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Azul Steers Clear of 'Support Cliffs' Caused by Faster Java Releases

Azul Systems unveiled a new support roadmap for users of Zulu Enterprise, the commercially supported edition of its flagship Java runtime. The roadmap lays out the company's plan to cope with what it calls "support cliffs" that will be created in the ramp up to Oracle's new faster release cadence for the Java SE Platform and OpenJDK.

Oracle's new, faster release schedule provides for a feature release every six months, update releases every quarter, and a long-term support (LTS) release every three years.

The accelerated cadence was greeted by the Java community largely as a positive development. But Scott Sellers, Azul Systems president and CEO, points out that, in the short run, the process of implementing this new schedule will leave two versions of Java without long-term support. If the next LTS release after Java 8 is going to be Java 11, Java 9 and Java 10 are effectively skipped. Java 11 is expected in September of this year on the new schedule. The next LTS version after that -- three years later -- will be Java 17, which gets released in September 2021.

"You almost need a decoder ring for all this," Sellers said.

Oracle has said that it will provide public updates for only six months after a given release has been made available. "What that means is, for a version like Java 8, which has been in the market for a long time and is by far the most widely used version of Java, come September 2018, public updates will cease," Sellers said. "We call this a ‘support cliff.' After that date, you either have to use an immature new release like Java 11 or continue using a version that will have more and more vulnerabilities that won't get a security update."

Azul plans to keep its customers from being driven off "support cliffs" by aligning Zulu Enterprise releases with Oracle's and OpenJDK's scheduled GA for all releases of Java SE, while also providing overlapping support coverage from one release to the next. The Zulu Enterprise LTS release will include bug fixes and security updates for a period of at least eight years from the GA date. The company is also offering Medium-Term Support (MTS) for certain Java releases, which enables practical use in production deployments of the new capabilities available in feature releases without having to wait for the next LTS release. The company will designate one MTS release per year in the years between LTS releases, and provide support, bug fixes, and security updates for 18 months past the GA date of the following LTS release. And there's also a Short-Term Support (STS) option for the remaining Java SE feature releases. STS support allows users the earliest access to new Java features with support and updates designed to allow a smooth transition to a newer JDK release.

"None of this is not a knock on Oracle, by any means," Seller said. "There's no doubt that the faster release cadence is good for Java. And there's also no doubt that maintaining backwards compatibility is a challenging thing that can limit the ability to evolve the platform on a rapid schedule. But the decision to break compatibility at will, from release to release, create challenges for users."

Zulu is free to download, use, and redistribute from the Zulu Community Web site. Azul provides support via Zulu Enterprise, a Java platform based on OpenJDK. The company also offers Zulu Embedded, a build of OpenJDK aimed at Java developers in the embedded systems and Internet of Things (IoT) space. Both editions are 100 percent open source.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Azul bills itself as the only vendor focused exclusively on the Java and the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The company's Zing JVM is based on Oracle's HotSpot, a core component of Java SE. It's a "no-pause" JVM designed to eliminate Garbage Collection (GC) pauses, a long-standing challenge for Java developers. This pauselessness, which Azul calls "generational pauseless garbage collection" (GPGC), enables Java app instances to scale dynamically and reliably. Sellers, CEO has called GC "the Achilles heel of Java."

Posted by John K. Waters on January 30, 2018