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Red Hat improves JBoss Java enterprise rules management

Red Hat continues its move up the middleware stack, improving its basic rules engine, and launching rules authoring tools to open the doors of rules development to business analysts. JBoss Rules builds on open-source Drools.

Over the last year, Linux-house RedHat moved up the middleware stack, reinforcing its version of the open-source JBoss Java application server with an open-source software service bus, an open rules engine, and other enterprise-style enhancements. This week the company furthered its enterprise incursions with a new set of rules authoring and management tools, as well as a business rules repository.

Rules, or inference, engines seek to codify business policy for decision handling, and to automate the same. Following an apparent industry trend, the company's rules authoring tools seek to open the doors of rules development to business analysts.

Red Hat's improved entry could reshape the sleepy rules engine sector, which lost an independent player last year when rules stalwart iLog became part of the IBM portfolio of companies. Besides Red Hat, rules engines are offered by IBM, Oracle, PegaSystems, Fair Issac and others. Rules engines may attract new attention as organizations adjust to new regulatory environments, and as they continue to try to detach the rules that govern their organization from the infrastructure code that runs that same organization's systems.

The JBoss Rules engine is in part a productized version of the Drools open-source rules engine. The inclusion of more advanced tooling places the Red Hat offering in closer competition with some of the other rules houses, said an industry analyst.

"Red Hat has caught up in terms of the broad feature set," said Mike Gualtieri, analyst, Forrester. This broad feature set includes rules life cycle management, which Red Hat addresses here with a Business Rules Management System (BRMS) repository that oversees version control of business rules artifacts such as fact models, DSL definitions, enumerations and functions.

"The name of the game is tools for business users," Gualtieri added. "That's been the differentiator."

"Red Hat lacked rules life cycle management features and tools for business users, but with this release they catch up. That means there's more competition."

The new offering allows business analysts to create and update rule sets supporting their business processes, thus targeting an audience that is broader then the traditional Java developer crew, according to Craig Muzilla, vice president, Middleware Business Unit, Red Hat.

Instead of just fielding a raw Java engine that requires a programmer to create rules, now "a business analyst can create the rules, store them in a repository, and execute with the engine," Muzilla said.

These steps toward tools that provide interfaces for 'less technical' personnel are important ones for open-source software generally, and Red Hat specifically.

Open-source projects as a whole have shown advantages in producing core code, said Gualtieri of Forrester. But tooling has been a weakness.

The continued evolution of Eclipse as a popular open source tooling standard may change this over time.

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