IBM logoIT analyst firm Gartner recently released research on market share numbers (Market Share: Application Infrastructure and Middleware Software, Worldwide, 2008 35-page document; USD 9,995), in which they crown IBM as the leader in web portals. IBM immediately issued a press release, IBM Ranked #1 in Web Portal Software Market Share, where you can find a few more details. This is far from the reality that I see, so let me take a deeper look at this, as sales people tend to use market share numbers quite frequently in front of customers.

The ranking was based on total worldwide software revenue for 2008, so the many open source portal projects were not included. Among the most significant projects here are Liferay, Plone and uPortal. These have all been quite innovative in the recent year, while IBM has done very little to improve the WebSphere Portal offering.

Microsoft is known to give away SharePoint like candy, so SharePoint might indeed have less revenue. A substantial portion of SharePoint licenses remain unused, but still adoption of SharePoint is much higher than IBM. Here’s some supporting indicators:

  • European intranet and portal expert Jane McConnell found 55 percent of the 226 participating enterprises in her Global Intranet Strategies Survey were currently implementing or planning to implement SharePoint. The survey was conducted during 2008, just like the Gartner research, so unless a large number of organisations have bought both IBM WebSphere and Microsoft SharePoint licenses one of them is wrong.
  • Less than 10 organisations among our community of practice members use IBM WebSphere Portal, while we have more than 50 organisations using SharePoint and 3 dedicated SharePoint groups.

Oracle is another significant vendor in the space. They have several different portal products and claimed portal market leadership last year. Oracle WebCenter Suite has seen very little adoption, even though it is the strategic portal platform for Oracle. I suspect that if you combine all of their 5 enterprise portals, they still generate less revenue than IBM WebSphere Portal.

As you can see, market share numbers can easily be very misleading. I don’t recommend automatically buying from the “leader”, as it will easily become a very expensive exercise, in particular if WebSphere Portal is a bad fit for your requirements. Also, WebSphere is known to be comparatively expensive to implement. IBM is a significant vendor with good numbers globally, but remember that the portal revenue represents only a small fraction of IBM’s overall revenue. If you are curious, take a look at my detailed analysis on IBM’s recent annual report.

Do you agree with Gartner that IBM is #1? Does it matter?