Java and SQL Server persist: How tech moves fast, yet enterprise IT moves so slow

Commentary: What developers love today is a good indicator of what enterprises will be using tomorrow...and the next day...and the next.

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Image: iStock/deagreez

Perhaps the most exciting thing in the most recent RedMonk Programming Language Rankings is just how unexciting it is. "Java is retaining–through a combination of adaptability on its part and inertia on the enterprise's–a large share of the enterprise applications market," wrote RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady. Ho hum.

Not that things are any different over in database land. Stack Overflow polled more than 70,000 developers to discover that...they still love PostgreSQL, MongoDB and Redis. You know, just like they did when asked back in 2017. But oh, by the way, though these well-loved databases continue to make inroads against incumbents like Oracle and Microsoft, those incumbents remain heavily used, as measured by DB-Engines.

What's the takeaway? Change comes slowly in the enterprise.

SEE: Rust: What it is, why you should learn it, and how you can master it (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Beyond set-top boxes

People have been writing off Java for eons. It's slow! It's too tolerant of bugs! Etc. There are a range of alternatives, with a lot of recent love for Rust, for example. Still Java persists, refusing to cede its dominant place in enterprise computing. O'Grady noted a few reasons why this is so: 

The language once created to run cable set top boxes continues to be a workhorse, and importantly one that has consistently been able to find new work to do. Java's performance on these rankings continues to impress, all these years later, and...it [has] shown a remarkable ability to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.

This isn't because developers adore Java. If you look at Stack Overflow's survey data, developer sentiment splits roughly 50/50 on loving and loathing Java (47.15% vs. 52.85%). You want a programming language that people adore? Try Rust (86.98% of those surveyed say they love it). Or a language developers dread? That's COBOL, with 84.21% of respondents lining up to throw rocks at the venerable language. But Java? It's right there in the middle, the milquetoast of developer preferences. 

And yet it's an enterprise default, right up there with other top 10 stalwarts in the RedMonk rankings:

1. JavaScript

2. Python

2. Java

4. PHP

5. CSS

5. C++

5. C#

8. TypeScript

9. Ruby

10. C

Of the programming languages on that list, only TypeScript was created within the last decade (2012). Everything else has been around for ages. As much as we like to pretend that technology moves fast, once it hits the enterprise, things slow down. Considerably.

Data at enterprise speed

Over on the data side, we know that enterprises are embracing real-time data processing. Confluent, the creator of Apache Kafka, went public in 2021 on its promise of enabling companies to stream data to improve customer experiences. Enterprises got the message, with Confluent recently reporting a 64% increase in revenue, generally, and a 200% increase in its cloud revenue. Nor is Confluent alone, with a host of data platform companies (Snowflake, etc.) winning over enterprises with a modern, cloud-centric approach to data.

And yet if we look at the industry's most widely used databases, it's essentially unchanged from a decade ago. Even if we look at the databases developers most love (Redis, MongoDB, PostgreSQL), as the Stack Overflow survey does, these are the same three developers loved most when Stack Overflow started asking back in 2017. Meanwhile, Oracle and IBM DB2 headline the "most dreaded" list, with Microsoft SQL Server faring a bit better, yet enterprises continue to use Oracle, SQL Server and MySQL according to DB-Engines. 

Why? Because while "most loved" signals where the market is moving, "most dreaded" largely tells us where the market already is, with familiarity breeding contempt, as it were. More positively put, these legacy databases have been around long enough for enterprise IT professionals to get a good, long look at them and, increasingly, wish to move on.

Which the enterprise will. Slowly. 

That's the takeaway. We shouldn't downplay the importance of developer sentiment for technologies like Rust and Redis–they're signals of where developers want to move the enterprises that employ them. But we also can't overlook just how hard change is in enterprise computing. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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