JBoss aims high with Enterprise Middleware System

Open source vendor JBoss on Monday plans to formally announce a stack of middleware software designed to make it more competitive with the sophisticated products sold by companies like IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle.

The JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS) is comprised of a number of open source projects that the company plans to integrate into a single software offering. JEMS, which can already be found on the JBoss.com Web site, includes the JBoss application server, development environment, portal software and business process management engine. It also includes the Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat servlet engine.

"This is a new way of doing business that is changing the traditional enterprise software business," wrote Bob Bickel, JBoss vice president of strategy and development, in an e-mail interview.

The software takes a new approach on providing middleware because it is open source and free to download, but also because it is built of discrete, "loosely coupled" projects. These components can be run either together or as individual applications, Bickel said.

"This is in stark contrast to BEA and IBM - who sell these mammoth things that try to include everything or nothing," he said. "Our customers want plug and play. They want to use individual pieces."

Over the past two years, JBoss hired lead developers from several open source projects that will be integrated into JEMS, most recently picking up Tom Baeyens, the founder and lead developer of the jBpm workflow engine used by JEMS.

However, the Atlanta-based company still has much work to do in the areas of application integration and Web services support if it expects to compete with its much larger rivals, said Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst with The Burton Group.

A major issue for JEMS is the lack of "connector" software that can be used to integrate enterprise applications with the open source middleware, Monson-Haefel said. The jBpm workflow engine, for example, comes with as many connectors as IBM's or BEA's products. "JBpm provides some orchestration, but it doesn't provide connectors to many systems," he said.

JBoss developers also need to provide better management, deployment and application monitoring features if they want to compete with the larger vendors, the Burton Group analyst said.

Still, JEMS will prove useful for those who may balk at the high price tags of proprietary middleware, Monson-Haefel said. "They're fulfilling a huge need at the lower end of the market," he said. "They give you a lot of functionality in JEMS; it's just not competitive with BEA and Oracle."

JBoss will provide additional details on its product road map, business model and JEMS itself on Monday, Bickel said.

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