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InfoQ Homepage News Revisiting Biases Against Open Source SOA Solutions

Revisiting Biases Against Open Source SOA Solutions

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Ronald Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink revisits the common misconception/biases on the suitability of open source SOA solutions for the enterprise and askswhy is it then that so many IT organizations prematurely discard Open Source Software (OSS) from their SOA implementations?” 

To make it absolutely clear, ZapThink is not advocating dumping all your vendor solutions in favor of an OSS stack, however, we believe that the current economic and technology environment are making OSS solutions more credible, feasible, cost-effective, and potent as the industry matures.

He starts out defining open source software according to Wikipedia; carefully pointing out the subtle difference between free software and open source software.

The term open source is frequently, although not always, used in conjunction with the idea of free software. In this terminology, free sometimes means that it costs nothing to acquire the license, but that’s not exactly how it’s defined by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The FSF defines Free and open source software (F/OSS or FOSS) as the freedom to copy and re-use the software […] This means that FOSS licenses gives users the rights to copy, modify, share, redistribute, and otherwise contribute to the advancement of the technology, but doesn’t necessarily imply anything about total cost.

In addition, Open source software also comes in commercial flavors (COSS) where “the community has rights to certain aspects of modifying, sharing, and enhancing the software whereas others are reserved for the company”; contributing to the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) surrounding the adoption of open source solutions, let alone navigating the legalese of various open source licenses available.

Let’s start with uncertainty. From a SOA perspective, the big uncertainty on OSS rests on two main issues: are there a sufficient number of OSS offerings to cover the scope of things we need for our SOA implementations, and are those OSS projects of sufficient quality to meet our needs?

He goes on to answer the question

[I]ndividuals and companies have poured tens of thousands of hours of development time and maintenance into these [OSS] tools. […] Many open source tools build upon the experience of users who have previously used commercial offerings and thus aim to mimic or improve the functionality and performance of those solutions.

In addition he points out that, as many of the vendor tools are products of acquisitions, and in some cases a series of acquisitions; it is often the case that the commercial/vendor solution is “ill-defined” in terms of road map and integration with other products in the product portfolio. He goes on to categorize and list the various solutions available in the different parts of the solution space…

For […] Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) functionality, then there are a plethora of Open Source solutions. Companies have successfully implemented Mule ESB, Apache Axis2, Apache Synapse and Apache ServiceMix.

For SOA development, there are a wide variety of OSS options, […] such as the Swordfish SOA framework and the Equinox OSGi bundling framework.

[For[ open source SOA registry and management solutions Mule Galaxy, SOPERA, WSO2’s open source registry offering, and the Membrane SOA Management tool.

[For] OSS Business Process Management (BPM) and BPEL runtime engines including ActiveBPEL, Apache ODE, Orchestra, and a plethora of others.

He asserts that the fear that OSS solutions may not be supported is unfounded, saying most OSS projects have commercial companies offering paid support.

While it is true that many good OSS solutions require paid support to achieve the response time and care necessary, we would argue that money is well spent. With commercial companies providing support for OSS offerings you get the best of both worlds: community development, testing, and enhancement at low or no cost, and professional support whose time and value are known quantities. Even if you chose a commercial vendor, you’re going to be paying for support anyways.

… Additionally, he suggests that OSS mitigates the risk of sun-setting products/product lines as a result of churn in the IT industry in the form of acquisitions, cost cutting, or consolidation.

OSS presents less of a risk because the code is out there in the community, available for anyone to pick up. From a SOA perspective, you want to have as few dependencies as possible on your infrastructure or a single vendor’s solutions. As such, for many, OSS makes a whole lot of sense.

He goes on to give the example of how BlueStar Energy estimates saving of $24 million over the course of five (5) years with an SOA implementation that is based entirely on OSS solutions.

If you read the case study, you can see that the design principles had a decidedly non-vendor bias. They wanted control over their environment, and this meant creating a specification that required implementation neutrality. […] Their Business Integration Suite consists of open source distributed, scalable and reliable components such as enterprise service bus, business process management system and messaging fabric.

He urges architects to define the architecture in a implementation agnostic/vendor-neutral way and evaluate the suitability of candidate solutions; be it open source or vendor solutions. He concludes his article with an endorsement of the viability of OSS for SOA implementations in the enterprise.

Check your FUD at the door. Make sure you aren’t losing an advantage by prematurely eliminating OSS from your SOA infrastructure mix.

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Community comments

  • Consider the UltraESB as an option..

    by asankha perera,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    The UltraESB from AdroitLogic is a free ESB, available for unlimited and perpetual use. Its source code is currently shared with partners of AdroitLogic and will be open sourced within 2-5 years. Its been shown to perform extremely well under load, and comes with many samples and test tools, at around 25MB to download

  • Re: Consider the UltraESB as an option..

    by Paul Fremantle,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.


    I'm sure the UltraESB is excellent technology given your skillset, and I wish you luck with it, but it is not an Open Source ESB. There are clear definitions of Open Source and a set of well-defined licenses from the OSI and UltraESB doesn't fit into any of them.

    Paul Fremantle
    CTO, WSO2

    PS WSO2 provides a complete open source SOA platform :-)

  • Re: Consider the UltraESB as an option..

    by asankha perera,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Hi Paul

    The UltraESB is not claimed to be an Open Source ESB.. But at the right time, it will. And AdroitLogic does not have plans to build a large platform with many bells and whistles.

    Instead, we strive to do build an ESB that's really better than whats available. We design it in a way that makes it useful and simple for the users, while being much better in performance.

    For example, we've re-written the functionality of Rampart/WSS4J well known to be weak in performance, to be over 4X better.. and I believe the UltraESB is the first ESB to claim non-blocking IO with Zero-Copy support when the OS and HW supports it.


  • Red Hat/JBoss Soa Platform

    by Kurt Stam,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    May I add that Red Hat/JBoss offers a fully supported Open Source SOA-Platform for quite some time now. At the enterprise level offering 24x7 support is key. With the current level of maturity of the open source middleware, along with the tooling I think the scale has already swung in favor of open source.



    Kurt T Stam

    ESB: JBossESB
    BPEL: RiftSaw, Open Source BPEL
    Registry, Governance: jUDDI, Overlord for SOA Governance
    Development: JBoss Tools

  • Re: Red Hat/JBoss Soa Platform

    by John Pountain,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I have implemented JBossESB and found it to be a great product. It has a lot of useful, feature-rich tooling and has a plethora of out-of-the-box actions. In addition I found it easy to write my own actions and the documentation is very comprehensive. Definitely worth a look.

    Just my 2c,

  • Re: Consider the UltraESB as an option..

    by C Curl,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.


    May I suggest that you then come back when you have actually open sourced it?

    In 2-5 years time, your company may be gone, Greece may be out of bankruptcy, Iceland may once again be flourishing nation, and the US may have universal health access. It is simply not interesting what your 2-5 year long-term plans may or not may be at this point.

  • Re: Consider the UltraESB as an option..

    by asankha perera,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Hi Curl

    AdroitLogic already shares the code of the UltraESB with real users! .. and I do come from a history of over 4 years of contribution to the open source Apache Synapse ESB, where I contributed over 70% of its last released codebase.

    I truly believe what my company offers is better - as we share the 'real code' with 'real users' who are interested, and not using the term 'open source' for marketing reasons to bait customers. The software we provide is offered free of charge for unlimited and perpetual use.

    Many companies that have 'open source' products, swiftly switch over enterprise customers to the 'commercial version's that are .. of course 'much better' ;)! .. the reality is this code is not shared with the customers in almost all instances. The customers then run versions from vendors' internal 'support branches' they have never seen or heard of!

    Although the 'open source' version of the code may be available, even that may not be build-able, or understandable for an average user that easily. In 2-5 years time the open source companies maybe gone too; and along with it, the open source code repository, bug tracking and maven repositories and wikis etc holding critical artifacts.. It would certainly be an interesting situation for a customer to be in, when they finally find that they have been living on a 'support branch' of an open source project, for which they have no access anymore!

    The Apache Software Foundation tries to overcome this issue by creating an open and diverse community:

    "The project is considered to have a diverse community when it is not highly dependent on any single contributor (there are at least 3 legally independent committers and there is no single company or entity that is vital to the success of the project)" [1]

    I'll leave the rest upto you to decide...



  • Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) is half an ESB but no one knows that

    by Faisal Waris,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    WCF is not open source but it is free (with the windows os).

    It is quite a complete stack with WS* / 'REST' / oData / Workflow / Queuing / Streaming / a 'channel' model for extensible protocol mediation / ability to run some pieces in databases (sql server) and browsers (silverlight)

    You do have to write code to make it work but a lot of functionality is present out of the box.

  • Re: Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) is half an ESB but no one knows

    by wang yi,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Actually, lots of companies adopted WCF, lol

  • Re: Consider the UltraESB as an option..

    by asankha perera,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Hi Curl

    I'm sure you will be happy today to read this news release about AdroitLogic open sourcing the UltraESB under an OSI approved license! Its just been 3 months since you posed the question :)


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