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Exclusive The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is drilling deeper into infrastructure software with plans for an open source enterprise service bus (ESB) project.

ASF is next week expected to announce the ESB project, backed by a brace of software vendors and led by integration specialist Sonic Software. A source familiar with the project told The Register the ASF is offering customers an alternative to closed-source ESBs to "keep vendors honest."

"Customers are smart enough to try to protect themselves from monopolization. There's a really strong need for transportation to be interoperable and standardized. Typically, open source projects in Apache ought to be viewed as a reference implementation," the source said.

ASF is home of the ubiquitous Apache web server and an ESB project comes on the heels of Geronimo, the open source Java application server that started life in 2003. Geronimo became the basis for the Gluecode application server bought by IBM in May.

ASF's decision to start an ESB project indicates a desire by ASF to flesh-out its middleware architecture for business developers and users. That means ASF is following a host of closed and open source middleware organizations, including Gluecode rival JBoss. JBoss is planning its own ESB during the next year as part of the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS).

JBoss vice president of strategy and corporate development Bob Bickel believes an ESB is an important piece of enterprise infrastructure software because it provides customers with a platform to repeatedly solve integration problems.

Bickel, however, doubted Apache would offer competition to JBoss' planned ESB because Apache's loosely affiliated structure means it's difficult for the group to develop a strategy. "Having an ESB does not make that compete with what JBoss is going to produce," Bickel said.

Some members of the open source community believe the ASF is being used by middleware companies to further their own agendas. Concerns were raised by IBM's decision to provide support for users of Geronimo and its pledge to provide resources for the project following the Gluecode deal. This has triggered complaints that IBM now has control over the Geronimo roadmap.

Leadership of the ESB project by Sonic has reinforced this concern. Sonic could not be contacted at the time of going to press.

Our source, though, denied ASF was falling under commercial control, saying ASF's project-based structure meant the group can "go in different directions". "You have to pay attention to [ASF] on a per-project basis. Apache has this marvelous quality of being governed on a meritocratic basis," he said. ®

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