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Build a business case: developing custom apps

Why bother?

The most frequently cited example of users jumping in an setting up a community effort - quoted by Whitehurst last year - is that of the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) project. That was initially donated by JP Morgan Chase with Iona Technologies and Red Hat and is now backed by Credit Suisse, Deutsche Börse Systems, and Goldman Sachs.

Why bother when people like IBM, Microsoft, and Tibco already offer message queuing? Because, AMQP tackled more specific needs of financial services.

And why did these companies - some rivals - come together? Because, while important, it was considered a waste time and money developing message queuing in-house. And for all that effort, the work conferred no competitive advantage. This actually turned into a positive plus when it came to working with rivals on the project in the community.

The Eclipse Foundation is now home to a project with similar characteristics. Swordfish is an open-source Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs) effort, due this summer, based on a major code contribution from Germany's Deutsche Post.

Swordfish uses Deutsche Post's Sopera open-source enterprise service bus (ESB), technology that was spun out by the postal giant into a separate company also called Sopera and that was re-written under an Eclipse Public License.

Deutche Post turned to open source because the ESB was critical to running the messaging in its mailing division but was expensive to maintain and develop. Eclipse, meanwhile, delivered Sopera and Deutsche Post a ready-made community.

Of course, there already exists a perfectly serviceable open-source ESB from the ever-popular Apache Software Foundation (ASF) called ServiceMix, with a community around that. So why didn't Deutsche Post use this, given the popularity of Apache's other projects?

Ricco Deutscher, Sopera's chief technology officer, told us ServiceMix is good, proven technology but that Sopera has been proven in really large mission-critical deployments and offered features such as a registry repository and "central configuration." Also, the project carries with it a lot of accumulated end-user knowledge on how to build ESBs.

The plan at Eclipse is to add service and business activity monitoring via Swordfish, features that will find their way back into the main Sopera product. Long-term the idea is to challenge IBM's WebSphere and Oracle's WeLogic, closed-source, monolithic - Swordfish is based on OSGi - and relatively expensive middleware suites. Sopera starts at a $5,000 per CPU.

Since Deutsche Post went open source, others are also using Sopera with customers including European aerospace giant EADS and environmental charity Greenpeace in the UK.

"This is the starting point for development in Eclipse of a full-service repository," Deutscher said of Swordfish.

Eclipse could provide a ready made system of participation for other end-user projects. There's just the fact Eclipse is largely a vendor shop - and often the same vendors on different projects - that, like most other open-source efforts, is light on end users. ®

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