"Welcome to a new world."
This was the theme of the JBoss World 2005 conference, held from March 1-2 at the CNN Center in Atlanta. This new world centers around "professional open source:" open source software backed up by paid support and consulting. In other words, the company provides the "professional," and the software delivers on the "open source" promise. In an opening video, JBoss founder Marc Fluery explained that "Having a product and having a business model are not the same thing." Much of his keynote address was devoted to explaining the JBoss business model.
Fleury opened his keynote by saying that "the only way to build a business is to listen to your customers," and that what the customers have asked for is training and support. In supplying that, JBoss has grown from two employees to 100 worldwide, creating a company that is cash-flow positive and has the most popular application server in the J2EE space.
Offering a sort of "state of the union" for JBoss, Fleury said that JBoss has made a critical transition from users "trying it out," downloading the app server and putting it on internal test boxes, to "rolling it out," or in other words, putting it on production machines and depending on it. This shift has created new customer needs that didn't exist under the "test it out" paradigm, such as a need for patch management, an assurance of safety and support, and "experts on call at 2 a.m." to diagnose and help fix problems in mission-critical systems.
Fleury contrasted open source and proprietary worldviews and argued that JBoss' model offers the so-called "best of both worlds:" the benefits of open source development, such as innovation, reliability, and access; and the benefits typically associated with commercial software, such as readily available support. The concept, he argues, offers a kind of "customer ownership" of their enterprise software--rather than buying software from a third party, or building it yourself, you enjoy all the benefits of ownership by having access to the source, along with paid support to set it right when something goes wrong.
Fleury encouraged the audience to start thinking of JBoss as more than just a J2EE application server. In this keynote, JBoss was meant to be understood as the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS), a collection of well-known, open source Java products, pairing the popular JBoss application server with:
Along with several JBoss products, these are meant to compose a plug-and-play enterprise framework, allowing customers to take whatever pieces they need, employing useful integrations where appropriate, without having to pick up undesirable or unnecessary dependencies.
In describing some of these, Fleury revealed an increased involvement in these projects of which many in the open source world may not have been fully aware. "JBoss employees," he said, "are providing the roadmap and development for Tomcat." He continually referred to Hibernate by the term "JBoss Hibernate." A press release announcing the release of Hibernate 3.0 (PDF, 36K) makes this concept of ownership even clearer: "JBoss, Inc. ... today introduced Hibernate 3.0, the next generation of its market-leading open source object/relational mapping (ORM) technology." [Emphasis added.]
One appeal of the JEMS technical vision is its plug-and-play nature, and the willingness of JBoss to provide pieces that will run together, run on other application servers, or run by themselves in isolation. Fleury also claimed that J2EE is "over-complex" today, and that the JBoss technical leadership saw a great future in "plain old Java objects" (POJOs), arguing that POJOs are already bridging the differences between the major Java platforms: J2ME, J2SE, and J2EE. The company is also invested in standardization, holding a position on the JCP Executive Committee, and participating in several JCP Expert Groups, notably EJB 3.0.
Fleury announced the launch of the JBoss Open Source Federation, an online community for the development and hosting of third-party open source products that integrate with one or more members of the JEMS architecture. The site gives customers who've extended JBoss for their own needs a place to further the development of their projects, potentially offering everyone an expanded menu of products. But Fleury noted, "this is very much for profit; we're not going to be another SourceForge," as members must offer professional support, such as training and documentation, for their projects.
Fluery also announced the JBoss Network. Centered around a customer portal, the network will offer customers how-tos, FAQs, access to support cases, and automatic downloading of bug fixes, security enhancements, and other patches.
Concluding his keynote, Fleury pointed to an ideal combination of forces to continue JBoss' growth: widespread adoption and acceptance of open source software (particularly in middleware), a well-recognized name, leadership of key OSS projects, and a safety net for customers bolstered by a large ecosystem of JBoss adopters and a financially viable business model. "Professional open source software," he concluded, "is redefining the way software is build, marketed, sold, and supported."
Martin Fink, general manager for Hewlett-Packard's Linux Systems Division, followed Fleury, saying that the "Linux story" is becoming a broader "open source story," in that the root causes of Linux's growing enterprise successes can now be seen playing out in other fields. Switching analogies slightly, he said that Linux in particular, and open source software in general, are like the low-cost airlines challenging the more established, more expensive competition, defying expectations by delivering what is often a better product. More importantly, he noted that while the open source story began for many at the operating-system level with Linux, it has since become the paradigm for middleware like JBoss, and there are even inklings of open source becoming a significant means of developing end-user enterprise products, such as Medsphere and several open source CRM products.
Fink also noted an InfoWeek survey citing that while only two percent of businesses surveyed use only open source software, 35 percent use a mix of commercial and open source, and another 25 percent say they use a mix with a growing dependence on OSS. He also noted JBoss' application server market-share growth--from 13 percent to 34 percent in three years--and pledged further support from HP for JBoss, including HP customer service support for JBoss deployments on HP, with HP handling level 1 and 2 calls and JBoss handling level 3 support.
Next, Doug Fisher, Director of the Core Software Division within Intel's Software and Solutions Group, said that "Intel delivers a platform, and the community delvers value around it." The company's goal, he said, was to be the "platform of choice," regardless of the software chosen to run on it. Where JBoss fits in with this is that the open source building blocks, presumably running on Intel's hardware, provide the value-add that customers want. Also noting the poor reception that Intel received when they released some products without Linux drivers, he said the company is committed to bringing open source support to market "in a timely manner." He also said the company is working on major platform innovations, such as hardware virtualization support, dual and multi-core chips, and better power management.
The final event of the conference's opening was a customer round-table, moderated by Burton Group senior analyst and author Richard Monson-Haefel. The roundtable participants were:
Asked about the current status of their JBoss adoption, several of the participants said they had been evaluating it for a while and were moving into more significant deployments. Wright said that Ameritrade is "at the cusp of deploying many of our core apps on JBoss," with three applications moving to JBoss this month. The company is interested in moving some of its legacy applications to a service-oriented architecture, and has spent $2 million making sure JBoss is can support it all. Ripp said that ADP goes with options that are "dependable, reliable, and flexible," and that she had to convince her company that JBoss was up to the task. She said that JBoss "has proven itself" and that in particular "the uptimes are fabulous." Palino said that VeriSign has been testing JBoss "since the first boot camp," and has pushed out its first internal standards that are JBoss-based. Two VeriSign applications, one each in the telecom and naming realms, are moving to JBoss.
For many, JBoss is only part of the mix for their work. Ripp said ADP uses a wide variety, and that "we try to tailor tools to the application." Palino reported that VeriSign mostly uses WebLogic in production, and that in the long term he expected a 50-50 mix of WebLogic and JBoss. A key reason for this is security: "In security, diversity is very important," saying that if a critical security bug appears in one app server, it's crucial have another that isn't at risk.
Scalability was a topic where the open source JBoss was widely lauded by the panel. As Palino put it: "obviously, we have to scale, and JBoss means there's no per-CPU cost." Ripp said that her group has someone who is "addicted to servers," and that ADP has between 100 and 120 JBoss installs, supporting 30,000 clients, and 500 concurrent users in crunch times. Zachary noted that scalability primarily depends on your developers and their code, crediting JBoss with helping them find where to improve.
But can JBoss handle growth well? The panelists offered a guarded optimism: Zachary said that the reality is that as the number of customers increases, access to the experts will decrease. Palino said that JBoss needs to keep its focus on the app server and JEMS, predicting that as new people join JBoss, the tendency will be to try to take the company in a new direction, and possibly compromise what JBoss is. But being an open source company may offer a hedge against this; as Ripp noted, "I think JBoss has done well listening to the open source community."
After so much praise for JBoss, Monson-Haefel's penultimate question drew some very striking responses. He asked the panelists what their "commitment to JBoss" was. Wright reframed this strikingly, and in a way echoed by all the panelists: "our commitment is to our client base." Saying "we're technology agnostic," he praised JBoss for helping deliver value to Ameritrade customers, and predicted that JBoss "can compete with IBM and others" in the J2EE field. Zachary backed up this opinion, saying that JBoss' increased performance means his company can offer better customer service. Ripp said, "As long as JBoss provides us the means to take care of customers ... and as long as it's still fun to work with JBoss, we're committed to working with them."
Monson-Haefel's conclusion to the round-table could well be seen as an appropriate wrap to the keynotes as a whole. Summarizing the panelists' statements that they're using JBoss because of what it can do for them and not some kind of "religious commitment," he said "this corporation has really grown up."
Thus, what started as an open source J2EE implementation has now become a major platform, incorporating other technologies to build a more complete offering. And as the JBoss story has always been about the support as much as the code, the new announcements and the high level of conference attendance reveal JBoss not as a single open source project or even a company, but increasingly as a community of inter-related enterprise participants.
Chris Adamson is an author, editor, and developer specializing in iPhone and Mac.
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