WSO2 Componentizes SOA

Open-source middleware maker WSO2 Monday unveiled a new service-oriented architecture (SOA) framework built on the OSGi specification. The company is billing its new Carbon release as the industry's first fully componentized SOA framework.

"If you look at the traditional SOA stack," said Paul Freemantle, WSO2 co-founder and CTO, "it's a big, complex set of products that don't always integrate well together. The Carbon initiative grew out of the increasing need among our customers for a composable architecture made up of small, agile components that you can mix and match in the right places to solve the right problems."

Carbon comprises a set of componentized WSO2 products running on a common framework based on the OSGi (Open Services Gateway Initiative), a specification that defines an architecture for developing and deploying modular applications and libraries. Equinox, the core runtime for the Eclipse framework, is an implementation of the OSGi.

Carbon utilizes the Equinox container, Freemantle explained, which offers two advantages. "We're using OSGi today," he said, "for the modularity. It allows us to package our components correctly and not bleed over the edges, as it were. And looking forward, the services model will allow us to plug in new capabilities."

"OSGi is an increasingly known quantity," said Jeffrey S. Hammond, senior industry analyst at Forrester Research. "It's being built into the core of next-gen app servers. Think of it as a real, dynamic component model for Java applications. Basically OSGi is the ‘how' of the dynamic claims."

Freemantle characterizes Carbon as the industry's first fully componentized SOA framework. "The idea is that developers using Carbon can easily deploy only those components they need," he said. "We're providing this SOA platform that essentially eliminates the complexities of middleware integration."

The Mountain View, Calif.-based WSO2 was founded by members of the Apache Software Foundation's Web services community, and its products are based on Apache technologies. The WSO2 Web Services Application Server (WSAS) is based on Apache Axis2, and the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is based on Apache Synapse.

The company is also announcing the first four of its products componentized to run on the Carbon framework. That list includes WSAS 3.0, ESB 2.0, the WSO2 Registry 2.0, and the company's first Business Process Server (BPS). Freemantle said that componentized versions of his company's Mashup Server and Data Services are expected to roll out for the Carbon framework in mid-2009.

According to Michael Coté, industry analyst for RedMonk, this sort of plug-and-play architecture for SOA is part of the overall evolution of the concept. "What I've started seeing people talk about is something akin to the stackless stack notion that RedMonk has talked about in connection with OSGi for some time now," Coté said. "The idea is that you build up the functionality you need, leaving behind the rest. The other approach is to start with everything and carve away parts that aren't needed. The difference can be subtle, and to some, inconsequential. But for developers, the difference is between starting small and starting big, both of whichmodus operandi appeal to different sub-sets of the development community."

"The value here," observed Hammond, "is that [Carbon] taps into the growing developer frustration with bloatware. Say I need a huge expensive product in order to implement an ESB for an application that might actually be fairly modest. The modular framework allows my team to configure the runtime with only the components I want for the application I'm building. If I need a hammer, I configure a hammer; if I need a sledgehammer I configure a sledgehammer."

Freemantle said that Carbon "changes fundamentally the way developers implement SOA middleware." Although that might be something of an overstatement, said Ann Thomas Manes, research director at The Burton Group, Carbon is a good thing for users of the environment and for the company.

"I think that WSO2 has exploited the power of OSGi better than the other vendors (IBM, Oracle, RedHat, and SpringSource) have done," Manes said. "And Carbon makes it easier for WSO2 to maintain their technology. But I'm not convinced that better architecture in the product portfolio will actually give them a big competitive edge. Carbon will appeal to the kind of developers that typically use open source solutions, and that might put WSO2 in a slightly better position competing against Spring and JBoss, but the advantage is slight. I don't think it makes much difference when competing against WebSphere or WebLogic."

How important to the success of this SOA framework is WSO2's open-source pedigree?

"Open source is what developers expect now-a-days in middleware," said Coté. "It's very difficult to have a new, successful middleware offering that isn't open source. Developers just feel that closed source is weird and out of the ordinary."

"WSO2 is a tiny company with an uncertain future," said Manes. "Many organizations will hesitate to acquire mission-critical middleware software from such a risky vendor. The fact that all its software is available under the Apache License reduces the risk somewhat. But it will still be a big hurdle for them."

"I'm taking a lot of inquiries from large organizations that are taking a fresh look at open source software as an option for reducing costs in a recessionary environment," Hammond adds. "I think Carbon, along with Fuse (from Progress), is going to get a lot of looks as an alternative approach to keeping software capital-expenditure costs down."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].