JBoss has unveiled a support platform for its open source middleware stack which includes a tool to centrally manage server clusters.
The support platform, called JBoss Network, consists of a support knowledge base and patch update system, as well as a cluster administration tool. These features will be available to all JBoss users with a support contract, although customers will need to pay extra for the administration tool.
Rich Friedman, the programme manager for JBoss Network, said the first version of the cluster administration tool will be released in June. This release will allow users to start and stop clusters remotely and to change configuration settings across a cluster. Additional features will be available by the end of the year.
Mari Ripp, vice-president of development at US payroll processing company ADP, uses JBoss to run a Web payroll application that is used by 30,000 of its customers. She said JBoss Network is a good development, but wasn't overly impressed.
"I think it's a very interesting direction; I think there are definite benefits. " said Ripp. She did qualify this by saying: "At this point I don't know if we'll use it."
Martin Wright, a senior enterprise architect at online brokerage firm Ameritrade said the cluster administration tool would be particularly useful as managing each node of a cluster individually is a "nightmare". Ameritrade is running JBoss on some of its servers and plans to roll it out further over the next year.
"JBoss Network is a step in the right direction," said Wright. "For example, if you have 100 instances of a [Java enterprise] bean running across 75 servers then it will allow you to upgrade all of them at the same time. Today you have got to go to each server and deploy [the upgrades] separately."
Both Ripp and Wright were positive about their experience with JBoss support. They said that immediate access to higher-level support staff is useful as they are running mission critical applications it is useful that they can have. Wright said that with some proprietary vendors you often have to deal with lower-level support staff before being passed on. "It's one of our frustrations with BEA -- we have to go through level one and two support to get to level three," said Wright.
Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst at Burton Group, said management is one area where JBoss fell short in recent report comparing application server providers .
The Java Superplatforms report concluded that JBoss offers fewer features than IBM WebSphere, Oracle Application Server and BEA WebLogic. Although the management tool offered in JBoss Network goes some way to filling the feature gaps in JBoss, Monson-Haefel said there are still holes to fill.
"Management was one of the big gaping holes in JBoss' offering compared with BEA Weblogic, IBM WebSphere and Oracle Application Server," said Monson-Haefel. "But this only fills one hole. They still have a lot more work to do on security -- it's not that it's insecure, but it doesn't have tools such as identity management. Also it doesn't have an integration broker or support for advanced Web services."
As for the other features in the support platform, JBoss' Friedman said his firm's Web site will allow users to search for customer support resolutions within a couple of weeks. In June the site will allow users to search various types of support information simultaneously, including information from the forums, Wikis and customer support resolutions.
A patch repository that includes patches for all of the middleware applications that JBoss supports will be made available in March. In June an automatic update system will be rolled out that will be able to detect what patches are needed.
Shaun Connolly, vice-president of product management at JBoss, said the knowledge base will be similar to Microsoft's MSDN site, while the patch update system will be like Windows Update. He claimed this would make it easier for customers to maintain their systems, as at present many do not know what patches they need and where to get them.
Patches for open source applications such as Hibernate are available from Sourceforge.net, but it is not easy to find what patch you need, Connolly claimed. "With Sourceforge.net, good luck figuring out what ZIP or TAR to download," said Connolly.