Developers See Red Hat, JBoss as Good Fit

News Analysis: After months of speculation that Oracle might buy JBoss, Red Hat swoops in to pick up the open-source middleware supplier; developers give their views on how this affects the market.

CEO Marc Fleury said he needed a stepping stone to take JBoss to the next level, and he got that to the tune of $350 million when Red Hat announced its plans to acquire the company.

Meanwhile, developers, some of whom even compete with JBoss, appeared to view the move as a good fit for the Atlanta-based company.

Geir Magnusson, a member of the Apache Software Foundation—where he has worked on the competing Geronimo open-source application server—and who is also responsible for architecture for Intels Middleware Products Division, in Santa Clara, Calif., said he was surprised when he first heard the news.

However, Magnusson said, "It makes perfect sense after I thought about it for about five seconds. Red Hat needs to go up the stack, because outfits like SpikeSource and other purveyors of OSS [open-source software] enterprise technology are going to commoditize them.

"By being able to provide the application stack as a first-class citizen in their offering, including support and services, it works well for all involved."

Rod Johnson, founder of the open-source Spring framework project and CEO of London-based Interface21, whose community has had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with JBoss, said the deal "is further proof that open source has transformed the enterprise software market. The price doesnt surprise me; its a little higher than I would have expected, but in the same ballpark."

Johnson added that the figure may look like "a lot if you look at JBoss revenue. But its not so much considering the size of the user base and the potential revenue from that."

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Cedric Beust, a prominent Java developer and an engineer at Google, in Mountain View, Calif., said, "My first impression is that Red Hat is a much better fit for JBoss than Oracle. But the fit is only from a philosophy standpoint. From a business perspective, Red Hats plan in the enterprise is very unclear and I wonder how they can leverage JBoss current business."

Moreover, Beust said, "For the developers, I dont think much is going to change, because JBoss has been pretty much irrelevant to 95 percent of JBoss users. The other 5 percent that pay for JBoss services will probably not see much disruption, and maybe even a slight improvement as JBoss ramps up on their headcount. Still, a service business fundamentally scales linearly with the number of employees, so I still believe they will hit a wall in the near future, regardless of Red Hats deeper pockets."

However, some see the acquisition as particularly engaging for Red Hat, as it moves to deliver a "superplatform."

"I think it will be beneficial to the JBoss community—Red Hat is a good home, where good means that the company is dedicated to the open-source business model," said Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst with Burton Group, based in Midvale, Utah.

"In the past Red Hat has not taken responsibility for developing open-source projects, so this marks a significant adjustment to the Red Hat business model. Red Hat will provide a much larger, more mature worldwide sales and marketing infrastructure, and certainly that will help JBoss subscription sales," Manes said.

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"Its questionable, though, how long it will take for the Red Hat sales and marketing team to gain competence in selling an application platform, which is much further up the stack than the operating system. I got the impression from the Webcast this morning, though, that this acquisition marks the beginning of Red Hats foray into the superplatform market," she said.

Jeff Genender, practice leader of the Geronimo and application servers practice at Virtuas, an open-source software consultancy based in Denver, said, "For developers it doesnt mean a whole lot ... business as usual. Red Hat is an open-source-friendly organization and is a good fit for JBoss, as its a similar model [to] how they worked before."

The greatest impact, Genender said, will be on JBoss partners, since Red Hat tries to keep everything in-house, including consulting and support.

"This offers a huge opportunity for Apache Geronimo adoption, since JBoss partners will probably need to fill the void. But it may not fare so well for Jonas, since Red Hat was a strong channel for their distribution," he said.

Jonas is an open-source application server offering from the ObjectWeb consortium. And Genender was not the only one to consider the impact on Jonas. Cliff Schmidt, a member of the Apache Software Foundation and a consultant, said, "The big question for J2EE [Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition] developers is obviously what happens to Jonas. Red Hat support was a major boost for Jonas. With Red Hats acquisition of JBoss, I would expect there are many nervous Jonas developers out there."

However, Francois Letellier, the executive director of ObjectWeb, said in a blog post on April 10 that the Red Hat-JBoss deal "sounds like good news to ObjectWeb: Paul Cormier (Red Hat CTO) sits on ObjectWebs Board of Directors, which means that there is a privileged communication channel between ObjectWeb and Red Hat—a channel which was missing between ObjectWeb and JBoss, even though the two organizations would meet every now and then."

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Burton Groups Manes offered her assessment of the situation: "I expect this acquisition will be harmful to competing open-source Java EE app server projects, such as Glassfish and Jonas, which were already finding JBoss to be a formidable competitor. I anticipate that Geronimo wont be harmed as much—1) because its backed by IBM, and 2) its licensed via the Apache license."

Meanwhile, "BEA is likely to suffer—its already lost market share to JBoss, and that drain is likely to continue," Manes said. "Oracle may feel the pinch, too. The one point in their favor: It will take time for RH to gain credibility as a serious application platform partner."

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about enterprises reaping the rewards of open-source growth.

In a call with press and analysts earlier today, Fleury said JBoss "chose" Red Hat, implying that the company had had other suitors, while refusing to comment on any "rumors" on whether JBoss had entertained any higher offers. Oracle was reported to have vied for JBoss, but neither company would comment on that.

"We believe our companies fit together," Fleury said of Red Hat. "There is no impedance mismatch. We believe this will be a shoo-in for our partners. The Red Hat presence and sales force will help us increase the reach of JEMS [JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite]. Red Hat was always the big brother as far as a business model standpoint. This is a great fit."

Next Page: What developers really think of the deal.