JBoss Q&A: Life After J2EE Certification

Last week, JBoss passed a key milestone as it received its first J2EE certification from Sun, after having passed the grueling J2EE 1.4 Compatibility Test Suite. IDN spoke in-depth with JBoss execs to find out what JBoss will do now. Does certification change their (a) go-to-market plans; (b) new-products road map; and (c) will Apache's Geronimo be a strong Open Source J2EE rival? Read the interview below.

Tags: JBoss, J2EE, Open Source, Certification, Developers, Enterprise, Partners,

Last week, JBoss passed a key milestone as it received its first J2EE certification from Sun, after having passed the grueling J2EE 1.4 Compatibility Test Suite. For JBoss, its partners, and even enterprise IT managers, it could be the next step in the maturing of Open Source.

"Enterprise customers now have a J2EE-compatible Open Source alternative backed up with [support] services," said CEO Marc Fleury in a statement.

JBoss execs will concede it's been a long, tough road. To get certified, JBoss needed to pass 22,000+ tests, very few of which were automated. "It was a pretty significant effort," JBoss marketing director Joe McGonnell, told Integration Developer News . Passing the tests is a victory not just for JBoss, but for the enterprise-ready image of Open Source, he added.

"A lot of people view Open Source as a group of loosely coupled developers working on a project at night," McGonnell said. "If that was the case, we really never would have been certified. It really takes a company and a commitment to make it happen."

McGonnell credits contributions -- both financial and personnel -- from the JBoss Founders Program, a set of JBoss vendor partners that includes Borland, Intel, Atos, Iona, Origin, Sonic, Unisys and webMethods. "Even before we received venture funding, we put together the JBoss Founders Program, and these partners were very supportive of our having the resources necessary to receive J2EE certification." McGonnell said he expects several of these JBoss Founders, as well as some new members, to announce bundle/partnership programs with JBoss as a result of the company's certification.

As you might expect, news of JBoss's certification also heartened JBoss's Founders Program partners. "An enterprise can now deploy the JBoss App Server with the certain knowledge that it is completely compatible with the J2EE standard and that applications written to the standard will remain completely portable," said Rob Wilkinson, director of Java/J2EE programs at Unisys Corp. "[This] represents an enormous step forward for JBoss and Open Source software in the enterprise-class customer market space," he added.

JBoss also has some other high-visibility partners, including Novell, HP and Computer Associates. "These companies are viewing Open Source as a major trend that is going to help them differentiate their offerings, and all of them have or plan to take JBoss solutions to their customers," McGonnell said.

Even execs at Sun, who in times past had some strained relations with JBoss, welcomed JBoss to the fold of certified J2EE app servers.

"Sun and JBoss are working closely to improve the J2EE specification and bring some of the dynamism of the Open Source development community to the J2EE market," said Karen Tegan, Sun's vice president of engineering. "Customers demand the ability to migrate and manage their applications across various platforms, and we're pleased to see the JBoss Application Server achieve J2EE compatibility."

"Our relationship with Sun has been improving dramatically over the past year," McGonnell told IDN . While Sun is not currently a JBoss partner, the two are cooperating in other ways. JBoss is a member of the Java Community Process (JCP), serves on the Enterprise JavaBeans Expert Group (under JSR 220), and is working with Sun to determine how its recently acquired Hibernate object/relational mapping persistence solution can be best leveraged by the upgrade to EJB 3.0.

What's Coming after JBoss Certification
IDN spoke in-depth with JBoss's McGonnell to get some insights into what JBoss does after certification. We asked how JBoss markets its server, what technologies it might implement/acquire next, and whether Apache's Geronimo might turn into a worthy Open Source J2EE competitor. Read the interview below:

IDN : How do you think J2EE certification will change the perception of Open Source and JBoss among IT professionals? /i>

McGonnell: Developers have loved JBoss for a long time: cool company, great technology, easy to use, easy to get a hold of because it's all free. We were made by Java developers, and we grew through word of mouth. And developers have been our best salespeople -- they're the ones selling to the operations folks and the CxOs today.

But the IT operations folks have a very different set of needs. What [operations people] really care about is safety: They want stable technology, accountability from a company that will stand behind the product, and they want available support options. So, those IT operations folks will view the [J2EE] certification as an extremely important step for JBoss and our professional Open Source model.

IDN : So you think your J2EE certification will make it easier to sell Open Source JBoss into the enterprise?

McGonnell: Before an enterprise will bet its business on an Open Source project, they want to make sure there is support for it, there is a company that will stand behind it, and that it's a safe choice for them -- and safety comes through partners, indemnification and certification, and a long list of things. These concerns don't just apply to JBoss or Open Source.

We've certainly had conversations with customers where they expressed a strong desire to utilize certified [J2EE] technology, and we're now starting to see a pretty strong trend toward increase usage in large production environments. So, yes, certification is certainly one of the things we had to deliver, but it's not enough on its own. The fact that we can deliver 24x7 support within 2 hours is also an important step, as was indemnification, which we began offering last year.

IDN : Does this mean you believe Open Source JBoss has all the pieces to be an enterprise production platform?

McGonnell: A survey last year found that JBoss was in developer and/or production use by 26.9% of respondents -- up from 13% the year before. There's a trend here. And, over the last 6 months to a year, the company has really focused on making JBoss a viable and safe alternative to commercial J2EE names, like IBM and BEA. We already have some well-known names that are migrating from those companies to JBoss, and that was before certification. They cited a [J2EE] lower cost of ownership.

IDN : Now that JBoss has J2EE certification, where do you see the JBoss Inc. company turning your attention? Will you move up the stack, as IBM and BEA both seem to be doing?

McGonnell: JBoss is really more about the professional Open Source model than any individual product. If you go back 6 months, we've expanded our product set. We've gone out and searched for successful Open Source Java projects, like Hibernate and Tomcat, and hired the lead developers for the projects and offered customers various support options. In the future, we'll continue to add to the product set and expand other areas of middleware, following the professional Open Source model that we started.

IDN : Will any of your acquisitions take you into the realm of commercial software?

McGonnell: You won't see us selling commercial licensed software. Everything that we sell will be offered through Open Source licenses.

IDN : What about scripting languages? Sun (and even Microsoft) have expressed an interest in better supporting Perl, PHP, Python and so on. Does JBoss Inc. see any prospects there?

McGonnell: I'm not sure we're down the line far enough to have a short list [laughs]. But we do have a Java-based content management and portal application [based on scripting] called Nukes. So, yes, that's an area we're investing in already and will continue to invest in, as well as some other smaller projects.

IDN : What's your opinion of Geranium, the Apache Open Source J2EE project? Do you think that its certification, maybe later this year, will dampen JBoss's prospects?

McGonnell: Geranium hasn't released their final version or product yet, so it's hard to say for sure. But, in my opinion, they need to do something different. Since March of 2001, JBoss has had 5 million downloads, and we have an extensive partner network. We see them [Geranium] as having some traction, but unless they're offering something extremely unique -- and Open Source licenses are no longer unique -- I think they'll have a hard time.