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java.net: Why It's Good if You're Not Noticing Much Change

Posted by editor on August 26, 2009 at 9:14 AM PDT

There is some understandable confusion over the changes that have taken place on the java.net site starting this past weekend. The changes consist primarily of switching significant portions of the underlying infrastructure from a platform that was custom built by O'Reilly quite a few years ago, to a much more modern, modular, widely used platform. Stage One, which got underway this past Friday, is to make the platform switch and successfully migrate more than six years of java.net content from the old O'Reilly platform to the new infrastructure.

It's a big undertaking, that required lots of developer time (building migration scripts to convert data from the O'Reilly database structures into the structures in the new database, customizing the user interface in the new CMS to "be" the java.net we've had previously, etc.). If you're not noticing many differences between your java.net circa this week compared with your java.net circa last week, then the migration and transition has largely succeeded.

So, then, it's proper for you to ask: "So, what's in it for me? Why are you making such a big thing out of this, when nothing's changed for me?"

Well, first, I can assure you that we didn't do all this work just to entertain ourselves, and provide us with lots of overtime hours for months on end! We are doing this, indeed, for the java.net community. That's the only reason it's happening.

The entire point of this infrastructure change is to facilitate changes that will make java.net more useful for the community. As we all know, a big problem with a large custom built software system is that a large developer team is needed to maintain and update it. As I said recently, O'Reilly Media is not a software engineering firm. We developed a CMS platform that met a need starting six years ago. Would any of us expect that platform, which hasn't changed all that much over the years, to be ideal for java.net's needs today? I certainly wouldn't.

So, the choice was to either continue with an old platform that cannot be readily updated, or migrate to a new, modern platform. The latter option was chosen by the java.net managing team (which, by the way, does not include me -- though I completely agree with their decision).

The chosen method for migrating to the new platform is exactly the one I would have chosen, had I been in charge of the effort: first, move to the new platform and migrate all the content from the old servers, keeping the site as much intact as possible. Don't lose data, don't lose functionality. In a few spots (communities, for example), some new features were put into place during the initial transition; but for the most part, the objective was: move to the new platform and migrate the old content without breaking the site.

So, now we've basically accomplished that (though we're still working on multiple outstanding issues). There are new, faster servers now, with additional hardware still in the near-term pipeline. This, combined with tuning of the new infrastructure instantiation, should ultimately lead to much better site performance. Once we and the more active members of the java.net community are satisfied that the site is stable and usable, we'll be able to move ahead with enhancements.

Speaking of which: now that java.net is hosted on a much more readily adaptable platform, are there specific changes/improvements that you'd like to see? Let me know. Many things that were not possible a week ago (because they would have required an inordinate, budget-breaking software engineering effort) are now possibilities that can realistically be considered for java.net's future.


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