ADT's Programmers Report: Open-source servers today
- By Colleen Frye
If open-source operating systems and Web servers can go mainstream, can open-source
application servers be far behind? Already, the likes of Tomcat, Zope, Enhydra
and JBoss boast development communities devoted to moving open software forward,
and corporate IT has started to test the waters. Some of these products are
all the app server many users need. And many are supported by commercial software
makers. But questions remain. Can open-source application servers scale? Will
management tools be available? Will commercial versions of open-source application
servers really be open? Will maintenance and support be readily available? Another
question: How important is full J2EE compatibility?
'Without EJBs, [an application server] can't call itself a J2EE server,'
said James Governor, a London-based analyst with Illuminata. Full-blooded J2EE
servers come under the aegis of Sun's Java Community Process, but are not strictly
open source. And J2EE certification, he said, is expensive, which impacts a
vendor's ability to maintain the low-cost pricing model of open-source software.
But many businesses want a J2EE-compliant product, 'even though most applications
don't use that capability,' said Governor. 'A lot of ISVs are throwing
good money away at the moment.'
If the history of Linux and Apache provides a roadmap, though, observers say
corporations will likely strike a balance, utilizing both open-source and commercial
application servers. 'Both have their place,' said Governor. 'It's
about balance. People don't want to make gambles, but when they see vendors
they trust supporting this stuff, they'll go forward with it.'
Striking a balance
Organizations should look at not only striking a balance between open-source
and commercial products, but also between low- and high-end servers, according
to research firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. This way, they will get better
value for their money. Rather than standardize on a single-platform application
server architecture, Gartner recommends using a low-end server for less-demanding,
user-facing applications and a high-end application server for transaction-heavy
Gartner reports that many companies have been paying big bucks for products
that have more capacity than they actually need, which the firm chalks up to
a lack of architectural planning and 'the blind adoption of vendor-promoted
technology.' Gartner divides application servers into two groups: low-end,
which support servlets and JSPs, but typically not EJBs; and high-end, which
typically support EJBs and Java messaging, and handle large transaction volumes.
From 1998 to 2000, enterprises spent more than $1 billion for application server
capacity they never used, according to Gartner. For example, Gartner found that
during the past three years, 80% of Java deployments did not utilize EJBs, but
60% of the application servers deployed were high-end and EJB-capable. By 2003,
according to Gartner research, 60% of all new J2EE application code will remain
JSP/servlets only, and at least 70% of new applications will be deployed using
high-end servers. As a result, Gartner projects companies will spend an additional
$2 billion on wasted capacity from 2001 to 2003.
Research from Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group is in lockstep here. Meta cites
that while only 10% of corporate-developed Java apps use EJB servers, nearly
90% of Global 2000 company purchases are for EJB-capable products. According
to Meta, 'Price differentials between commercial EJB- and non-EJB-capable
versions range between 60% and 80%, and the combination of Tomcat and Apache
can provide the necessary services for free.'
Added Illuminata's Governor, 'Smart users are questioning their expenditure
on Java-based application servers; I think Apache and Tomcat will be part of
the enterprise arsenal.'
In the open-source space, there are both low- and high-end app servers, although
none as yet with J2EE certification. A look at where they came from might provide
some insight as to where they are going.
The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is an outgrowth of The Apache Group, which
was formed in 1995 to develop the Apache HTTP Server. According to the Netcraft
Web Server Survey, January 2002, 56% of the Web sites on the Internet use Apache.
Among the Fortune 1000, according to an October 2001 Meta Group report, 19%
of these firms use Apache. No matter how you slice the data, Apache has achieved
solid acceptance. Credit IBM with much of the muscle, and money, behind Apache.
'IBM funded much of the development of Apache,' said Mark Karaman,
president of Solvepoint Corp., a management and technology consulting company
in West Chester, Pa. 'They derived the benefit from open source and turned
it into WebSphere.' XML and SOAP extensions that position Apache as a fuller
application server have been among recent innovations.
Tomcat is an open-source implementation of Java servlet and JSP technologies
developed under the Jakarta project at ASF.
Various vendors offer commercial versions of both Apache and Tomcat. Covalent
Technologies, for example, offers the Enterprise Ready Server (ERS), a Web server
product designed to minimize the resources required to deploy and manage Apache
Web servers. The product provides a distributed graphical management tool for
the Apache Web server, combining Apache 2.0 with Tomcat.
'The one thing Apache has been missing all along is [an] 800-number,'
said Jim Zimmelin, vice president of marketing at San Francisco-based Covalent.
The fact that Covalent offers management solutions for Apache is a plus, said
Illuminata's Governor. The lack of management tools for open-source vendors
on the J2EE side, he noted, 'I see as a problem. The only company I'd point
to at this point is Covalent; they're doing wonderful things around Apache management.'
Sun J2EE certification is not available for servlets-only platforms; however,
'Tomcat implements the majority of the J2EE standard; the pieces it doesn't
implement, most people seem to be comfortable [with the idea] they don't need
[them],' said Covalent's Mark Douglas, senior vice president of engineering.
'And the cost of adoption is lower [if you] go with Tomcat.'
New Mexico Mutual Casualty Company (NMMCC), Albuquerque, is a Covalent customer.
'We wanted the flexibility of Apache, but still [wanted to] have some kind
of technical support and security assurances,' said Tim Thackaberry, Web
Thackaberry could have built what the firm needed without Covalent, but going
through Covalent was more convenient. 'With Covalent, we have an SSL-enabled
server out of box without having to install it ourselves; but I could still
go in and undo what they've done,' he said.
Covalent's Douglas said the firm is 'a hybrid between an open-source software
model and a proprietary software model. We build proprietary software on top
of the open-source Apache core -- like management and security -- that aren't
easily developed in [the] open-source world and which our customers are glad
to pay for.'
NMMCC has a Web application, which was written in Perl, running on Covalent
Apache Web servers, over Red Hat Linux. The application allows the firm's insurance
agents to handle all aspects of NMMCC's auto and home policies serving New Mexico
and Arizona. The company gets about 1 million hits a month.
NMMCC's Thackaberry said he chose to use the Resin XML app server from Caucho
Technology Inc., San Diego, rather than Tomcat. Resin implements the latest
servlet, JSP, EJB and XML specifications, and is available under the Caucho
Developer Source License, which Thackaberry said is inexpensive. 'I have
the source code and I can modify it. Resin does have some secondary technology
that does do EJBs, but EJBs are too complex for our needs; possibly we'll do
that in the future,' he said.
NMMCC had some initial resistance to going with an open-source solution, said
Thackaberry. 'You know the stereotype -- it's not always going to work,
it won't be secure -- but once we got it up and running and it never crashed'
those fears were alleviated, he said. And in terms of maintenance, Thackaberry
said it has been a piece of cake. He joked, 'It's Apache, man. It runs
Zope in the forefront
Another open-source application server is Zope, which Zope Corp. (formerly Digital
Creations), Fredericksburg, Va., originally developed as part of its consulting
arsenal. The software was released as open source in November 1998.
'With open source, it lets you grab market share and establish momentum
on the cheap,' said Paul Everitt, one of Zope Corp.'s co-founders. Today,
said Everitt, Zope has a life of its own. According to zope.org, there are more
than 20,000 developers around the world contributing to Zope. Zope now targets
the enterprise content management market, developing solutions based on the
open-source Zope app server and its Content Management Framework (CMF), typically
deployed behind the Apache Web server.
Zope was developed with the Python language, an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented
programming language. Everitt was a founding organizer of the Python software
community; the Python Labs team is now part of Zope Corp.
The U.S. Navy recently used Zope Corp.'s solution to prototype a document management
system for coordinating and tracking engineering changes to equipment, enabling
the Navy and its contractors to collaborate securely and efficiently. The legacy
application it would replace currently runs 1,000 large engineering documents
a year, with many attachments, explained Jim Glenn, Internet Branch Manager,
U.S. Navy -- NCTS Pensacola, SPAWAR SSC Charleston. Glenn said the application
represents integrated product teams across one-third of the Navy's logistics
group. The Navy has put the prototype on hold for now, but Glenn said he hopes
to resume work on the Zope app in a few months.
Glenn began using Zope before it was open source. He and Zope Corp.'s Everitt
were in the Navy together, and Everitt 'helped me bring up the Navy intranet
site,' said Glenn. Later, when Glenn had a short deadline to bring on a
major Navy database, he went back to Everitt, who showed him Zope. They completed
the project in three and a half weeks.
Glenn said he 'can't afford to put all my eggs in one basket,' so
he tries to keep on top of a variety of technologies. For example, 'I have
Java programmers working in parallel to Zope developers. It takes more to find
a good Java programmer than a Python programmer; Java programmers are usually
certified, but with no experience. It's not easy to find someone on [the] street,
but you can with Python because of open sourcing,' he said.
Glenn said his experience with Zope flies in the face of typical knocks against
open-source application servers -- that they do not scale and maintenance will
cost more in the long run. 'Scaling isn't a problem if you're talking about
the size of the application. And with maintenance on Zope, if anything needs
to be upgraded, you just download it and run tests; it's just your own staff
time,' he said. And while personnel is often cited as an organization's
most expensive cost, Glenn said he finds that doing the maintenance required
with open source keeps technical skills sharp, 'so it cuts development
time in half.'
Does the fact that Glenn's Zope solution is a commercialized app from Zope
Corp. make it any less open than if he downloaded and built it himself? According
to Glenn, 'It's about 95% to 98% open, as open as anything else I've seen.
Digital Creations [now known as Zope Corp.] has been [a] little bit more free
with its software than most, but they control where it's going next.'
Enhydra is an open-source Java/XML application server created by Lutris Technologies
Inc., Santa Cruz, Calif., which open sourced the software in January 1999. Enhydra
features the Enhydra XMLC technology, an object-oriented standards-based replacement
for JSP. Enhydra also provides plug-ins for leading IDEs, such as Borland's
Like Zope, Lutris began life as a consulting company that released its software
into the public domain. Unlike Zope, though, Lutris recently took its application
server efforts out of the open-source world and into the J2EE-licensed domain.
Java originator Sun's certification stipulations played a role in this decision.
Lutris's chief evangelist, David Young, said that while servlet programming
meets about 75% of customers' needs, 'J2EE has taken on a pretty heavy
brand recognition. We saw it as an imperative that we also embrace J2EE and
launched our product in August.' The Lutris EAS 4.1 application server
enables a full enterprise J2EE solution.
Young acknowledged that Lutris's decision created a stir among open-source
advocates. 'I don't think people were real happy. In order to shift our
focus to J2EE, we had to move all of our attention to it. Enhydra took on a
life of its own; enough people have become experts that Lutris wasn't needed
to keep the flag waving,' he said.
So does Lutris believe that an open- source business model will not work? 'Yes,
we've gone public about that, particularly in the application server market;
the people downloading Enhydra aren't the same ones making purchase decisions;
we needed to focus on those decision makers,' he said.
But, Young added, 'by no stretch have we abandoned open source. But rather
than our core, it's an element of our development strategy.' Young said
Lutris will soon announce two new open-source projects on the micro server side.
Dave Bouvier, technical lead at Electronics For Imaging Inc. (EFI), which does
software and hardware imaging solutions for network printing, is comfortable
with Lutris's decision. The Foster City, Calif.-based firm will use Lutris EAS
as well as Enhydra to build an e-commerce printing app targeted at print buyers/printers.
'I have experience building Web applications based on Java application
servers. When I came to EFI, I was going to build a system based on a lot of
Apache- and Jakarta-based software,' said Bouvier. 'Velocity was going
to be the UI presentation layer. I came across Barracuda, which led me to Enhydra,
which led me to Lutris.' Velocity is EFI's workflow solution. Barracuda
is an open-source presentation framework and a project of enhydra.org.
Bouvier said the application will run in both open-source Enhydra and Lutris
EAS; the version EFI offers in an ASP model will be based on EAS. 'One
reason I chose Lutris is that there is the open-source version; for certain
customers, where cost is a critical factor, we wanted a low-cost solution. The
service available to everyone in the ASP model will be based on the commercial
[EAS] version. There's more performance, and you have the ability to do clustering,
which you don't have with the open-source version,' he said.
While Bouvier and Lutris's Young feel Enhydra can continue to develop without
Lutris, others are skeptical. 'If Lutris is not open source, it says something
about what will happen to Enhydra,' said Illuminata's Governor. 'We
don't know what's going to happen with Enhydra. For people who are hard-core,
open-source bigots, it would tend to drive them toward using JBoss,' he
Here comes the JBoss
JBoss is an open-source application server based on the J2EE specification and
implemented in pure Java. It is available for free download under the LGPL license.
JBoss, however, is not J2EE certified. In a statement posted on the jboss.org
Web site, JBoss lead developer and founder Mark Fleury wrote: 'JBoss long
ago informed Sun that we were interested in obtaining the J2EE certification
suite so that we could apply Sun's certification mark to the JBoss software.
Sun quoted a price for that certification suite that is beyond the current financial
resources of the JBoss team. As a result, we have chosen not to 'certify' our
software. Nevertheless, JBoss fully complies with Sun's published standards.'
JBoss.org claims a community of 1,000 international developers, and that its
Web site 'averages approximately 50,000 downloads of its application a
month as reported by Sourceforge.com.'
JBoss Group LLC, a commercial company in Atlanta, provides support, training
and consulting services around the JBoss platform.
'JBoss is a great product; it is the most thorough implementation of JMX
[Java Management Extensions] out there,' said Illuminata's Governor. But
while it offers high-end functionality, he added, 'if I'm rolling out an
enterprise-class application, I want support. The community will look after
itself, but when you want to have a throat to choke, who will you call?'
Whom you call and how much experience they have in developing and supporting
the product is more critical than if a solution supports EJBs, hosts more complex
apps, is J2EE certified, or even whether it is open or proprietary, said Yefim
Natis, vice president and research director at Gartner Inc.
'Open-source application servers are invariably low end, they're not J2EE
certified, and they're not backed by vendors with many years of experience with
middleware. High-end environments are such that middleware and software infrastructure
cannot be tested in a lab,' said Natis. 'A product must be in production
and used for some time so the vendor gets feedback, goes through several loops
and then the product begins to mature. Look at the leading vendors of high-end
application servers, BEA and IBM, both with more than 10 years in the high-end
application platform business; that's no accident,' he explained.
And while JBoss positions itself in the high-end space and, according to Natis,
'can host more complex applications -- it's definitely a better platform
than Tomcat -- that's not all there is to high-end maturity.
'Open source gives you lower cost,' Natis continued, 'but at
the high end, people don't care about that. The cost is not just in the acquisition,
but in maintenance and long-term care.' Even at the low end, Natis recommends
going with a lower-cost app server from an established vendor, such as BEA's
WebLogic Express. 'It's not because it's open source, but for what open
source is -- [solutions] offered by relatively inexperienced vendors,'
Natis said there are two justifications for an open-source solution: 'low
cost and access to source code. Access to source code is a mixed blessing,'
he noted. 'If something goes wrong it's good to [be able to] look at that,
but it will require greater technical skills in-house. And you're vulnerable
to people changing source code.' There will be more commercial J2EE servers
to come, he said.
The next generation
An open-source avenue can also help organizations attract talent, said Britt
Johnston, CTO at Bedford, Mass.-based NuSphere, an open-source firm specializing
in PHP and databases. 'Employees do like to work with this software, so
finding programmers who'd like to work in these environments is not hard. Many
kids out of universities often know the basics right out of the gate,'
In the end, it may come down to balance: the use of both low- and high-end
application servers, each where appropriate, as Gartner recommends. And perhaps
the use of both open and commercial products, each where appropriate.
'A lot of open-source purists view the future as everything open source,
and commercial products as evil. We think it's both,' said Solvepoint's
Karaman. 'You will have enterprise software doing what it does well, and
giving large companies someone to yell at and a place to get support. Then you
have the open-source face, where you have a mix of more rapid development, cool
tools and peer support.'
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