JBoss


Monty’s explanation of why he founded the Open Database Alliance focused on the Alliance being able to target customers that need more personalized services than Sun/Oracle could provide.  This jogged my memory about one of the early benefits marketed around purchasing open source support.  Namely, that customers could speak directly with the developers of the product.  In this brave new world, of 3 years ago, customers wouldn’t have to explain their issue to one or two levels of support professionals before reaching the actual developer of the code.  This was even while most questions related to configuration, settings, or other issues that a level 1 or level 2 support professional could handle easily.  But, when it was a tough problem, and/or the customer was down, going directly to the developer definitely had its appeal.

The ability to “speak directly with the developer” could not scale with the growth of an open source software business.  Vendors want their developers writing the next feature for the next release, or out doing professional support, not manning the phones to answer configuration questions.   I remember struggling with this issue  when we were crafting IBM’s Apache Geronimo and WAS Community Edition support offerings back in 2005.

I know some closed and open source companies rotate their developers into the support organization so developers can get customer exposure and better understand how their work and the product is used in the field.  However, this staffing procedure is seldom marketed to customers.

I checked the JBoss and MySQL subscriptions to confirm whether they market the ability to speak directly with the developer. As best as I could tell, they do not.

Customers don’t prefer a support triage system.  But maybe they’re not willing to pay a premium for it?  Or maybe larger open source vendors have acknowledged that this feature does not scale, and hence, aren’t offering it?  Maybe it’s a little from column A and a little from column B?

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Just saw this story on Slashdot which made me think of this post from Marc Fleury.

The Slashdot story questions what/where is the official MySQL tree:

“…With Monty Widenius having left Sun and forked off MySQL for MariaDB, and Brian Aker running the Drizzle fork inside of Sun, where is the official MySQL tree? …. Smugmug’s Don MacAskhill, who is the keynote at the upcoming MySQL Conference, has commented that he is now using the Percona version of MySQL, and is no longer relying on Sun’s.”

In researching a future post I came across this quote from Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz via Marc Fleury’s blog:

“A: First, the personalities involved. Let’s just say that integrating Marten Mickos into a company might be easier than assimilating a few of the JBoss personalities. Marten is a joy to work with and will make this integration work.”

Thinking about JBoss and MySQL today, I can’t help buy chuckle at the quote.  Both JBoss and MySQL have seen their executives leave the acquiring company.  However, for all the “JBoss personalities” out there, not one of them has forked the JBoss code in an attempt to compete against Red Hat.  Not yet at least (you never know what Roy will do ;-).

I truly wonder why.

Maybe JBoss developers are contractually prevented from doing so or have financial incentives not to fork JBoss?  But if so, why wasn’t the MySQL team put under similar legal restrictions and/or incentive plans?

Maybe Red Hat’s history with open source provided for an easier transition than Sun did?  I don’t buy this considering the initial challenges at Red Hat.  Every acquisition has its road bumps, Sun’s challenges with MySQL are no different.

Maybe there were plenty of open source application server choices (Tomcat, Geronimo, Jetty, GlassFish) out there, so the likelihood of a fork gaining traction is too minimal to bother with the effort?  I’m not convinced by this argument; EnterpriseDB/PostgreSQL, Ingres and JavaDB provide enough choice, as do Cloud databases that seem to pop up weekly.

Maybe, as Schwartz foretold, it all came down to the people and the “personalities”, on both sides of the deal

What do you think?

I’ve previously argued that IP indemnification should be as much a part of the software selling process as companies guaranteeing that babies were not harmed in producing their products.  I was later informed that US law can hold both vendors and users of infringing products liable.

I suspect that folks would be surprised to learn which large software vendors do not offer IP indemnification.  The idea being that these large vendors have deeper pockets than their customers, and hence will be sued directly.  This is often not the case with most open source vendors whose customers often have much deeper pockets than the vendor itself.  Only Red Hat, Novell and Sun would fall into the handful of open source vendors that have the financial resources for an IP-related legal battle.  That’s why I’m interested to see what will come of the recently filed case against Red Hat/JBoss.  The claim also names Dell, HP and Genuitec as defendants because the sell or distribute the infringing products.

Software Tree LLC is claiming that JBoss infringes on its patent for “exchanging data and commands between an object oriented system and a relational system”.  I should stress that Software Tree LLC does not appear to be a patent troll; they sell object-relational mapping software for Java.

Software Tree’s patent relates to capability that is included in the popular JBoss Hibernate product.  According to Sourceforge.net, over 4.6 million downolads of Hibernate (and its various packages) have occurred since November 2001.

I’m certain that more than a handful of very large customers have a copy or two of Hibernate running in their enterprise without support contracts with Red Hat/JBoss.  Will this claim be an impetus for buying a support contract, and hence receiving Red Hat’s indemnification?

[UPDATE: 2009-03-05 9.30a ET] I’m told that Oracle is also a defendant, although this filing is from April 2008.

Two days ago I read Paul’s Infoworld coverage of JBoss Enterprise SOA Platform 4.3.

The Platform includes open source projects such as JBoss ESB, JBoss JBPM and JBoss Rules.  I knew something (good) was up when I saw a link to a “Free 30-Day Evaluation Subscription (unsupported)” on the JBoss Enterprise SOA Platform website.  So I emailed the following to JBoss’ Sacha Labourey:

Is the platform more than just downloading the piece parts (in open source format)? Or is there some pre-integration / performance improvements etc in the soa platform? I hope it’s the latter, since it would drive customers to purchase vs. just using the oss piece parts.  Frequent readers will know that I’m a proponent of selling products, not support.

Sacha replied (with slight edits):

At the core, it could be argued that a platform is just a set of project aggregated together. But that would be a very naive view on the quality engineering and release engineering processes we are going through. We take extensive care to make sure these components are compatible together, that they can leverage the same backend integration (databases, JVM, etc.). Obviously, we go through platform-specific testing which cover more than just one feature (or project) but which cover the full spectrum of features (ESB, Drools integration, jBPM integration, Smooks transformation, etc.) We want to make sure that we will be able to support those bits for the next 5 years at the minimum, while providing backward compatible cumulative patches.

Also, this release of the SOA Platform will be the first one integrating with our JBoss ON management product – that’s also something we don’t do for individual components. Also, remember that the SOA Platform can either run standalone or on top of the EAP (Enterprise Application Platform). For the latter, we also need to make sure that the components we pick up for the SOA Platform do not conflict with the ones from the EAP.

Bottom line: it is the latter :)

This is very cool.  JBoss isn’t selling support.  They’re selling valuable products (whether they would state it as black and white as I do ;-).  Selling valuable products, which can’t be acquired without paying for them, is the best way for OSS vendors to grow revenue with category B users.  Actually, in my view, it’s the best way to grow, period.

News from Sacha (and covered by InfoWorld) that JBoss Application Server 5.0 is close to GA kicked off a debate at TSS.  Some commented that they were “Suspicious of anything that takes three years to develop”, while others questioned if there was anything new in JBoss AS5 that SpringSource and GlassFish (or for that matter Apache Geronimo) hadn’t already delivered.  Others congratulated JBoss on closing in on JEE5 certification and refactoring their runtime to be more flexible.

What caught my attention is the way that Sacha (JBoss CTO) responded to two comments from Douglas Dooley.

When Douglas suggested that JBoss shouldn’t talk about the new microkernel in JBoss AS5 when the real value is in Java EE5 delivered in JBoss AS5, Sacha replied:

“Again, read my blog: we are perfectly aware that many of our customers are using very different APIs to leverage our AS services. Most of them rely on EE, some of them on Spring, etc. And that’s fine. I don’t really mind which “wrapper API” they are using: we are here to support them in their preferred scenarios. What matters is how flexible our underlying foundation is so we are able support these multiple scenarios.”

When Douglas commented that JBoss should ditch their work on other OSes and focus on Linux, Sacha replied:

“No worries, we are doing more than fine. But we are certainly NOT going to ditch support for other OSes: we have a significant portion of our users going in production on Solaris, Windows, etc. and again, that is a matter of choice – we won’t dictate that.”

Why did these responses catch my attention?  Well, it’s not because of the technology decisions that JBoss appears to have made.  The move towards a flexible app server has been going on for years and it’s where the industry is headed.  For example, we’ve been down the flexible foundation path since WebSphere Application Server 6.1 two years ago (with more to come in the next release of WAS due out later this year).  The reason is because Sacha focused on customer choice. Even though we compete, I have a lot of respect for Sacha. He’s way to smart to let dogma get in the way of meeting customer needs. The internal decisions that led to JBoss AS5 and the messaging around the product appear to be a direct result of Sacha (and team) understanding what customers truly seek and where they want to head (i.e. JEE isn’t the answer for every problem).

I’ve long written about how WebSphere has been able to grow significantly faster than the market because of our focus on customer choice.  At times this focus stretches us a little too far as we try to reach the largest set of customers with whatever makes sense for that customer. This decision is not easy on the internal organization, but it really resonates with customers (as our revenue can attest to).

As a proponent of OSS, I’m very happy to see JBoss moving in this direction.  As an IBMer who competes with JBoss AS, I say bring it on ;-)

Everyone knows that I’m an IBMer in the software division that competes with JBoss. I have a lot of respect for the folks leading JBoss, and hope that has come through in my public interactions with guys like Bill, Sacha & Shaun.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. JBoss is good for the middleware market. They (and other OSS middleware vendors) keep all the big vendors at the top of our game.

But as I read story after story about JBoss targeting a 50% share of enterprise middleware workloads by 2015, I was left scratching my head. First off, most stories just seemed to accept the “target” without questioning the likelihood. About the only story that separated aspiration from likelihood was by Dan Farber at BTL. Kudos Dan!

Red Hat’s “Enterprise Acceleration” initiative, which underpins this 50% goal, consists of:

1] Comprehensive Enterprise Middleware Portfolio
2] Enterprise Products – From Community Development to JBoss Enterprise
3] Enterprise Acceleration Center

JBoss has been executing on #1 & #2 on this list for some time. The only “new news” would be #3. Come on Sacha, I wanted to hear something new out of JBoss World! ;-) What’s the Enterprise Acceleration Center really about? According to Red Hat, key elements currently planned include:

  • Performance Tuning Lab – performance benchmarking, testing, best practice guides Interoperability Lab – interoperability testing with other environments and products
  • Live Certification Center – ISV and customers can test their applications on JBoss Enterprise Middleware and proactively adapt to new releases
  • Migration Lab – processes, partners, services and best practices to transition from other software to JBoss Enterprise Middleware

Will the combination of #1, #2 & #3 drive the conversion from users to customers?

Anywho, I wish the folks at JBoss the best of luck towards this 50% goal, just don’t expect to get there without a fight ;-)

Come on, you have to admit, the resemblance is uncanny. I’m obviously kidding. I’m much better looking. His sizable bank account and ability to keep a beat probably balances the score though ;-)

Marc gave me a heads up on his recent post, in which he comments on Matt’s post. If you don’t already subscribe to Marc’s blog, I’d suggest you read his post today. Here are some key points that reinforce my OSS views of late.

Matt said:

“…It may mean that Benchmark knows something that the rest of the industry seems determined to ignore: services-based businesses may well be the future of the software industry. “

Marc responded:

“FALSE: the future of the software industry (as a whole) is services. I always enjoy it when in debate people mention the case of VMWare to evangelical OSS zealots. Here is a company that is creating vasts amount of technological innovation and money with a classic licensing model of software. When asked why they didn’t go OSS, the CEO responded “why would I do that?” …. What? my ideology is not perfect? the good old model is still kicking arse? by orders of magnitude in terms of technology and, it goes without saying, financial value creation?…”

“The proprietary model is alive and kicking. The existence of OSS models DO NOT negate the proprietary models. GET OVER IT, both models will co-exist and thrive sometimes at the expense of each other, sometimes independently of each other. It is not a zero-sum gain, there is value being created in both.”

“In fact, witness the RUSH of OSS companies to emulate the proprietary licensing models to monetize their bases. The VC’s may have invested in service based companies but they are all becoming product license companies…The proprietary licensing model is still top dog and the OSS guys are falling all over themselves to emulate it. BTW, on this topic, I find that Savio Rodrigues, the “community blogger” from IBM is a more enlightened read. Maybe because he is from IBM and they literally wrote the book over the past 50 years?”

I respect Marc’s willingness to speak/write with his unique sense of candor about OSS business. Whether you agree or disagree with Marc, be happy that his ($300M of) OSS credibility forces us to rethink the OSS business model, if only for a few seconds. Marc’s willingness to evolve his thinking around OSS and, gasp, learn a thing or two from the commercial vendors is refreshing. It’s a good thing for us commercial vendors that he’s retired… ;-)

All truths are challenged over time. It may well be time to challenge the belief that OSS growth will come at the expense of commercial software. As Marc so eloquently put it, there is value being created in both the OSS and proprietary markets. One plus one could actually equal two and a half. Take that Ramy (my accounting prof)!

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