JBoss changing tack with ex-HP middleware buy

JBoss Inc. has added to its Java middleware stack by acquiring transaction processing software from Arjuna Technologies Ltd. and Hewlett-Packard Co., JBoss announced Monday.

As well as adding to JBoss’ growing menu of open-source Java software, the transaction closes another chapter in the history of HP’s middleware business, which it discontinued in 2002.

The acquisition marks a shift in strategy for JBoss, which until now has acquired or partnered with open source companies. Arjuna, based in Newcastle, England, developed proprietary software and JBoss is making the products it acquired open source, said Marc Fleury, JBoss’ chairman and chief executive. Arjuna cofounder and chief architect Mark Little is joining JBoss as part of the deal.

Transaction engines help manage a series of related business events that need to occur as a group. For example, a bank might use a transaction engine to ensure that when a payment is transferred between accounts, the credit and debit operations are both completed successfully.

The technology is complex to develop and JBoss bought the Arjuna software, which has been developed over two decades, in order to accelerate the availability of high-quality open-source transactional software on the market, Fleury said.

Arjuna has an interesting history. Originally formed at Newcastle University in the 1980s, it was acquired by Bluestone Software Inc. in 2000, which in turn was acquired by Hewlett-Packard Co. in 2001 for a reported sum of US$450 million (Arjuna puts the value at $525 million in a timeline on its Web site). Following HP’s merger with Compaq in 2002, HP decided to discontinue its middleware portfolio, prompting wide speculation about where the technologies would end up.

Arjuna Technologies answers at least part of that question. The company is an HP spin-off, formed by members of the original Arjuna team soon after HP’s Compaq merger closed. The company rebranded HP’s transaction and messaging products and has been selling them under license from HP, Little said.

Financial terms of the JBoss acquisition were not disclosed. Arjuna Technologies will continue to exist as a company, selling its remaining Java messaging product (which was also formerly an HP product) and providing consulting services for both the messaging and transaction products, Little said.

The move by JBoss follows Sun Microsystems Inc.’s announcement last week that it plans to make all of its core software products open source, including the integration software it acquired when it bought SeeBeyond Corp. That move, combined with Arjuna’s software becoming open source, puts added pressure on JBoss’ arch rival IBM, according to Fleury.

“The significance is similar to Sun’s announcement. It’s an acceleration of the availability of high-end features that IBM thought they were safe against from open-source encroachment, be it integration or high end transaction engines,” he said.

The deal marks a useful addition to JBoss’ middleware stack, but it should not cause Steve Mills, IBM’s software chief, to lose any sleep just yet, according to James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk in the UK. Businesses using IBM’s transaction processing software are unlikely to switch to those from JBoss just because they are open source and cheaper to acquire, he said.

“High-end transaction processing is hard to do. It’s not just about transaction software, it’s about the surrounding services, systems and software too. IBM does still have an advantage in that area,” Governor said.

The assets acquired are the Arjuna Transaction Service Suite (ArjunaTS) and its Web Services Transaction implementation, which supports the WS-TX (Web Services Transaction) and WS-CAF (Web Services Composite Application Framework (WS-CAF) specifications.

JBoss plans to release the source code for both products in the first quarter next year and to integrate them with a future version of its Java middleware suite, version 5.0, Fleury said. In the meantime they will be offered as add-on modules for versions 3.0 and 4.0 of the suite, he said.

JBoss has acquired several open source projects in the past two years and now manages about 30 projects, with seven of them integrated into its middleware stack so far. Fleury acknowledged that growing the company quickly and juggling so many projects can be difficult.

“That’s just what we have to manage, it’s a natural tension. We can’t stay static with two products,” he said.

Little is joining JBoss to manage development of the transaction technologies, which he has been involved with since they were started in the 1980s, he said.

“For a small startup company, Arjuna has been pretty successful since it was created three years ago. However, it reached the point where its small size was an impediment to closing larger deals,” he wrote in an email reply to questions. “When JBoss came to us with the offer of acquiring our transaction service implementation, it seemed like a logical extension to our business model: get the technology in front of more users and follow up with the consultancy and training.”

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