JBoss 4.0 Gets J2EE Support, Takes on IBM, BEA, and Others
September 27, 2004 Timothy Prickett Morgan
JBoss has turned up the heat in the middleware market now that it has delivered JBoss Application Server 4.0, the first open source application server to be certified as a J2EE 1.4 application server. The software, being released under the Lesser General Public License and as a commercial product through JBoss, is the result of three years of development, and it is sure to upset some of the marketing plans of commercial J2EE application server makers IBM, BEA Systems, Oracle, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems.
If there is another thing that the world probably needs less than another operating system to throw into the data center, you might think it would be another J2EE-compliant Web application server. Whether the world wants it or not–and there are indications that it does–we have one. While the JBoss application server is at least one year and a half behind application servers like IBM’s WebSphere and BEA’s WebLogic in getting support for J2EE 1.4, that JBoss is catching up, is available for free as an open source program (with over 150,000 downloads a month), and has support backed by a real company with real business aspirations means that it can come into this rapidly maturing middleware market and shake things up, just like the Apache Web server did in the mid-1990s and the Linux operating system did in the late 1990s.
Back in May, when Hewlett-Packard inked a deal with JBoss and open source database provider MySQL to bundle this software on its ProLiant servers and provide one-call HP Level 1 and Level 2 service (backed up by Level 3 support from JBoss and MySQL), I chatted with Bob Bichel, vice president of strategy at JBoss, which incorporated in October 2003. He said that, by footprint count, JBoss already accounts for 25 percent of the installed Java application server base in production environments; over 5 million copies of its open source application server have been downloaded in the past several years. Just counting production environments, JBoss has the number-three position in the application server market, behind IBM’s WebSphere and BEA Systems’ WebLogic servers. (When you count money, JBoss hardly shows up, of course, which is actually the same case with MySQL’s revenue share in the database market.) Bichel says that, since JBoss incorporated last year and brought in $10 million in venture capital earlier this year, monthly sales of JBoss support contracts and services have quadrupled. And now, with JBoss AS 4.0 supporting J2EE 1.4, more and more ISVs will be looking to bundle the application server inside of their ERP and other enterprise applications. You just can’t beat the price.
JBoss is a privately held company co-headquartered in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and Atlanta, and it has worked hard to build a professional support organization to back up the JBoss app server because it knows full well that the success of JBoss AS 4.0 depends as much on tech support (which businesses will require) as it does on the features of the application server itself. While Apache and Linux were around for years among Internet service providers, they did not take off in commercial settings (meaning companies like yours) until the big names in IT systems started embedding this software in their systems and backing them up with their service.
JBoss AS 4.0 officially runs on Unix, Linux, Windows, and, and, and OS/400. The fact that the AS/400, the iSeries, and now the eServer i5 are all cutting-edge Java boxes means JBoss AS 4.0 will probably work as well or better on these machines as it does on other servers. (If any of you have some spare time and want to load JBoss AS 4.0 on your OS/400 box, or have already done this, drop me a line. I would love to hear how it went and how you are using it.) JBoss AS 4.0 comes with other open source components, including the Tomcat 5 Java server, which has been integrated with JBossCache, a distributed Java cache for transactional Java objects. JBoss AS 4.0 also includes Hibernate 2.1, a Java object relational mapping engine that allows simple Java objects to have persistence qualities that you would normally have to create Enterprise JavaBeans to get the same effect. The application server also includes the JBossIDE development tool. This software is all free, but you have to pay JBoss for support if you want hand holding. If you don’t need it, support yourself and keep the money.
In the early years, JBoss gave away its Java development tools and made money selling documentation. Then it shifted to charging for technical support. Last year, the company implemented a broader set of support offerings (more on that in a second) and partnerships where it back-ends the support of JBoss partners like HP, 10XSoftware, Iona, and New Particles. (These are its main partners in the States, but JBoss has dozens of support partners around the globe as well.) JBoss is, like other IT vendors, a little cagey about publishing its pricing on its Web site. As with other vendors, JBoss has different support levels, which have different response times and depths of access into JBoss. But JBoss support is different from the alternatives in one important way: tech support is based on the number of Java applications that access the JBoss app server, rather than on the number of systems, processors, or people those applications support. Specifically, it costs $8,000 per application that touches the JBoss app server, according to the sales rep I talked to. By “application,” JBoss means a set function within the company. So a Web server is an application, and so is an accounting module in an ERP suite or a stand-alone CRM program. (JBoss also offers a number of training courses, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.)
As is the case with Linux compared with Unix or Windows, JBoss can provide some economic advantages, in terms of lower cost of ownership, compared with more established (and more expensive) commercial rivals in the J2EE application server space. IBM’s WebSphere, for instance, can cost anywhere from $1,800 to $25,000 per processor just to acquire a license, and support costs get added on to this. And as your Web application use grows with these commercial app servers, you have to add more processors to support that growing workload, and therefore pay more for the same piece of software. Not so with JBoss. Supporting a dozen applications on a uniprocessor X86 box costs the same as supporting 100 applications on a 64-way Unix behemoth. Chew on that concept for a few minutes.
This pricing is as much a threat to the hegemony of IBM and BEA and the aspirations of Oracle, Microsoft, and Sun in the middleware market as any technical aspects of JBoss. And that holds as true on the OS/400 platform, particularly an eServer i5 box that can run Linux or AIX, as it does for a Unix, Linux, or Windows server proper. But given that JBoss is generally viewed as an entry-level application server, it will probably have the most dramatic effect on the Windows base at first, much as Apache and Linux did.
OS/400 shops have plenty of alternatives to take their RPG and COBOL applications to the Web without having to recode in Java and install a Java application server, and many of them will continue to use these alternatives because, in many cases, these alternatives can be, in contrast to moving to Java and WebSphere, a lot less disruptive and expensive. Still, for those OS/400 shops that were thinking about using WebSphere or a hybrid OS/400-Windows setup and .NET, the advent of JBoss AS 4.0 is an interesting and potentially market-changing alternative.
What some intrepid OS/400 middleware expert ought to do is create a support consortium with specific OS/400 skills. It would also be nice to be able to provide support for smaller OS/400 shops that don’t want to fork out $8,000 per year, per application. An annual support contract with a limited number of calls would be a nice option for those who can generally support themselves but who nonetheless sometimes get into a pickle. This might be a nice side business for some established OS/400 middleware tool vendors to set up alongside of their own legacy-to-Web tools. If JBoss doesn’t want you to undercut its prices, you have another recourse: the JBoss code is available under the Limited General Public License, and you can grab that code and support it any way you want. The only thing you cannot do is tweak it and then call it JBoss. If any of you think this is a good idea, let me know how I can help.