Blended Source Software

posted by avanabs on April 28, 2010 11:23 AM

I've recently been working my way through a number of whitepapers from IBM and Oracle...a seemingly endless task. These guys must have more prople writing whitepapers than building the products.

In any case, one of these whitepapers, a 2009 Oracle WhitePaper discussing the DOD's large scale use of Open Source, was really interesting for two reasons. First, Tomcat is without a doubt the major factor for Open Source utilization at the enterprise level. Secondly, Oracle uses the term "Blended Source" in this whitepaper to describe today's combination of Open Source and commercial products.

Nostalgic (and Whistful) Note...feel free to skip: A few years back, in the "BO" (before Oracle) days and while BEA was still a major force in the JEE Application Server market, some of us at BEA developed a product initiative sponsored by Peter Cooper Ellis, BEA VP of BEA's more visionary, and successful, executives. The BEA concept was dubbed "Blended Source" by Marge Breya, CMO. I was Product Manager for the initiative and Eric Hsiao led the development team, including some of BEA's best WLS engineers. 

"Blended Source" resulted from finding out how BEA's best and largest customers were really using our products. It was really simple...most of our customers were already combining the best of Open Source (Spring, Tomcat, Hyperic, etc) with BEA's Tuxedo and WLS server products to create a "blend". The opportunity we found was that each and every customer was investing in custom tooling and management to piece together these technologies. Customers were enthusiastic about BEA taking over that responsibility and ready/willing to pay for support subscriptions.

BEA's revenue would derive from providing "support subscriptions" for the Blended Source products, a radical idea for a proprietary closed source software company, but the major business model in the Open Source world. Interestingly, a careful business analysis clearly showed that this model would be more profitable for BEA than its closed source/proprietary mainteance model...because more than 100% of BEA's net revenue (most products actually lose money on license sales) came from support anyway. Just see BEA...or any other software company, annual statements for verification.

It was also very controversial at the time (the proverbial "career defining moment" for a number of us), specifically at the Alfred Chuang (CEO) level. Using 20/20 hindsight this is ironic , since it turned out that it was right on for what the IT market would become and might have saved BEA...but that's another story. While Alfred's minions did away with the concept and disbanded the team, it's interesting that virtually all major software vendors and all major customers have adopted this idea by now...and with the likes of Oracle even publically adopting Marge's jargon for it.

Why is "Blended Source" Relevant to the World of Tomcat?

Tomcat is widely used by today's largest enterprises to front end their back office business systems.servers (typically JEE), to implement today's massively horizontally scaled applications, and to host hundreds/thousands of "services" in support of such application architectures.

Tomcat is also widely used within commercial software, because it is a highly scalable, very reliable, light weight application container. In many ways, Tomcat drove the emergence of "Blended Source" in the enterprise

Why Does "Blended Source" Matter to IT Organizations?

Simply stated, most large IT organizations have been doing "Blended Source" infrastructure for years and the emergence of a new commercial Open Source marketplace now makes this feasible for small/mid sized organizations. This is because many of these new companies (folks like SpringSource and MuleSoft) are providing the "enterprise ready" layers and support subscriptions for both the commercial software and the Open Source components.

"Blended Source" is the rule, not the exception, in today's deployment architectures. The decomposition of the mega-blob applications of a decade ago into suites of business applications services, the assembly of new business applications from service components, and massively horizontally scalable applications all benefit from "Blended Source" environments. Many, if not most, enterprise class applications now utilize Open Source infrastructure components such as Tomcat and Spring, typically fronting for commercial software products such as Oracle, SQLserver, DB2, WLS and WAS.

Aren't Virtually All Commercial Products "Blended Source" Under the Covers?

Simply stated, YES!

It was the business model that differentiated a "Blended Source" product from the proprietary commercial products, not the technology. For example, almost all of the commercial JEE Application Servers include Tomact as the servlet container. Why? Because Tomcat is better (faster and more reliable), particularly when wrapped in a sophisticated management layer, than the servlet containers the proprietary vendors could develop. Some tests show Tomcat as much as 50% faster then the comparable functionality in commercial JEE servers.

Analysis of commercial products also shows a high usage of open source community projects, one factor that has become of concern to customers who have realized that some of this usage is prohibited by the more socialistic of the OpenSource licenses. That's created a whole new industry, Open Source License Analysis (companies such as Black Duck, Open Logic, etc), analyzing both commercial software and custom applicatins for OpenSource components, but the most interesting thing for many IT organizations is discovering the amount of OpenSource that's throughout the commercial products, where they are paying huge amounts to purchase licenses and even larger amounts for proprietary maintenance.

In Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products, you are almost certainly also using "Blended Source", but you are still restricted to a single vendor's maintenance agreement and the Open Source is pretty well buried in the COTS product...not very accessible.

Commercial "Blended Source"

Many large, and most medium, IT organizations will benefit increasingly from "Blended Source". That said, with the costs/complexity associated with integrating Open Source projects and combining them with COTS products being a significant factor, the emergence of "Commercial Blended Source" companies, who provide integration, support, and sophisticated management products provides an economic way to participate in this powerful trend.

Andy has recently decided to make the jump from individual consulting to join the Spring Source team. He will continue to be working with major clients to assist them with IT architecture evolution, now as a member of a large and growing organization. His first project will be leveraging Tomcat, Spring, and a Tomcat based data grid/cache called GemFire. He’s looking forward to sharing the lessons learned with the tomcatexpert community. Andy has been architecting, designing, and building enterprise infrastructure and applications software for most of his career. He’s been responsible for BEA’s “Blended Source” initiative, combining the best of Open Source (including both Tomcat and Spring) with WebLogic, BEA’s WebLogic Enterprise Security product family, MEI Software’s financial systems, Netegrity’s SiteMinder security product, Camex’s electronic publishing systems, mainframe applications for Bell Telephone, and many others. During that time his hands on technology experience has ranged from octal coding into neon lighted switches all the way through JAVA and beyond, including many generations of “the best and final thing we will ever need”, and he looks forward to working on the even better things coming in the future. He was involved in the early days of Open Source software as a contributor to EMACS and refocused on Open Source during his tenure as Director of Product Management with BEA Systems, combined with a fascination for the rapidly evolving application deployment architectures and technologies driving today’s development. Andy has provided architecture and technology guidance for both vendors and IT organizations and he shares what he is learning through consulting services and through his web site, Enterprise Software Trends (


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