Feeding the community fuels advances at Red Hat and JBoss

I wouldn’t dare claim to pinpoint what makes Red Hat the most successful company with a pervasive open source strategy, but one intriguing thing sticks out: their free software development strategy is the precise inverse of most companies based on open source.

Take the way Red Hat put together CloudForms, one of their major announcements at last week’s instance of the annual Red Hat Summit and JBoss World. As technology, CloudForms represents one of the many efforts in the computer industry to move up the stack in cloud computing, with tools for managing, migrating, and otherwise dealing with operating system instances along with a promise (welcome in these age of cloud outages) to allow easy switches between vendors and prevent lock-in. But CloudForms is actually a blend of 79 SourceForge projects. Red Hat created it by finding appropriate free software technologies and persuading the developers to work together toward this common vision.

I heard this story from vice president Scott Farrand of Hewlett-Packard. Their own toe hold on this crowded platform is the HP edition, a product offering that manages ProLiant server hosts and Flex Fabric networking to provide a platform for CloudForms.

The point of this story is that Red Hat rarely creates products like other open source companies, which tend to grow out of a single project and keep pretty close control over the core. Red Hat makes sure to maintain a healthy, independent community-based project. Furthermore, many open source companies try to keep ahead of the community, running centralized beta programs and sometimes keeping advanced features in proprietary versions of the product. In contrast, the community runs ahead of Red Hat projects. Whether it’s the Fedora Linux distribution, the Drools platform underlying JBoss’s BPM platform, JBoss Application Server lying behind JBoss’s EAP offering, or many other projects forming the foundation of Red Hat and JBoss offerings, the volunteers typically do the experimentation and stabilize new features before the company puts together a stable package to support.

Red Hat Summit and JBoss World was huge and I got to attend only a handful of the keynotes and sessions. I spent five hours manning the booth of for Open Source for America, which got a lot of positive attention from conference attendees. Several other worthy causes in reducing poverty attracted a lot of volunteers.

In general, what I heard at the show didn’t represent eye-catching innovations or sudden changes in direction, but solid progress along the lines laid out by Red Hat and JBoss in previous years. I’ll report here on a few technical advances.

PaaS standardization: OpenShift

Red Hat has seized on the current computing mantra of our time, which is freedom in the cloud. (I wrote a series on this theme, culminating in a proposal for an open architecture for SaaS.) Whereas CloudForms covers the IaaS space, Red Hat’s other big product announcement, OpenShift, tries to broaden the reach of PaaS. By standardizing various parts of the programming environment, Red Hat hopes to bring everyone together regardless of programming language, database back-end, or other options. For example, OpenShift is flexible enough to support PostgreSQL from EnterpriseDB, CouchDB from Couchbase, and MongoDB from 10gen, among the many partners Red Hat has lined up.

KVM optimization

The KVM virtualization platform, a direct competitor to VMware (and another project emerging from and remaining a community effort), continues to refine its performance and offer an increasing number of new features.

  • Linux hugepages (2 megabytes instead of 4 kilobytes) can lead to a performance improvement ranging from 24% to 46%, particularly when running databases.

  • Creating a virtual network path for each application can improve performance by reducing network bottlenecks.

  • vhost_net improves performance through bypassing the user-space virtualization model, QEMU.

  • Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) allows direct access from a virtual host to an I/O device, improving performance but precluding migration of the instance to another physical host.

libvirt is much improved and is now the recommended administrative tool.

JBoss AS and EAP

Performance and multi-node management, seemed to be the obsessions driving AS 7. Performance improvements, which have led to a ten-fold speedup and almost ten times less memory use between AS 6 and AS 7, include:

  • A standardization of server requirements (ports used, etc.) so that these requirements can be brought up concurrently during system start-up

  • Reorganization of the code to better support multicore systems

  • A cache to overcome the performance hit in Java reflection.

Management enhancements include:

  • Combining nodes into domains where they can be managed as a unit

  • The ability to manage nodes through any scripting language, aided by a standard representation of configuration data types in a dynamic model with a JSON representation

  • Synching the GUI with the XML files so that a change made in either place will show up in the other

  • Offering a choice whether to bring up a server right away at system start-up, or later on an as-needed basis

  • Cycle detection when servers fail and are restarted

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