Red Hat/Jboss: Up, Up and Away

Developers give thumbs up to combo climbing the open-source software stack.

Red hats $350 million acquisition of JBoss April 10 could give software developers a new "superplatform" to build complete stack applications, but the open-source community will feel ripple effects.

The ultimate impact of the deal remains to be seen. But developers said Red Hat, which offers Linux services, and JBoss, which provides support and services around open-source middleware, make a good pair, given that the combined company will have a stack of products to sell, including an all-important application server.

"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," said Geir Magnusson, a member of the Apache Software Foundation—where he has worked on the competing Geronimo open-source application server—and the person responsible for architecture at Intels Middleware Products Division, in Santa Clara, Calif.

"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," Magnusson said.

Add it up, and the JBoss ac--quisition "marks the beginning of Red Hats foray into the superplatform market," said Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst with Burton Group, based in Midvale, Utah. What analysts mean by the term "superplatform" is an offering that includes the operating system, middleware and SOA (service-oriented architecture)-enabling infrastructure on which applications can reside.

"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," Manes said. "Red Hat will provide a much larger, more mature worldwide sales and marketing infrastructure, and certainly that will help JBoss subscription sales."

Meanwhile, Red Hats acquisition of JBoss is likely to affect other platforms and the middleware companys partners.

Jeff Genender, practice leader of the Geronimo and application server practice at Virtuas, an open-source software consultancy based in Denver, said the deal will affect 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," Genender said. "But it may not [bode] so well for Jonas, since Red Hat was a strong channel for [the Jonas] distribution."

Genender was not the only one to consider the impact on Jonas, an open-source application server from the ObjectWeb consortium. Cliff Schmidt, a member of the Apache Software Foundation and a Seattle-based 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, executive director of ObjectWeb, based in Montbonnot, France, said in a blog post April 10 that the Red Hat-JBoss deal "sounds like good news to ObjectWeb."

Burton Groups Manes said the acquisition could hurt competing open-source Java EE (Java Platform, Enterprise Edition—the new name for J2EE) application server projects, such as Glassfish and Jonas, which were already finding JBoss a formidable competitor. "I anticipate that Geronimo wont be harmed as much—one, because its backed by IBM, and, two, its licensed via the Apache license," Manes said.

However, BEA Systems may not be so lucky. "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 [Oracles] favor: It will take time for Red Hat to gain credibility as a serious application platform partner."

JBoss CEO Marc Fleury on a conference call April 10 with the press and analysts downplayed the concerns.

"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]," said Fleury in Atlanta. "Red Hat was always the big brother as far as a business model standpoint. This is a great fit."

How much of a fit remains to be seen. Cedric Beust, a prominent Java developer and an engineer at Google, in Mountain View, Calif., said 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," Beust said. "I still believe they will hit a wall in the near future, regardless of Red Hats deeper pockets."