Lead Migration to Open Source JEE Application Server

Type of Service: 
Management Consulting
Country: 
Saudi Arabia
Industry: 
Health Care Services
Duration: 
1 year
Challenge: 

To lead the migration of our client's electronic services and portal to a new platform. This particular client was a large, prestigious healthcare organization with a total of over 12,000 employees. The client's Information Technology department had strategically chosen the Java Enterprise Edition as their platform of choice to deliver services and the portal to patients and employees. However, the client had also made an early decision to go with a commercial JEE application server.

Over time, the application server had cost the client hundred of thousands of riyals in licensing fees, and the future promised to extend those figures to the millions. The owning vendor the application server, a large Fortune 500 company and one of the largest technology companies in the world, had provided questionable support to the client in exchange for the large fees. Our client understandably felt a growing frustration with their return on investment.

Solution: 

Systematic Computer Science is a pragmatic, and not fanatic, user of open source technologies. We appreciated our client's frustration level, and suggested to try switching to the Glassfish open source Java Enterprise Edition application server. We have had excellent experience with this particular server, and it has consistently performed well in comparison to other open source servers such as Tomcat, JBoss, and Geronimo.
Initially, we were given approval to deliver a proof of concept: convert three existing applications running on the client's commercial server to run on the new Glassfish server. We were able to do this in reasonably short time, and successfully alhamdulillaah demonstrated the three applications running on Glassfish. The main challenge was to remove the dependencies on the commercial server's libraries, and also to readjust the user interface to adhere to standard JavaServer Faces (JSF) instead of the commercial server's 'extended tags'.
After successfully doing the proof of concept, our client was encouraged enough to formally proceed with the switch. We were asked to provide a plan for migration, complete with development and design tasks, training tasks, and estimates on person-hours per application. We used our experience on the three applications we had converted to provide our client with a formula-based estimate for their remaining applications.
Finally, alhamdulillaah, the project was approved and put into action, and is ongoing as of mid-2011.

Benefits: 

Our client will probably say that the great benefit of this project is the savings in license fees they will enjoy over the years inshaa-Allaah. This is certainly true, however we believe there are other more subtle benefits that will also be enjoyed:

  • significantly higher developer morale and productivity since the Glassfish open source application server is cutting edge (not bleeding edge), and is the reference implementation for the latest JEE technologies. The latest versions of EJB and JSF offer vastly more efficient development choices than the earlier versions.
  • a greater appreciation for the high maturity of certain open source products, and a reduced dependency on vendors who attempt to lock in clients for technology that has almost become a commodity. There is a time and place for commercial support that Systematic Computer Science does understand respect, but there are also times where an open source choice is by far the best choice.
  • given that our client is one of the leading healthcare institutions in the entire Middle East, the strategic repercussions of their decision and pioneering spirit to put it bluntly are probably going to lead to additional savings and benefits for the entire region over time. Other healthcare institutions will be very interested to emulate the same success inshaa-Allaah.