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Middleware application servers: Loosening the constraints of proprietary lock-in

The bustling marketplace for enterprise-grade Windows-to-Linux migration tools proves that many companies are looking into open source software products. Although no one-size-fits-all solution works for all Windows to Linux migrations, many software and service solutions providers stand ready to assist in such efforts, providing a range of services from planning through integration and deployment to on-going training and support.

Motivations for such migrations include deliberately choosing open source software as a platform strategy, perceived or projected cost savings (both for software and for total cost of ownership) and a growing backlash against Microsoft's licensing costs and requirements. One comprehensive application framework model assigned to this task is the middleware application server -- an old concept that remains well suited for large-scale enterprise migration tasks.

As Windows-centric enterprises migrate to Linux, one typical sticking point pops up in terms of software applications for mission-critical business functions or services. On corporate desktops, emulation techniques such as VMware or Win4Lin permit peaceful coexistence between Linux and Windows-only applications. On corporate servers, virtualization consolidates software and hardware resources, meaning disparate Windows-based services may be unified on large-scale, heavy-duty Linux server systems or clusters. Middleware application servers come into play when proprietary database

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and application servers or services like Active Directory foster resistance to migrations because users do not want to lose the functionality.

Middleware creates an abstraction layer between the operating system and application components in distributed network environments. Ostensibly, middleware acts as transparent glue between heterogeneous platforms to facilitate network-based transactions.

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Many types of middleware can play this kind of role, but one popular form is application servers like Red Hat's Java EE-based JBoss, a suite of services that can run atop Windows and many POSIX-compliant platforms. JBoss provides an excellent solution for creating clusters, failover servers, load-balancers and distributed server farms or caching servers. Futhermore, JBoss is marketed along with the migration program support services and certified system integrators to facilitate enterprise-level migration away from commercial application servers toward JBoss.

Three tiers of open source software (OSS) adoption involve middleware application servers:

  • Hand-selected building blocks of proven middleware components
  • Workload-specific middleware stack templates
  • Consulting services for custom OSS middleware stacks

By hand-selecting software components, an AS may be custom-built to meet customer specifications. Only the necessary components are integrated for business use and then deployed with the assistance of an ultra-portable Java framework. Workload-specific middleware stack templates create readily usable and easily deployed boilerplates based on business-specific needs. Consulting services provide a foundation for technical and follow-up support, training and assisted management of customized OSS middleware stacks. JBoss provides not only a framework for this effort but also people and resources to follow through from planning to implementation, using certified system integrators.

Application servers can restore control of the corporate desktop for better leverage over managed services. Further consolidation may be possible by using terminal server-like services to enable thin clients or minimal desktops to bootstrap across the network, while simultaneously reducing operational costs and administrative overhead. This creates economies of scale and service efficiencies that many enterprises find make the migration effort worthwhile.

Justin Korelc is a longtime Linux hacker and system administrator who concentrates on hardware and software security, virtualization and high-performance Linux systems. Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer based in Austin, Tex., who specializes in markup languages, information security, networking and IT certification. Justin and Ed have contributed to books on Home Theater PCs and the Linux-based MythTV environment, and they write regularly about Linux for several TomsHardware sites.


This was first published in July 2006

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