The JBoss Product Lifecycle Explained

There was a fairly innocuous post on the interwebs at the end of last week which Oracle employees have jumped all over in an effort to discredit JBoss. I’ll rise above the petty mud-slinging and instead use this post to explain the relationship between upstream projects that JBoss uses and the downstream platforms that JBoss supports. It is my hope that people can then make their own informed decision about what to use to deploy their own applications.

So thanks for the opportunity to explain some of this.

First the obvious disclaimer – yes I work for Red Hat. Specifically I am the Director of Product Management for JBoss Enterprise Application Platforms and as such responsible for the product roadmap and technical direction of JBoss branded products like JBoss EWS, EAP and EWP.

So let me explain Red Hat’s model – something we call the Fedora / RHEL model internally. Red Hat provides subscriptions for use of its Enterprise distributions. A subscription provides the following (in no particular order) :

  • long-term world-class technical support – and we do it very well (PDF report)
  • long-term application compatibility
  • long-term stability and predictability
  • long-term partner certifications
  • legal assurance
  • long-term provision of security patches, performance enhancements bug fixes and RFEs

It may seem contrary if you’re used to the traditional model of “buying bits” but in our model, the provision of the bits is somewhat secondary; it’s something we have to do to support the value outlined above. For example, partners will only certify their applications and products if we have some way of identifying specific releases – supporting a continuous stream of releases is impractical. We can only provide application compatibility if we focus on specific identified releases.

So, one of the entitlements of a subscription is access to the supported binary distributions of a product – this is the thing to which we can apply all the other things I’ve outlined above.

For all of Red Hat’s products there are one or more upstream Open Source projects. In the case of JBoss EAP – the JBoss AS project is the primary components but JBoss EAP also includes Seam, mod_cluster, Apache CXF to name a few. Some of the projects that Red Hat uses in it commercial platforms are essentially Red Hat (or JBoss) projects – we provide the majority of developers, drive the roadmap and the release cadence (eg. JBoss AS, Seam, Hibernate), for others we’re merely one collaborator among many (eg. Apache CXF, OpenJDK, Apache HTTP).

Screen shot 2010-11-21 at 8.55.41 AM.png

The upstream Open Source projects is where the innovation happens – the focus of many of the Open Source projects driven by Red Hat is to act as technology incubators. Releases for projects like JBoss AS are frequent, experimental features are released, refined and re-released. That’s the focus – agility, speed, innovation. There’s never been any promise, implicit or otherwise that any given release is suitable for running your business critical applications. In fact we make it pretty clear on JBoss.org :

Screen shot 2010-11-21 at 8.40.58 AM.png

OK, so let’s dig into the relationship between project (or community) releases and platform releases. I’ll use JBoss AS (project) / JBoss EAP (platform) as examples as they are among the most widely downloaded / deployed :

Let’s take the JBoss AS 5 branch which was the foundation of the most recent JBoss EAP 5 family. JBoss AS 5 was focussed on a couple of big things : i) providing a new level of modularity via the Microcontainer 2.0; and ii) providing a Java EE 5 certified container. JBoss AS 5.0.1 was released in February 2009, followed a few months later by 5.1.0.

JBoss AS 5.1.0 met our functional criteria for JBoss EAP so that is what we picked up for our ‘productization’ process and JBoss AS 5.1.0 essentially became the Alpha Release for JBoss EAP 5.

Screen shot 2010-11-21 at 8.56.33 AM.png

The productization process is really not dissimilar to the kind of process you’d see in any other software company – we bring in all the major components, refine the dependencies, remove duplicates, perform additional testing above and beyond the community / project testing – focussing on security, performance, scalability, failure, longevity and the component integration points. We also look at documentation and the certification of third-party products like databases, Operating Systems, JVMs and other Application that work with JBoss. During this process we also run a traditional Early Access Program (aka Alpha, Beta) – this augments the attention the individual components receive during their own community release cycles. We’re fortunate to have some very willing customers who are able to apply significant resources to push our technology very hard using real-life applications and operational scenarios – often finding issues that are very hard to flush out in QE or during community release cycles.

The result of this process is an Enterprise Platform GA that differs from the upstream binary release we started with. First, we bundle additional components – like APR (Apache Portable run-time), Seam, mod_cluster, Apache CXF. And the core JBoss AS we include has a large number of fixes to address the security, performance and other issues identified during the productization process.

But that’s just the start.

Screen shot 2010-11-21 at 9.17.25 AM.png

JBoss EAP is supported for 7 years and with every additional minor or micro release we further improve the performance, security and stability of the Enterprise Platform. We’ve now released 2 micro and one minor release of JBoss EAP – that’s about 150 top-level issues in total. While the issue rate will slow over time – we’ll still be in a position to fix issues and respond to new security threats in 2016.

All those fixes are made available upstream and will ultimately make there way in to upstream binary releases but what the upstream project can’t guarantee is that those fixes will be isolated from more substantial changes and improvements – community releases typically don’t distinguish compatible bug fixes from more intrusive changes that provide the innovation.

OK so what happens to the community project once we’ve delivered an application platform? Well in the case of AS 5.0, from a Red Hat contributor perspective – the work was complete and Red Hat’s developers moved on to the next wave of innovation in AS 6 and AS 7. The goal of AS 6 is to deliver a Java EE 6 Web Profile implementation, the goal of AS 7 is to tackle the operational use-cases with a new domain model and console.

So to summarize this rather long post – if you want to deploy your business critical applications and receive long term support from Red Hat then the JBoss Enterprise Platforms are what I would recommend – if you’re more interested in seeing how those platforms will evolve and more interested in emerging technology but willing to take on more risk then upstream projects are where you should be looking. It all a matter of assessing the risk.

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