SourceLabs shoulders burden of Java middleware support

Reusable code, dev speed and low cost are often cited when enterprises opt for open source tools over their commercial counterparts. Support and maintenance are not.

Seattle-based SourceLabs is looking to challenge that perception by offering a subscription-based support system to users of the SASH open source Java middleware stack. SourceLabs provides a certified and tested distribution of SASH, which consists of the Spring Framework, Apache Axis, Apache Struts and Hibernate, for its enterprise customers, including Merrill Lynch and Motorola. “We beat it up and when we identify production issues we develop patches,” says Byron Sebastian, SourceLabs founder and CEO. Popular Java frameworks for building Web apps and integration, SASH is primarily used with J2EE app servers, which is part of the reason SourceLabs has partnered with Oracle and has ties with IBM.

The new Continuous Support System, announced this week after 20 months of development and testing, provides configurable diagnostic probe technology to monitor production apps and resolve system issues. SourceLabs’ support engineers are alerted by the probes, simultaneously with enterprise developers. The diagnostic probes instrument, in this case the Java virtual machine, allows the system to use algorithms to get detailed Java information for developers that otherwise would be unavailable based on human searches. For example, explains Sebastian, “We grab the stack trace that was produced by the system when a problem occurred and we grab information like the state of the different variables.”

When an incident occurs, the system can be configured to automatically use the algorithms to scan a database at SourceLabs of more than 200,000 issues and failure signatures looking for a match and information on how to solve the problem. “This is really enabled by the fact that the software is open source,” observes Sebastian. “The repository not only has data on all the information from our probes and our testing, it pulls in data from around the Internet.” Customers are also provided with a daily security alert service and recommendations via e-mail or RSS feed. Vulnerability notifications are also provided daily to alert customers to any information that may cause production issues in the stack. While the company sells its support system and services, relevant information is shared with the core developers in the open source projects to further development.

Available now, the Continuous Support System is bundled with SourceLabs’ SASH distribution as well as annual support and maintenance contracts. The subscription fee is $2,000 per server per year. “When you look at the services, we are doing a lot of the things that customers have come to expect from enterprise software companies,” says Sebastian, “whether it is basic tutorials, sample applications, all the way to service packs, which haven’t really existed in the open source world.”

Sebastian says the core idea for SourceLabs came from observing technologies and models in the music industry like Napster, which in his view, connect musicians more closely with listeners and cut out the middle men who weren’t adding much value.

He wanted to apply a similar idea to open source by coming up with a model that brings the developers and the users of the software more closely together to the benefit of both. SourceLabs isn’t the only company focused on this transformation. With this new software model, he says, “there has to be people that think about how you build those bridges between the customers and the developers.”

About the Author

Kathleen Richards ([email protected]) is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.