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Open Source Cloud: Article

Ten Open Source Solutions Your Enterprise Should Be Using

There are literally thousands of other solid open source packages available that perform a wide variety of functions

iText
This library lets Java developers create PDF files (without shelling out big bucks to Adobe for a PDF writer). Unlike HTML, which is browser-dependent, iText allows generation of read-only, platform-independent documents containing text, lists, tables, and images. Generally, iText is best used for Web sites that need to generate on-the-fly PDFs with the aforementioned elements. It's used by BIRT (Business Intelligence Reporting Tools, a recent addition to Eclipse) and other reporting tools to create downloadable PDF versions of their generated reports. There are no significant drawbacks to using this tool.

iText is available under the Mozilla Public License or LGPL. Commercial support is available from OpenLogic.

Frameworks
Hibernate
Hibernate is considered the object relational mapping tool of choice for Java developers. It's full-featured, robust, supported, well tested, updated, and heavily used in the enterprise. Hibernate is a critical component of Red Hat's JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS), which comes with extensive professional support, consulting, and training services. Hibernate supports over a dozen databases, including Oracle, DB2, MySQL, and PostgreSQL and also works either standalone or in conjunction with application servers like Geronimo and JBoss. It's highly configurable for performance tuning, offers a sophisticated caching mechanism, and has generation tools so one can generate database schemas from Java objects (or vice versa) or generate both from a mapping file that describes how the Java objects are to be persisted in the database. It also lets you drop to native SQL if the standard Hibernate Query Language (HQL) is insufficient.

There is currently a pending patent infringement suit filed by Firestar against Red Hat over Hibernate's technology. Although the tool itself is solid and many people believe the lawsuit is without merit, enterprises should take this into account when selecting this tool.

Hibernate is available under the LGPL. Commercial support is available from a variety of companies including OpenLogic and Red Hat.

Spring
Spring, available under the Apache License, is a highly configurable, lightweight, aspect-oriented, flexible application framework that can be used as an alternative to heavy J2EE applications. It can work standalone or in conjunction with application servers like JBoss or Geronimo. The big claim to fame for Spring is that it supports dependency injection and inversion of control, which means that business objects don't have to know all of the details of system configuration a priori; instead, Spring configures applications at start-up time by injecting each object with its necessary dependencies. This creates a very loosely coupled system that can be easily configured through XML whereby one can tune and reconfigure just by changing the XML description and without modifying the underlying code. This is quite valuable when transitioning from a development environment to QA to production where database connection parameters change, clustering is introduced, and other configuration properties need to be modified.

Spring is compatible with many of the other projects already discussed, including XFire, ActiveMQ, ServiceMix, and Hibernate. The only downside with Spring is that all those configuration parameters amount to vast expanses of XML. Without some upfront thought into your configuration strategy, all that uncompilable XML can get out of hand.

Spring is available under the Apache 2.0 license. Commercial support is available from Interface21 and OpenLogic.

Libraries
JUnit
JUnit, released under the Common Public License Version 1.0 and hosted on SourceForge, is the de facto standard for unit testing in the Java development world. It supports agile methodologies and makes it easy to blend testing infrastructure into build tools and environments so that developers can quickly see if a change they have made will break the code base. It integrates well into Ant and Maven, the two most popular open source build tools for Java developers, and Eclipse, the most popular IDE. JUnit can also work both in standalone mode through a command line and through its own user interface to display results. In either case, errors and failures are reported clearly (with optional HTML output through integration with Ant) so developers know exactly where to look for problems.

JUnit is available under the Common Public License. Commercial support is available from OpenLogic.

Jakarta Commons
Jakarta Commons is a three-part project focused on reusable Java components and is already heavily used at the enterprise level. The Commons Proper, a repository of reusable Java components, the Commons Sandbox, a workspace for Java component developers, and the Common Dormant, a repository for inactive Sandbox components, make up Jakarta Commons. The Commons is a great default library for enterprise developers that covers a range of basic development needs, from configuration support to logging to programmatic HTTP access to Command Line Interface (CLI) parsing to database connection pulling to e-mail generation to XSLT processing. It offers a solid base layer for every enterprise developer to look at instead of creating task-specific widgets - the fact is they can probably find what they need in Jakarta Commons.

The potential downside is that a lot of tools remain in the sandbox, meaning they're subject to change. For developers, this could mean needing to rewrite code in the future, which can be time-consuming.

Jakarta Commons is an Apache Software Foundation project and available under the Apache 2.0 license. Commercial support is available from OpenLogic.

Conclusion
Obviously, neither the list of 10 products above nor the evaluation is all-inclusive. For every project mentioned, there are others that do the same tasks. That being said, open source often fights an uphill battle with respect to enterprise adoption largely due to the inaccurate perception that it is more complicated and less reliable than proprietary offerings. However, with the proper due diligence, enterprises can ensure that the open source projects they select are reliable, proven, and supported. And while only a fraction of the 144,000 open source projects on SourceForge may meet this stringent enterprise litmus test, many have matured, been battle-tested, and serve as legitimate alternatives to proprietary software in business-critical environments.

Checklist for Evaluating Open Source
Evaluating open source projects requires the same due diligence as reviewing commercial and proprietary solutions. Thus, there are two key areas to evaluate: functional and technical capabilities, and the ecosystem of services around the product (support, maintenance, community, commercial backing, etc.). With traditional proprietary commercial products, there is a vendor (along with partners) that typically provides the ecosystem of services. As part of any open source evaluation, an enterprise needs to understand those services and how they meet company IT needs.

It's no different with open source software. In this case, the services may come from commercial open source providers, from the community at large, or from other service providers. Whichever option you choose, you should evaluate the following key criteria:

  • Are certified versions and updates available from a trusted source?
  • How viable is the community? Structure? Size? Longevity? Activity?
  • What type of license does it use? What are the restrictions? What are the licenses associated with the project and with other open source products it depends on?
  • Is commercial-grade support available? What is the quality and responsiveness of support from the community?
  • Is indemnification available? Have there been any IP actions?
  • Does the product have the functionality needed?
  • Does the product meet my technical requirements? Is the product available on the platforms I need?
  • What other open source products are bundled in? What products does it depend on?
  • What is the complexity of configuring and integrating this product with other components?
  • How will I manage the stream of security patches, bug fixes, and other updates?
  • What is the ROI for this product?

More Stories By Rod Cope

Rod Cope is the CTO and founder of OpenLogic. He is a Sun Certified Java Architect with 25 years of software development experience, including 12 years of Java. For the past six years, he has been working on OpenLogic Enterprise, a certified, managed, updated, and supported collection of over 350 Open Source projects for Java developers. Rod routinely speaks at technical conferences such as Java Symposia and the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and has been selected as one of the Top 10 presenters at JavaOne.

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