Red Hat is set to make it easier for enterprises to move from proprietary Java-based middleware, like Oracle WebLogic and IBM WebSphere, to its JBoss Enterprise Middleware.

The company, in conjunction with Red Hat partners, has initiated an open-source project - JBoss MASS (Migration Assistance) - to provide software in order to help enterprises migrate to JBoss, as well as an online community to connect new JBoss customers with other customers and partners that have more experience working with the platform.

Aaron Darcy, a JBoss product line director at Red Hat, said the goal of the project was to lower the entry barrier for customers to migrate to JBoss. Red Hat obviously also hopes to gain JBoss customers through the project, which means more revenue for the company.

While Darcy acknowledged this would be a benefit of the project, he said that Red Hat also wanted to help customers who have already expressed interest in moving to open-source middleware but have asked Red Hat to tell them "where to start" on a migration path.

"In most migrations, customers are seeking help - they don't have experience with the new technology," Darcy said. "What often happens is the effort to migrate [begins with] a manual, exhaustive review. The goal [with JBoss MASS] is to create tools to replace the manual effort."

Several Red Hat partners with expertise in deploying JBoss have committed at least one person to contribute code and technical expertise to the project, Darcy said. Companies participating are Amentra, a former partner that is now a Red Hat company; CityTech; Consilium1; Exadel; Freedom OSS; RivetLogic; Unisys; and Vizuri.

Would-be JBoss customers could also use the project to connect with these partners for help if they decide to migrate to JBoss, Darcy said.

JBoss MASS community organisers were working on a road map for JBoss MASS and should be providing migration tools and best practices sometime in the next six months, he added.

Migrating from one middleware platform to another is not an easy task. Given the global recession, many enterprises are looking to maintain the technology they have rather than begin a complicated IT migration project.

However, Darcy said Red Hat believes JBoss overall has a lower total cost of ownership than proprietary competitors, so companies that are at the end of contracts with companies like IBM and Oracle might consider moving despite the economic climate. "They're still looking for ways to lower their costs," he said.

Brad Shimmin, a principal analyst for Current Analysis, said Darcy has a point. Subscription-pricing models that companies like Red Hat and Sun Microsystems offer for their middleware - which don't include fees for running software on multicore servers and virtualisation technology - can actually save enterprise customers money and help them better manage yearly software costs, he said.

"If you're straight-up comparing licensing fees and subscription-based support services, [subscriptions] are going to win nine times out of 10," Darcy said.

In fact, Shimmin said enterprise customers are even using open-source pricing models to help them negotiate better middleware contracts with companies like Oracle and IBM, who will work out a better deal for enterprise customers that will give them long-term, recurring revenue.