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Special Report: How much is that SOA in the window?, part 1

The confluence of two major movements in the software industry is promising to cause a change in how vendors make money on technology, and how customers spend money on technology.

Winston Damarillo is out to disrupt the SOA software market.

His company, LogicBlaze Inc., and other source providers are bringing to market SOA infrastructure that theoretically allows organizations to get started with SOA for little or no money down. Gone are the traditional upfront licensing costs and vendor lock-in. Instead, an organization can sign up for subscription-based support from an open source provider, but it doesn't have to. Flexibility and agility—goals that dovetail with SOA—are key here. You only get what you need, you can scale incrementally and you can change as your business needs change.

Everything you would need to put an SOA stack together is available in open source.
Adam Michelson
SOA and Enterprise Architecture Practice LeadOptaros, Inc.

With the rollout earlier this week of LogicBlaze FUSE, an open source SOA platform that aggregates, packages and prevalidates a set of technologies from the Apache Software Foundation, LogicBlaze is offering "a commodity set of SOA runtime solutions we think will disrupt the market," said Damarillo, chairman of LogicBlaze and founder of the open source company Gluecode Software Inc., which was bought by IBM.

"SOA, ESB and Web services is a market that's not best suited for a monolith to offer," Damarillo said. "There is an increasing demand of customers to know what they're using, and to use the software stack as agility drivers for solutions. With a transparent technology [of open source], you have more control over which direction you want to take. The promise to have an SOA infrastructure that adapts to customer requirements vs. vendor specifications is the nature of SOA."

Indeed, there is a synergy between open source software and SOA, according to Adam Michelson, SOA and enterprise architecture practice lead for Optaros, Inc., a Boston-based open source software consulting and integration firm. According to Michelson, open source eliminates license fees as an impediment to SOA, avoids vendor lock-in, excels at standards-based solutions and is proven within the infrastructure layer.

"Open source has lived at the infrastructure layer for long time," Michelson said. "SOA is all about middleware/infrastructure. Everything you would need to put an SOA stack together is available in open source."

And organizations can get the infrastructure assembled and supported through offerings like LogicBlaze FUSE, which both lowers the cost and commoditizes SOA infrastructure, Damarillo said. "From our standpoint, this is the best combination for people adopting SOA. The ROI is there."

He added that open source plays to the incremental nature of building out an SOA. "One commonality in open source and SOA development is it's an iteration of incremental software that gets assembled and delivered," he said.

Starting small

Open source platforms will appeal to customers doing early implementations said Michael Goulde, a senior analyst for application development and infrastructure at Forrester Research Inc. "They are easily customizable and carry a lower cost to evaluate, test and pilot," he said. "SOA is a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of using open source components to rapidly and economically build open source applications."

Goulde continued, "Open source software is a solid option for middleware. FUSE represents a step beyond middleware to providing a complete SOA platform. I expect to see several more offerings of this type. WSO2 Tungsten [an open source application server from startup WSO2] is another example."

Atlanta-based JBoss Inc. also offers the open source JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite (JEMS). Damarillo said the two companies have similar models. "We both remove the upfront licensing cost in exchange for an annual recurring subscription."

As open source has gained traction, many mainstream vendors have begun to straddle both worlds. The Eclipse open source IDE has garnered wide vendor support, for example. Sun Microsystems at year-end announced its middleware and development tools software would be freely available. For its part, IBM has both lent its support and expertise to open source projects, and hasinvested in and partnered with open source companies. The Apache Geronimo-based IBM WebSphere Application Server Community Edition (CE) is based on technology acquired from Gluecode. Through a partnership, LogicBlaze is distributing WebSphere CE with its FUSE package.

Open source in the land of the giants

Big software customers have joined the fray as well. Last month, Hewlett-Packard Co. announced that DreamWorks Animation implemented an SOA from HP running on a Linux operating environment that utilizes JBoss' JEMS. "The goals were simplified business operation, and systems designed to change," said Terri Schoenrock, director and global managing principal for Enterprise Application Services Program Office at HP Services Consulting & Integration. "SOA supported the goal of designing to change and the Linux architecture focused on cost savings and speed to implementation goals."

The "fear factor" surrounding the use of open source hasn't totally disappeared, though, according IBM's Scott Cosby, Gluecode transition executive with IBM WebSphere Software. "I wouldn't say people are over that hump totally. Clearly [open source] is being used within departments and for projects in major enterprises, but I think it's an exception today where are people using open source on a very large scale."

There's also the question of whether an open source SOA stack can scale. "I see [open source] as an entree to SOA, but scalability is relative," Cosby said. "From an application server perspective, CE does provide great functionality for situational applications, but it doesn't have the same functional capacity as the commercial version [of WebSphere]."

For more information

Read what JBoss CEO Marc Fleury has to say about SOA and open source

Check out our newly updated BPEL Learning Guide

"If want to build something that can communicate to all and be ubiquitous, I recommend [open source] right out of gate," Michelson said. "Only when quality of service, uptime or performance [is a problem], then look to the commercial counterpart."

Finally, there is the issue of support. "In practice enterprises, enterprise want one throat to choke," said Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst at ZapThink LLC. "There's an opportunity for an open source vendor who's offering a collection of open source products [like LogicBlaze and JBoss]. They make money off support, not by selling licenses. They certify a set of products and put them together in way that adds value."

For vendors, though, Bloomberg said "it still remains to be seen if this is a good way to make money."

For users, they will typically want to budget for some level of support as well as for internal staff, Michelson said. However, he advises his clients that open source is more than the bottom line. "We don't look at open source as a [total cost of ownership] story; it's more about agility."

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