Users put ObjectWeb software to work

The ObjectWeb middleware consortium this week put the spotlight on corporate and government users who have adopted its software for production use.

Groupe Bull and France Telecom, two of Objectweb's founders, were likely the biggest users here at its annual conference in Lyon, France, but some other corporations have also climbed on board, including Greco International, an insurance broker based in Vienna, which is using a document management system based on Enhydra Shark, ObjectWeb's open source workflow engine.

"Until this year we were seen as mostly technologists, but now we are seen as providers of tools for building real applications," according to Jean-Pierre Laisne, chairman of ObjectWeb and the manager of Linux and open source strategy at Bull.

ObjectWeb was founded three years ago by Bull, France Telecom and France's National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, known by its French acronym, INRIA. It is best known for JOnAS, its Java Open Application Server, which is used by Red Hat as the basis for its own application server launched last year. But ObjectWeb is home to several dozen open-source middleware projects in all, at various stages of development.

Bull used JOnAS as part of a system it developed for the French government's Caisse Nationale d'Allocations Familiales (CNAF), the social services arm responsible for child support payments. The CNAF system has been in production for about a year and handles data mining requests, OLAP queries and report generation for users at 123 local CNAF offices, according to Gerard Roucairol, Bull's chief scientist.

France Telecom is using JOnAS for several applications including its online store, service management applications and a consolidated address book for its voice, mobile and Internet customers, said France Telecom's Remi Cayuela. The carrier is a big fan of open source software. It runs Linux on about 1,500 production servers, mostly for serving Web pages and running J2EE applications, Cayuela said. Its IT department is encouraged to use JOnAS wherever possible, although some of France Telecom's packaged applications will only run on proprietary servers, he said.

Greco's document management system was developed by Together Teamlosungen GmbH, a services and software company majority-owned by Greco. The system went live about six months ago and manages insurance contracts for about 20,000 clients, which add up to about 1.5 million documents, according to Robert Zachajewicz, Together Teamlosungen's vice president of marketing and sales. It is used by 300 employees across nine Greco subsidiaries in Austria, he said.

Greco's introduction to open source technology wasn't a particularly smooth one. The Enhydra open source project was originally managed by California startup Lutris Technologies, which developed the software. Lutris went out of business in 2002, leaving Together Teamlosungen to continue developing the software itself. It eventually found a home for the software at ObjectWeb, and Enhydra is now managed jointly by ObjectWeb and Together Teamlosungen.

The fact that Enhydra was open source was a plus, according to Zachajewich, because it allowed Together Teamlosungen to keep using the software. If the software had been proprietary it might have had to restart its project from scratch when Lutris went under. Working with ObjectWeb has allowed it to benefit from bug fixes and modifications submitted by a community of Enhydra developers, he said.

The testimonials are important for ObjectWeb since they may help persuade other users that the software is ready for production use. Europe in particular has started to embrace open source software, according to a survey of 35 large corporations conducted last June by Forrester Research Inc. Almost a third of the companies had completed their rollout and only 17 percent had no plans to use open source software. Still, some users remain concerned about the availability of technical support, security, and visibility into product roadmaps, said Henry Peyret, a senior Forrester analyst.

ObjectWeb's flagship project, JoNAS, might attract more users if it were certified compliant with Sun Microsystems' J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) 1.4 specification, said Shawn Willett, a senior analyst at Current Analysis. Its main rival in the open source realm, JBoss, is already 1.4-certified, as are market leaders BEA Systems, IBM and Oracle.

Some corporate customers see certification as important when making a purchase decision, and Red Hat has been working closely with ObjectWeb to get JoNAS certified as quickly as possible.

Customers considering open source middleware should have a strong internal team of experts in place to manage its development and deployment, France Telecom's Cayuela recommended. They should also test out Java virtual machines to use with JOnAS and fix on a standard package, he said; France Telecom achieved varying results when it tried JOnAS with different JVMs, he said.

Sebastien Col, an engineer with software consulting and development company SQLI, in Lyon, was at the conference to learn more about ObjectWeb. His company doesn't use any of its code currently but Col was interested in learning more about Speedo, ObjectWeb's implementation of Sun's JDO (Java Data Objects) specification.

He likes that ObjectWeb is independent from software vendors, he said, and also likes the community model of sharing bug fixes and improvements. Some of SQLI's customers might be interested in the potential cost-savings of open source, Col said, but they may also be unsure whether the development model is the best choice for them. "I might have to sell it to them a bit," he said.

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