Open-Source ESBs on the Rise

Users look for an alternative to large commercial platforms for middleware.

Enterprises hoping to take advantage of the growing richness of service-oriented architecture technologies are taking a hard look at Enterprise Service Bus offerings, and vendors are pushing to meet the growing demand.

At its MuleCon conference in March, MuleSource hosted several enterprise users of its Mule ESB technology. Meanwhile, Red Hats JBoss division says its JBoss ESB continues to gain traction in the enterprise space, and with its acquisition of LogicBlaze April 10, Iona Technologies now boasts ownership of core technology and expertise in two open-source ESBs—its own Celtix and LogicBlazes ServiceMix ESB. Other open-source ESBs include the Apache Software Foundations Synapse and the WSO2 ESB from WSO2.

An ESB is a middleware component that provides foundational services for more complex architectures via an event-driven and standards-based messaging engine. It typically sits above an enterprise messaging system.

In part, the open-source ESB market is growing because the commercial offerings are starting to converge into "megaplatforms" and suites into which companies may not want to buy.

"For those that want platforms, the commercial platforms are indeed getting much better, more robust and more feature-complete, so theres nothing to complain about there," said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink. "But that does make the open-source offering attractive to those who want a best-of-breed solution from a nonplatform vendor but are finding it harder and harder to find such solutions in the current consolidating market."

Dave Rosenberg, CEO of MuleSource, in San Francisco, said there have been more than 650,000 downloads of Mule. "Were finding more and more people are moving to full-scale adoption, deploying Mule into mission-critical environments," Rosenberg said. There are at least 1,100 enterprises using Mule in production on thousands of servers, he said.

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Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer at Iona, in Waltham, Mass., said the open-source ESB market is getting more competitive. With the acquisition of LogicBlaze, "we certainly feel that we are now in a leadership position in the open-source ESB market with the combination of ServiceMix and Celtix," Newcomer said. "We have previously used portions of ServiceMix as well as ActiveMQ in our Celtix and Artix products."

Eugene Ciurana, director of systems infrastructure at LeapFrog Enterprises, in Emeryville, Calif., which provides technology-based educational products, said he looked at open-source technology as an option because "the prime directive for almost every project Ive been involved [with] in the last 24 months is: Acquire in__stead of build."

Ciurana spoke at the MuleCon event and is a Mule user. "At LeapFrog, Mule is helping us by expediting our development effort when it comes to integrating SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] and RESTful [Representational State Transfer] Web services and by providing a common integration platform that we intend to use over the course of the next nine months," Ciurana said.

"Our existing systems are now a collection of islands that need very expensive bridges," he said. "Once our download store is ready, well move to integrate other online properties, our back-end databases and our ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems over Mule."

Ciurana said he also has used Mule to help integrate products from 10 vendors into a large-scale e-commerce suite designed for handling at least 200 million transactions a day.

Rune Peter Bjorn_stad, a Java architect at Bouvet, a consulting company in Oslo, Norway, said he is using Mule for creating Web-based enterprise Java applications and e-mail-triggered applications. Bjornstad said he likes Mule because of "its focus on integration rather than compliance with JBI [Java Business Integration] and WS specifications. It lets you make your integration with simple transports … and migrate to Web services and/or JMS [Java Message Service] when the message flow is in place."

Dan Cahoon and Chris Ginn, senior architects at H&R Block, said at MuleCon that the tax preparation company is using Mule as part of the rollout of its Virtual Tax System, which will provide a real-time, asynchronous communications platform for its 13,000 offices. Mule has done well by specializing in delivering a small, easy-to-use routing engine that simplifies many integration tasks for Java developers, Ionas Newcomer said.

"But ServiceMix has a subproject called Camel that does the same thing, and the combination of ServiceMix, ActiveMQ and Celtix provides a lot more than Mule does on its own," Newcomer said. "So we are pretty confident that if we execute well, and work together well to create better integration between Celtix and ServiceMix, as well as continuing to support individual components that customers may need—such as ActiveMQ—we have a great opportunity to become the leading open-source ESB."

Red Hats JBoss ESB also is gaining traction, with Version 4.0 released earlier this year. Red Hat officials said the ESB is a fundamental building block for SOA, and the company will likely be developing a solution that pulls together its workflow and orchestration product (jBPM) and business rules engine (JBoss Rules) integrated with JBoss ESB.

However, "we havent yet seen an Eclipse-type wholesale buy-in by end users into a particular open-source ESB effort," ZapThinks Schmelzer said. "The ESB market still is mostly dominated by the commercial players, and we have to see if an open-source effort emerges as the dominant player. That said, the more consolidation we see that requires end users to pick their platform vendor of choice, the more that well see such an open-source offering come to the fore."

Hub Vandervoort, CTO of Progress Software, in Bedford, Mass., whose Sonic Software unit offers Sonic ESB, said, "We have 350 deployments of our ESB out there, and we havent lost to an open-source ESB yet."

Vandervoort said that, among other issues, the "mission-criticality" of open-source ESBs is still not up to par with that of commercial solutions such as Sonics.

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