I got a chance to catch up with the folks from Red Hat recently. I have reviewed the new functionality that Mark Proctor and his team have been adding to turn the old Drools rule engine into a competitive Business Rules Management System or BRMS when the latest release came out. This time we chatted about the business side of the leading open source rule solution.
JBoss brought in the Drools project about four years ago to be part of the JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite. Although the engine is open source, Red Hat/JBoss have been selling subscriptions for JBoss Rules Framework and have customers with both Java developers and business analysts using it (though, clearly, most users of the rule engine are Java developers). The business rules project runs at about 20-30,000 downloads a month from developers etc. This huge number of users gave them lots of experience at the engine level.
More recently they found, working with customers, that there was demand for a full business rules management system not just a rules engine. The Guvnor project was the result – going beyond a rules framework and moving to an enterprise platform that handles things like authoring for non programmers, web 2.0 front-ends, version control etc. The Guvnor project fuels the JBoss Enterprise BRMS, the supported version intended for mission critical production deployments, that was launched in May.
Subscriptions to the new BRMS have been for sale since then and they have a growing customer base already (though none have gone public). Some of these customers are existing commercial BRMS customers while others are new ones not currently using any other BRMS. Some are moving to open source because it costs too much to do the next project (budgets are very constrained this year obviously) or they are looking for a rules solution that is a bit less “heavyweight”. The availability of JBoss Enterprise BRMS has made it more competitive and personally I suspect that the lack of software budgets over the last 12-18 months will have resulted in extra business from those who want to use business rules but who have little money to buy a commercial license.
Financial Services and Insurance are the most active segments for JBoss Enterprise BRMS as they are for most BRMS vendors. Pricing and configuration of products and regulatory compliance are also strong while healthcare insurance in the US and energy are coming along as regulations and change are increasingly expected. I see a lot of software companies embedding the rule engine but it is too early to tell if these folks will move to the BRMS or continue with the rule engine/framework. Developers after all are still downloading the rule engine/framework even as architects are downloading the full BRMS.
Red Hat is serious about selling subscriptions for the rules product. Prices start at a little more than $20,000 for 4 CPUs, which is very price competitive. JBoss Enterprise BRMS subscriptions will likely surpass JBoss Rules soon and going forward subscriptions will be focused on the BRMS solution rather than the standalone rule engine technology.
Red Hat sounds like they are in this for the long term, and their recent sponsorship of the Business Rules Forum is encouraging too. I think the availability of a competitively priced subscription and an open source solution that is robust is good for the industry, as are the hundreds of thousands of downloads every year. I look forward to seeing more from Red Hat in this area.