Outsourcing and open source

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-06-14 Print this article Print

It sounds as if managing network access from diverse points of entry and constantly supporting and refining the security posture are really occupying a huge fraction of all of your bandwidth these days.

Benincasa: In the past, we had a lot more time to work on improvement projects. Today, a big percentage of our time is spent on day-to-day activities and security. Fighting the issues doesnt keep us from doing other projects, but a project that might have taken us two weeks in the past would take us four weeks now. We just have less time to spend on the future.

In this presidential campaign season, the subject of outsourcing and offshoring of jobs, especially in IT, has had a pretty high profile. How is all this affecting you?

Benincasa: Were not really impacted by it. Were all in-house support. We use the outside very rarely.

Gunnerson: Were primarily a U.S. company. We have used offshore talent on occasion, usually on a project basis and only when it helps us speed our time to market. ... So far its not so much support as it is programming.

Is anyone looking hard at the notion of moving away from mainstream applications to open-source?

Gunnerson: I think thats always a consideration. ... The question becomes, When is there a close-enough desktop derivative in the open-source field that will allow me to move or coexist?

And you feel that you have your radar on that all the time and that when it happens youll be aware of it but it hasnt happened yet?

Gunnerson: Exactly. If there were a compelling monetary reason, wed go after it immediately. I mean, if it was millions of dollars saved, thatd be one thing. But its not millions of dollars saved at this time; its more like risk avoidance because you want to have multiple platforms in case one of them gets severely hacked.

What were seeing is that the applications that were available on open-source platforms were good a couple of years ago. Theyve had two years to get better, and theyve gotten better. The other vendors that have databases and application front ends and app servers have made progress, too, but I think the folks in open source are catching up pretty well. Were starting to see parity. Once you have parity and theres an opportunity to move off of a proprietary platform, you will.

Do you feel the range of choices available is on the increase or the decrease, generally speaking? And is it taking up more or less of your time to stay aware of those options?

Benincasa: I think the choices are increasing. Were actively working on an OpenOffice.org rollout, and thats something that a few years back wasnt even an option. So were seeing that there are alternatives. Look at Linux. Were doing some prototyping and using its terminal services, if you will, not only for low-end machines and shop machines but also as a possibility for remote access. Were looking at all these other options that maybe two or three years ago didnt exist.

For more on Benincasas OpenOffice.org project, click here. Calabrese: On the Linux side, we are playing in that realm, the difference being continuity and predictability of service. Weve gotten it to the point where stuff with a Microsoft logo on it is pretty reliable, and when we do hit a fail point, we can recover from it pretty fast and pretty predictably. Granted, [these products are] the favorite target for viruses and worms and such, but when we get those, we recover from them pretty fast. Weve yet to see an alternate operating system virus in-house, and I can say that Im not sure how long it would take me to recover from one.

Next page: Looking ahead.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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