BEA CTO: Open-source projects out of sync with users

BEA's chief technology officer favors a "blended" approach to open source as the community cannot be always counted on to meet customer requirements.

The open-source community doesn't always deliver software that customers want, according to Rob Levy, executive vice president and chief technology officer of BEA Systems.

"The community builds what it thinks is good, but it is not always the same as what the customer thinks is good," Levy said this week in Bangalore, India, where he visited BEA's R&D (research and development) center.

The Apache Tomcat servlet container, for example, is not strong on management, because management features weren't seen as very important by the community, although BEA customers wanted it, Levy said. So BEA had to build a Tomcat management console for its WebLogic Java server platform, he said.

BEA has adopted what it calls a "blended strategy" on open source. It has put products in open source, to take advantage of the innovation that comes from community development, and also supports open-source technologies like Spring and Hibernate on its own products, Levy said.

BEA announced earlier this year that it will put in open source a significant portion of BEA Kodo, its persistence engine, under the name Open JPA. BEA acquired Kodo after purchasing SolarMetric last November. Open JPA is a set of Java persistence APIs (application programming interfaces) that are based on the Enterprise Java Beans 3.0 (EJB 3) standard. "We pushed Kodo out in open source and we now have 2,000 people working on it, as against 50 people when we bought the company," Levy said.

But there are other products that BEA will not release as open source so that it can retain full control over their development, Levy said. "The reality of life, specially businesses, is that you have to be a good corporate citizen, you want to know where a piece of code came from, because if you don't control it, how do you know there is nothing malicious in it," he added.

BEA has bet the farm on SOA (service-oriented architecture) because it will be fundamental to the way businesses are run, Levy said.

Industry and users can easily get taken in by the hype that SOA is going to halve IT costs, Levy said. There are some cost savings in deploying SOA, but the technology's real benefit is the agility and competitive advantage it gives companies to think up and add business services quickly, he added.

Without SOA, adding a service involved a time-consuming process to integrate it with the company's existing services, Levy said. With SOA, a company can add a service without making any system changes, Levy said.

Deploying SOA will also free company resources to focus on business processes, rather than the underlying IT infrastructure. "If you look at the total effort that is being used from business needs to applications and production, today it is very skewed towards IT," Levy said.

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