitment to fix bugs and have staff available to answer customers’ problems; “tools” included Flight Recorder and Mission Control). Given the stately release train of Java versions and easy adoption of new versions, most companies did not choose a commercial support option. 

Sowing the Seeds of Change in Java

But Oracle had sown the seeds of change in 2017 when it announced a new release schedule for Java. Instead of a new version of Java every few years, a major new version would now be released every six months. Every few years, one of those releases would be selected as a long-term support (LTS) release – the latest being Java 17, which came out in September 2021.

Oracle had announced in 2017 that it would stop providing free Java updates and start requiring paid subscriptions to keep production Java deployments secure and up-to-date. Companies requiring support and tools now need to purchase explicit Oracle licenses if they want the latest versions of Java.

Rising Java Licensing Costs

In December 2019, Azul Systems commissioned a Java market survey conducted by a leading independent strategic consultancy firm. The firm interviewed 432 senior Java decision-makers from a range of industries, approximately 80% of whom were CIO/CTOs, Directors, or VPs, mostly working for large enterprises.

The survey discovered that about 20% of Java customers have decided to stay with their existing Oracle-made JDKs, but are finding that their support costs often skyrocket as a result. These high and unpredictable costs are driving the rest of Oracle JDK users – as much as 80% of them – to consider other alternatives to Oracle Java.

Is Free Java Right for Your Business?

At last count at least eight organizations offered “free” builds of OpenJDK, including Oracle (with its GPL-licensed build of the latest version available on Openjdk.net, and NFTC offerings for a period of time for JDK 17 and onwards) and Azul (with Azul Zulu Builds of OpenJDK). With all these options, why pay? Why not just deploy a free JDK? How risky could it be? 

When evaluating free OpenJDK vendors, consider the following:

  • What kind of support and maintenance track record does the supplier have?
  • Is their quarterly security update track record impeccable, ensuring regression-free performance?
  • Is your OpenJDK distro TCK-tested, i.e. is it truly Java-equivalent?
  • Is your IP protected?

And here’s a big one:

  • Can your OpenJDK distribution always ensure security and stability for your mission-critical applications through security-only “Critical Patch Update” (CPU) quarterly updates, like Oracle has always done? 

This is where the jumbled, jostling pack of suppliers begins to get winnowed down to the two lead horses in the race. Everybody publishes consolidated updates containing security patches, new features, and bugfixes. But when critical CVEs become visible, only Azul and Oracle provide security-only updates that can be deployed without extensive QA cycles.

So how do these two main Java options, Oracle and Azul, compare? Let’s look at how to select a Java partner and how these two options stack up against each other.

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How to Choose the Right Java Partner

1. Look for Java Experts

Global 2000 enterprises need enterprise-class Java that comes with timely, production-quality updates backed by deep Java expertise. Azul has been shipping Java products for over 15 years and today is the provider of the world’s most trusted open-source Java platform – Azul Platform Core.

An ideal Java partner is also deeply committed to the community. For example, Azul works extensively within the Java ecosystem as a:

  • Azul engineers contribute extensively to the Java open source communities through and beyond the OpenJDK project. Oracle is a key contributor too, but lavishes most effort on the current release, not on ensuring the public stability of the key Java versions everyone uses in production 
  • Azul has been a sustaining member since 2011 of the Java Community Process (JCP) Executive Committee since 2011, driving the future of Java 
  • Azul and Oracle employees are members of – and integral to – OpenJDK Vulnerability Group ensuring coordinated release of critical security updates across the industry 
  • Azul is a member of the Java Experts Group (deciding features for each release) for 11 releases of Java SE (JDK9-19EA) 
  • Azul engineers are OpenJDK 7, 13, 15 and CRaC project leads, and drove the community’s popular OpenJDK support for Apple’s M1 processors 

Azul is dedicated to assuring that your Java is secure. stable, and compliant:

  • All Azul products pass the TCKs for the appropriate version of Java.  
  • Only Azul (and Oracle) consistently delivers security updates to customers immediately with publication of vulnerabilities – others take days, even weeks. 
  • Azul has backported 117 Java critical vulnerability fixes since January 2019, the point when Oracle stopped providing free security updates for the most widely deployed versions of Java (Java 8 and 11), leaving users exposed. 
  • Azul also backports security updates and bugfixes to JDKs 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, and 15. Significantly, Azul uniquely provides critical updates and extended support for older versions like Java 6 and 7, still highly popular in industries maintaining many legacy applications, such as financial services and the public sector.
  • Unlike all other OpenJDK vendors (and like Oracle), Azul provides quarterly security-only Critical Patch Updates (CPUs) for rapid deployment plus consolidated Patch Set Updates (PSUs) that combine bugfixes, new features, and security patches.

Technical expertise matters. As one Director of Engineering quoted in the Azul survey explained, “It’s super difficult to upgrade your Java version, especially given the amount of testing it requires. Ideally, you want to do this in lock-step, but it’s difficult to pace re-writing across applications. Upgrading language can take anywhere from six or eight months to two years depending on the company and its products.”

As an organization truly dedicated to Java first and foremost, not an overlay unit supporting a broader database, cloud and software portfolio, Azul is your best Java partner. 

2. Understand Your Costs

Let’s consider cost. The Azul survey found that, even for medium- and small-sized companies, “the price increase for Oracle is meaningful and will be noticeable to the organization.”

With Azul, customers typically save around 70% on server and cloud-based deployment support services, and 15 to 30% on desktop deployment support services. “Oracle is significantly more expensive than Azul, which helps Azul win customers for sure,” said one survey respondent, a Chief Strategy Officer. “This cost differential, and specifically the magnitude of it, is a calculation that procurement departments look at closely when advising leadership.”

3. Ensure Quality of Support

Azul is known to provide the best global Java customer support in the industry.

Just as with technical expertise, the quality of support really matters. “One of the big benefits of Azul Platform Core is its strong support and the optionality of the level of support you want to receive,” said one of the survey respondents, a VP of Global Information Security. “Customers perceive Azul as really trying to work with them to find the best solution that fits their business needs.”

Make Azul your Partner in Java

There’s a major shift underway in the Java landscape. For some companies, a free OpenJDK solution will work. For many, it won’t. And with the changes at Oracle adding costs for many enterprise Java users, they’ve been forced to reassess their Java roadmaps and vendor choices. Many have already switched, but others still are – and feel – tied to Oracle. When you look at company viability, depth of technical expertise, relative cost, and quality of support, there’s one clear winner in the two-horse race between Oracle and Azul.