Open Source at the Core
By Dennis Byron, Analyst, ebizQ
Technology writers and business journalists are usually unclear about the beginnings
of the open source software (OSS) movement. Two seminal information technology
(IT) events can lay claim: the formation of IBM SHARE in the mid 1950s, and
the "invention" of UNIX in the early 1970s. In the case of SHARE,
of course, code was highly shared but it wasn't open. All code at the time was
totally closed to the platform for which it was written. The UNIX development
effort has been described by Dennis Ritchie, one of the "inventors,"
as an attempt to "foster fellowship" among developers. There was a
lot of formal and informal OSS-like fellowship and sharing of source code as
well, but about a dozen well-documented forks of UNIX took a lot of the openness
out of the process, which-in turn-inhibited clean interoperability.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) can also lay claim to beginning the OSS
movement in the 1980s. Of course the FSF is very clear that the code it develops
and distributes in its GNU project is not "open source software, but free
as in air" software. Because Linus Torvalds chose to distribute his Linux
kernel under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2 in the early 1990s,
the FSF has a strong case for being the catalyst even if it won't take the credit.
All of these "almost, but" caveats lead to the Apache Hypertext Transfer
Protocol (HTTP) web server first distributed in 1995-1996. Today there are over
a dozen ASF OSS mid-stack software projects but when someone says "Apache"
in the OSS context, with no noun following it, they typically mean the HTTP
server. It is the precursor to the entire spectrum of OSS application and web
server software that dominates the market today.
The initial Apache Software Foundation (ASF) "project," Apache HTTP
combined the sharing of IBM SHARE, the fellowship of UNIX, and eventually the
legal underpinnings of its own GPL-like license terms and conditions. In fact,
Apache HTTP quickly became more ubiquitous than Linux because it ran not only
on OSS-definition-compliant operating infrastructure but on other UNIX variations,
Windows, Apple systems and legacy (that is, non-UNIX) systems from IBM, Digital
Equipment and others.
Although in the Internet era there is no need to separate development efforts
geographically or nationalistically, an organization similar to ASF was founded
in France in 2002. Called ObjectWeb, it was a joint project among the French
Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (INRIA), the
systems supplier Bull, and France Telecom. In China, another similar organization
called Orientware was launched in 2004 by Peking University, Beijing University
of Aeronautics & Astronautics, National University of Defense Technology
(NUDT), CVIC Software Engineering Co., Ltd.(CVIC SE) and the Institute of Software,
Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS). At the end of 2006, these two organizations
merged into OW2.
OW2 has many OSS projects in process similar to the ASF's, and ASF and OW2
have begun to cooperate more closely with each other.
Driving Commoditization and Convergence in the Mid Stack
The two most important aspect of ASF, OW2 and related application/web server
software efforts is that the two functions are now almost totally OSS to the
core. As of 2007: Users who want application/web server software functionality
specifically are almost always going to choose OSS, with the only decisions
users face about how the software will be supported and how soon the software
- Users can receive support directly from the related community via bulletin
boards and lists, or they can choose from dozens of service companies how
provide more traditional maintenance subscriptions and professional services
such as implementation and training
- Users can download the software today for almost any application need but
there are some high-performance capabilities such as for use in high-availability
(HA) transaction management where a proprietary application server might be
a better choice at least through 2008/2009.
- Users who don't even know they need application/web server software functionality
will also most likely be deploying OSS without realizing it (because it is
built into the packaged software they are acquiring).
There is one major exception of course; exclusive Microsoft customers are not
included in the user set described above. These users receive web server functionality
via the Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0 and application server
functionality via the aggregation of IIS, the Microsoft .NET Framework and the
ASP.NET capability built into the Windows Server operating system. Therefore
exclusive Windows Server users are less likely to choose any kind of freestanding
application or web server software, whether OSS or proprietary. Still, all the
leading OSS application/web server software works with Windows. Although only
a small percentage of Windows users make the choice to go freestanding, in absolute
terms, the numbers still account for a large percentage of the OSS application/web
server user census because the Windows Server base is so large.
In addition, the OSS nature of the ASF, OW2 and related efforts relative to
application/web server software functionality has driven commoditization up
the stack. Just as Linux is quickly displacing all the disparate UNIX forks
from the 1970s and 1980s, key ASF, OW2 and related efforts have displaced or
are displacing proprietary web and application server software, making it a
commodity. Further, just as ASF and OW2 have begun to converge some of their
development efforts, the movement of OSS up the stack is driving convergence
in the mid-stack. More and more projects will emerge that combine synchronous
and asynchronous connections, SOA and more vanilla architectures, HTTP and other
protocol support, and other characteristics. This is somewhat apparent already
in the OSS enterprise service bus movement described in two parts in earlier
articles in this ebizQ.net series.
The following section describes the ASF and OW2 efforts in the application/web
server software sector. The subsequent section includes a description of some
of ASF/OW2 spin-offs and their distributions available from Covalent, IBM, and
Red Hat JBoss. Oracle, Pramati, Sun, Tmax, and Trifork also offer OSS application/web
server software distributions.
The Application/Web Server Software Foundation/Consortia
The ASF sharing and fellowship that built around its HTTP server and subsequent
projects grew out of the need by developers of early Mosaic/Netscape-browser-based
applications to get something as secure and as easy to use on the back-end server
as developers were used to getting on the non-AS/400-based packaged applications
products at the time (such as Computer Associates' ManMan, Qad's PRO/Mfg, SAP's
R/3). These application packages all had application/web server functionality
built-in in order to access terminals or PCs.
At the time, leading systems suppliers also provided similar user-interface/protocol
functionality built into their proprietary and UNIX operating systems. Freestanding
mid-stack software such as RPC products, message-oriented middleware, and object
request brokers were then fairly new technologies. Developers could use them
to build their own web and application servers if they so chose but there were
very few choices for developers that simply wanted barebones but quality wide
area networking "serving" functionality out of the box (such as they
were used to in file and print servers built into local area network operating
One of the original Mosaic developers at the University of Illinois had built
some of this functionality into its seminal portal project but when that developer
moved onto another academic pursuit, "webmasters" all over the world
were left hanging. They banded together, took that basic Mosaic server code,
and the original Apache web server emerged. Today the project is at version
2.2.6. The point part of the release number refers principally to security and
bug fix issues. But 2.2 itself is "a major release and the start of a new
stable branch. New features include smart filtering, improved caching, Apache
JServ Protocol (AJP) proxy, proxy load balancing, graceful shutdown support,
large file support, the event Multi-Processing Module (MPM), and refactored
But the most important result of the rapid growth in popularity of the Apache
HTTP web server distribution was how quickly it led to the commoditization of
the entire web/application server layer of the software stack as described above.
Because of Apache HTTP's functionality and OSS nature, within a few years, it
had replaced the for-a-fee Netscape equivalent in popularity. (The Netscape
Apache-HTTP-like product was later part of the Netscape/Sun joint venture called
iPlanet and is now Sun's web server software.) Apache HTTP was quickly made
an integral add-on to two of the leading closed-source application-server products
of the time, the IBM WebSphere Application Server and Oracle's various application
server iterations between 1998 and 2005. The leading application server software
during the years 2000-2003, the BEA WebLogic product, did not bundle in Apache
but it ran well with it, and companies such as Covalent (see below) provide
BEA customers joint Apache/WebLogic services.
In addition, the HTTP server also begat Apache Tomcat, which is a Java servlet
server, and Apache Geronimo, the application server that sits under IBM's WebSphere
Application Server community edition among other instances. Tomcat supports
transaction management/monitoring via Java management extensions (JMX). Apache
Geronimo version 2.0 is Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) 5 certified and features
a modular architecture that allows users to select only the components they
require for their application deployments. This lets users size Geronimo down
to a very small footprint. Tomcat and Geronimo are pure Java, so all platforms
that run Java are supported, including Linux, Solaris (x86 and Sparc), Windows,
AIX, and HP UX.
Meanwhile OW2 concentrated more on application server functionality. Its Jonas
application server supports dynamic HA and a scalable platform (OSGi based services,
clustering), a lightweight EJB3 container with EasyBeans, and self-management
with the OW2's JASMINe management software. JASMINe is an advanced administration
tool for the JEE cluster. OW2's Bonita workflow engine and Orchestra BPEL engine
include Jonas built in as did Red Hat's middleware stack prior to the Red Hat
acquisition of JBoss. The Jonas community uses Apache Tomcat, Axis, Jakarta,
Struts, and other Apache code, JBoss Rules, and of course OW2 's own JOTM, JORAM,
JORM, and other software. The Jonas community contributes back to Apache Axis
and its own projects including EasyBeans.
As a result of major OSS efforts such as those of Apache and OW2, by 2007 the
application server layer of the stack has almost also "gone OSS."
A first in information technology market history, a $2-$3 billion market became
commoditized fairly quickly. In addition to the Apache and OW2 projects, the
JBoss Group (acquired by Red Hat in 2006) had its own community and hastened
the commoditization. Some commercial application-server projects folded their
tents and left the market (e.g., Novell's eXtend, HP's Silverstream). In other
cases, like Sun's web/application server effort, companies joined the OSS movement
themselves. Adobe/Macromedia/Allaire's ColdFusion is an exception, riding a
delicate balance between the OSS offerings and the equivalent functionality
built into Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and upcoming Server 2008.
But primarily, instead of buying application/web server software now, users
simply look for service providers that can support the software. Some of these
suppliers are independents such as Covalent and Red Hat and others are long-time
software suppliers such as IBM that have changed their business model to fit
OSS application/web server software market needs.
Covalent provides full commercial support for a wide array of mid-stack software
such as the ActiveMQ message-oriented middleware and Apache CXF (the latter
is a pending Covalent service). Apache CXF is an OSS services framework that
is currently undergoing incubation in the Apache Incubator and that helps users
build and develop services using frontend programming APIs, like JAX-WS. These
services can speak a variety of protocols such as SOAP, XML/HTTP, RESTful HTTP,
or CORBA and work over a variety of transports such as HTTP, JMS or JBI. Two
Covalent businesses related to application/web server software include support
for both Tomcat and Geronimo and a service it calls its "Enterprise Ready
Server (ERS) product."
Covalent ERS comes with two fully configured and ready-to-run Apache Web servers,
versions 1.3/2.0 and version 2.2. They are compatible with the standard OSS
Apache, and therefore interoperable with more than 200 operating systems and
most major Web applications and application servers. Covalent does not modify
the Apache binary code, thus ensuring that ERS will always interoperate with
Apache-certified technologies. This streamlines automated installation of popular
languages to use with Apache for dynamic content and server management, including
Java, Perl, and PHP. Covalent ERS also includes the Java 2 Single Environment
(J2SE). Multiple server instances (secure, non secure, with or without extensions
such as Perl, PHP and FTP) can be run with a single Apache installation.
Covalent is very tightly aligned with the Apache Software Foundation inbound
and outbound. Although Covalent offers subscription maintenance support for
end-user customers, it also offers an OEM License for ISVs that embed ERS.
IBM WebSphere Application Server Community Edition
IBM WebSphere Application Server Community Edition, as mentioned above, is IBM's
distribution of Apache Geronimo. Because IBM's version is pure OSS, of course
it features the same JEE 5 compliance as any other Geronimo. It also includes
an integrated version of Tomcat. The feature that IBM emphasizes is a clear
path to more advanced capability in the "closed source" WebSphere
Application Server family (which also has Apache HTTP web server built in as
described above). There is something to be said for this advantage because as
mentioned above, OSS web and application server software is still not tuned
to all applications, particularly HA transaction management. In addition to
Geronimo and Tomcat, IBM uses MyFaces, OpenEJB, OpenJPA, Axis2, Derby, ActiveMQ,
TranQL, HOWl, Yoko, and other OSS products under the covers of WebSphere Application
Server Community Edition and contributes back to most.
In addition, the IBM version of this popular OSS product is bundled into Lotus
Component Designer, Tivoli Netcool Impact, IBM TSM for Microsoft Sharepoint,
WebSphere Portlet Factory, WebSphere MQ Bridge for HTTP, IBM Data Studio, and
Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Red Hat JBoss
Just as Apache used as a noun almost always refers to the HTTP server, JBoss
unmodified typically refers to the classic application server software put together
by JBoss developers in the 2000-2005 period before other OSS communities were
really paying attention to the application server layer of the midstack. Today,
after Red Hat's acquisition of JBoss Group, JBoss refers to a whole enterprise
middleware offering that can be used to build, deploy, integrate, orchestrate,
and present web applications and services in a Service-Oriented Architecture
(SOA). Some of the other software now included in JBoss is the Hibernate object/relational
persistence and query service, JBoss jBPM BPM software, and the JBoss Rules
The ebizQ.net product series began in July 2007 with an overview of the ebizQ
OSS Taxonomy, explaining the differences ebizQ sees between applications, mid-stack
software, and operating infrastructure as well as between open and closed source
products. The first article in the "Application" series covered business
intelligence (BI) applications and subsequent research will involve OSS enterprise
content management-ECM-software, OSS ERP, and so forth. In the "Mid-Stack"
series a complete review of OSS MOM/ESB is already available on ebizQ in two
parts, and future articles are planned on portal/integration servers, and business
process management (BPM) middleware.
About the Author
Dennis Byron brings three decades of analyst experience to his role as
ebizQ's Community Manager for Improving Business Processes. This
community covers Business Process Management (BPM), Process Modeling,
Process Analysis, and Business Alert Monitoring (BAM), among other
More by Dennis Byron
As Community Manager, Byron will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ
community fully informed on the latest news and breakthroughs relevant
to enterprise BPM. Byron will be responsible for bringing you breaking
news on BPM daily, writing feature articles and sourcing content from
other analysts, industry associations and vendors for publication on
ebizQ. Finally, each week, Byron will compile the most important news
and views in an e-mail newsletter for ebizQ's ever-growing BPM
Byron is ideally suited to the job, as he has researched and analyzed
all areas of IT and information-systems use for the past 30 years.
Byron looks at BPM market dynamics backed up by facts, while taking
into account the perspective of the IT and business person. He is a
frequent speaker and moderator on business processes, which will also
be one of his roles as Community Manager.
Byron was the ERP and Middleware Analyst with the Datapro division of
McGraw-Hill and IDC from 1991 to 2006. In these roles, he was the
primary analyst for Business Process Management. He has conducted
over 500 specific information-systems case studies. He has contributed
to Application Development Trends, IT Business Edge, Research 2.0 and
Byron is also the principal of IT Investment Research, which is aimed
at institutional and individual investors in IT, or anyone who enjoys
peering under the covers of "the financials," where large companies
and emerging IPOs like to bury their most interesting facts. His main
area of interest is investment opportunities in enterprise software.
ebizQ is the insiderís guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.
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