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JBoss founder: Time is now for open-source application servers

The case for using an open-source application server has never been stronger, according to Marc Fleury, president of JBoss Group LLC, a privately held services company based in Atlanta. Fleury, the company's founder, was one of the developers of the open-source JBoss application server technology. JBoss, a no-cost, J2EE-based server, is currently used in a number of large enterprises. Fleury's group is positioning JBoss as an alternative to commercial application servers offered by such vendors as IBM Corp. and BEA Systems. In this interview with, Fleury explains why open-source application servers are ready for prime time.

In terms of features, how do open-source application servers compare to commercial application servers like WebLogic and WebSphere?
Almost all commercial and non-commercial open-source application servers are J2EE-based. All J2EE-based application servers support the minimum requirements, in terms of functionalities. Then there are additional features like clustering and failover, which are high-end features. You'll find them in the JBoss open-source product. Feature-for-feature, JBoss is similar to commercial application servers. What are some other enterprise-level open-source application servers?
: In the open-source application server space, JBoss is pretty much the last … and only one standing. TomCat from Jakarta is not an application server. It's a servlet engine, which is really a module for Apache (Web servers). It's a very thin enterprise layer.

There is an active community on the PHP side, but there is no application server component architecture on the PHP side. We're actually taking all the applications that the PHP guys have written and porting that to Java. We call it Nukes on JBoss, and it shows the power of the applications these guys created. We're about to release that. What is the primary barrier that keeps IT shops from using open-source software, including open-source application servers?
When people look at open-source, they feel like they need permission to use open-source. That's because of the fact that there is some porting involved. This is a problem. For example, porting applications from Solaris or Windows to Linux is a significant effort. Porting applications from Oracle to MySQL is a lot of work, and people don't do it. It's a lot of work for little additional gain.

In the case of the application server, however, using open-source is easier. Something that runs today on (BEA) WebLogic or (IBM) WebSphere can run almost as is, or with very little transformation, on JBoss. So, there's no barrier to entry. Although the JBoss open-source application server is free, you sell a packaged version and consulting services. Why would IT shops want to pay for that product and your services?
We do offer a packaged version of JBoss, the JBoss Enterprise Server, which is free. Like Red Hat, what we offer [is] knowledge and services. What we have going for us in the J2EE field is that Java is very services-intensive. That's unlike, say, Apache, where there's very little service going on. In Java middleware, in general, there's a lot of integration and custom development. We offer a pure services play from the core developers of JBoss middleware. Going forward, how do you plan to differentiate JBoss from commercial application servers?
The proprietary vendors are integrating products from their stacks into their application servers. They talk about total integration, as in Web services integration and workflow integration. We, on the other hand, are focused on the container technology, the middleware, where there is a lot of innovation going on. The other providers are not innovating at the container level because they have commoditized that layer. They're pushing their developers to other layers of that product that customers don't really care about it. That's how they need to grow their revenues. We're very focused on innovating very strongly at the middleware. What would you say to the IT shop that uses IBM servers running Linux but might want to use an IBM application server that is tailored for IBM systems?
For someone who uses Linux with IBM, if they have WebSphere for free they might still want to look at JBoss for free. JBoss is a full-featured product and lacks the limitations built into WebSphere. With WebSphere, for example, the developer needs to recompile every time he does a change. He needs to shut down the server and restart the server, which takes a lot of time. With JBoss, you don't have to recompile or shut down. Also, the cost savings with JBoss can be significant. What implementation and optimization services are needed by IT shops that choose to use JBoss?
Here's an example. Corporate Express, a $5 billion company out of Denver, provides office products. They run JBoss across the board for their application server. The reason is the cost. [They get the software for free.] Then, we train them. We help them optimize and fine-tune their system. They buy support from us. This is knowledge that they are willing to pay for, [but they're not also paying the huge up-front price for software and software licenses].

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