Iona ditches app server for open-source JBoss

Iona has stopped development of its own application server and will rely on JBoss for J2EE 1.4 compliance, but there are still hurdles to clear before that can be achieved

Iona has ditched its proprietary J2EE application server in favour of open-source software from JBoss Group. The deal, which will see Iona focus its development efforts on its other integration products, is the latest example of the increasing adoption of open-source software in application-server software, and a move of that software to commodity status.

Iona and JBoss will collaborate to offer consulting, training, and support for the JBoss application server, which has over four million downloads, the companies said.

Sacha Labourey, European general manager for the JBoss Group, likened the deal to an OEM agreement, with Iona reselling JBoss along with its own software and providing support. "The role of each company is clear," said Labourey. "We focus on JBoss; they focus on their own services -- I would not expect Iona to be coding JBoss, but we will work together on a support level. We will provide support on the JBoss application server, and Iona will support their customers who are using their software stack."

Andrew O'Sullivan, Iona's vice president of services, said the company will continue to support its own application server until the end of 2008, and "provide customers the freedom to select the application server technology of their choice." But, he said, the company has now stopped development of the J2EE 1.3-certified version of the Iona application server. Customers who want an application server that is certified to the J2EE 1.4 standard will have to go for the JBoss option.

The distinction between J2EE 1.3 and J2EE 1.4 is an important one. It is one thing to write an application server that supports the J2EE specification, but quite another to get it certified. Both JBoss and Iona recognise the need for certification; for JBoss it is important because its partners want it, and for its partners -- such as Iona -- it is important because their customers demand it.

JBoss currently lacks J2EE certification, said Labourey, because the J2EE 1.3 licence is not compatible with the open-source licence used by JBoss. "The trouble is that once you are certified [for J2EE 1.3] you are not allowed to show your code because you would be revealing Sun's intellectual property," said Labourey. "You can either be open source or have certification, but not both." Sun has removed this restriction with its 1.4 licence, opening the way for JBoss certification.

However, although JBoss 4.0 -- the first version of JBoss to support the J2EE 1.4 specification -- is not now due until early 2004, there will be a further delay before it is certified.

"JBoss 4.0 should be released at the beginning of next year -- maybe the second quarter but we hope the first," said Labourey. "But it won't be certified at launch. It takes at least six people six months to do the certification work." The path to certification has been an uneasy one -- matched by the JBoss Group's relationship with Sun, which refused the group certification under its scholarship programme, and instead demanded payment under its commercial programme.

Labourey hopes that J2EE certification will encourage more application-server vendors to look at JBoss software. "Two years ago we had 15 to 20 application server vendors, but today that has totally collapsed to IBM, WebLogic (now owned by BEA), and JBoss. What is interesting is that BEA implemented the Sun specification very earlier and gave credibility to the J2EE platform, so they were technical players. But IBM's WebSphere tends to be a strategic choice for companies, rather than a technical choice."

Iona's O'Sullivan sees the open-source JBoss as becoming increasingly important. "We recognise that the J2EE market has matured and is commoditising around JBoss," he said.