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Open source scramble: JBoss upgrades portal, Iona unfurls ESB

Michael Meehan, News Writer

Continuing its charge toward a mature middleware stack, JBoss Inc. yesterday released its Portal 2.0 product featuring single sign-on, the ability to run multiple portal instances inside one portal container and data access provided by the company's Hibernate object/relational mapping technology.

Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of the Atlanta firm's open source market play, Waltham, Mass.-based Iona Technologies yesterday announced that before the end of the year it will release an open source Java enterprise service bus (ESB).

Combined, the two companies reflect simultaneous trends in the middleware industry: open source players are trying to prove themselves to be enterprise class while established vendors want to demonstrate they can succeed in the open source community.

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Enterprise-ready, mission-critical software is never going to be free.
Steve Garone
AnalystIdeas International

"We're trying to change and become relevant as the market changes. We're looking to embrace the future rather than cling to the past," said Iona chief technology officer Eric Newcomer, noting the ESB "is a big deal for us."

Shaun Connolly, JBoss' vice president for product management, called the open source movement "the disruptive wave in the industry." JBoss has built its business model around selling services and extensions off its open source offerings, hoping that the middleware market will pop like the operating system market did for Linux.

"Linux is essentially the Big Brother for us," Connolly said.

ZapThink LLC senior analyst Ron Schmelzer thinks the open source movement is inevitable.

"Customers don't have to buy a lot of software and that sounds awfully good to companies that bought way too much software back in the late 1990s," he said.

Given the ascendance of service-oriented architecture (SOA) in recent years, Schmelzer said he believes older integration vendors like Iona could be left behind if they don't gain some open source credibility.

"They've got a lot of work to do if they want to convince new customers that they can function in a heterogeneous environment," he said.

Analyst Steve Garone of Ideas International agreed that "perception of openness is extremely important," adding that open source offerings tend to have their best audience at the developer level.

"It's great for the people who like digging into the technology itself," Garone said.

One such person is Joe Dickman, managing director for technology integrator AEM Corp. in Chantilly, Va. He's been working with the beta version of the JBoss portal and plans to have it up and running for a Department of Defense agency by the end of the week, replacing a Macromedia ColdFusion custom-styled portal.

Of particular interest to Dickman was the ability to manage access and security at the portal level rather than delegate to the application level.

"It eliminates a lot of worry, which has a lot of appeal when you're dealing with the people responsible for national security," Dickman said.

He's also working on a portal compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for a large dental practice to manage patient information.

"It's particularly nice because we have to submit all our source code to the federal authorities to make sure we're compliant," Dickman said. "If it wasn't open source, that would become a real problem."

The JBoss portal uses the Java portlet specification, JSR-168. JBoss also announced yesterday that it has implemented Enterprise Java Beans 3.0 in its Hibernate application server and Eclipse integrated development environment products.

Meanwhile, Iona's ESB, called Celtix, will be a complement to its Artix commercial ESB product. Newcomer explained that "a certain amount of functionality has reached the commodity level and that was the driver for us to go to open source."

The hope on Iona's end is that it will help kick-start SOA projects, which will increase the market for the higher-end Artix offerings in the future, as well as open up a new customer base for the company.

The Celtix project will be hosted by ObjectWeb, the European open source community responsible for the Java Open Application Server that ships with Red Hat Linux. The Celtix preliminary features list includes Eclipse-based administration tools, binding support for SOAP and XML payloads and transports including HTTP, Java Message Service and the Web Services Reliable Messaging standard (WM-RS).

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Newcomer recognized that one announcement wouldn't make Iona an overnight open source darling just as Connolly fully admitted that JBoss isn't yet competing against high-end vendors. Yet both are sprinting toward each other from opposite directions.

"Enterprise-ready, mission-critical software is never going to be free," Garone said. He noted that as traditional software companies continue to open up their code, open source initiatives become increasingly more like software vendors, being selective about who submits to the open source projects and add control and support around their offerings.

Dickman actually tried another open source portal prior to the JBoss beta and, after three months, tired of it missing target dates and not clearing up the vagaries in its road map. Professional support agreements and a track record for delivering software helped put him in the JBoss camp.

He added that when all of that comes together, open source can be a beautiful thing, saying, "It allows us to focus more money on the actual project itself rather than on products and licensing."


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