CIOs: Keep Your Open Source Outta My Database

 
 
By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-11-02
 
 
 
NEWTON, Mass.—A panel of CIOs at the Open Source Business Conference here on Tuesday said theyre spreading the open-source love all around, but the family jewels were top of the list when asked what part of the enterprise theyre still too petrified to tinker with.

"[It gets back to] the definition of CIO: Career Is Over," said CitiStreet CIO Barry Strasnick. "With the volume and criticality of our databases, which are now with Oracle … that would be a major risk."

That was seconded by Ron Rose, CIO of Priceline.com. "With the advent of 64-bit in open source and the ability to throw RAM at the database … open source, from a performance standpoint, is becoming pretty good. But with the [mission-critical nature of our] high-availability databases … we would be cautious."

Open-source database phobia obviously isnt universal, given their increasing uptake. Open-source database adoption has shot up 20 percent in the last six months, according to new research from Evans Data Corp., and findings show that they suffer substantially fewer security breaches than their proprietary kin.

But, as Rose pointed out, smaller companies might be able to get away with less than stellar availability. This panel, on the other hand, represented enterprises where database availability isnt negotiable: Besides Priceline.com and CitiStreet, the panel represented CIOs from Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan and NLG, a privately labeled distributor of leisure travel to sites such as Yahoo, Priceline, Hotwire and Orbitz.

"For those of us [for whom database availability is] mission-critical, I think well be on Oracle for a good time," Rose said—and with Sarbanes-Oxley deadlines coming up, theres even less motivation to move, he said.

The phobia doesnt extend to other open-source projects. Half of Fidelitys 9,000 IT staffers, for example, "know the exact right thing to do from an open-source perspective and are out searching the world [for a solution]," said CIO Don Haile.

Fidelity is a mixed shop with large mainframe configurations and some 11,300 servers, heavy on Windows and with lots of Sun and IBM. The company is now focusing on migrating to an Intel base and wants to move half of its 2,000 applications to Linux by the end of last year—a goal they nearly met.

Delaying the move to open source are complex, rich applications that sit on top of not particularly well-defined interfaces, Haile said.

"Over time we let our architecture get a little loose," he said. "Its been hard to migrate. Migration, no matter if its to open source or [a proprietary] platform, is a big, big problem."

Regardless, lawyers are probably the biggest roadblock to the widespread use of open source within Fidelitys infrastructure.

When it comes down to shying away from open-source stack components such as MySQL, there are other reasons beyond protecting the family jewels.

Namely, Haile said that one of his roles as a CIO is to mitigate churn. "We have so many opportunities and so many people who come in with these great ideas," he said. "Three years ago, we had an application server bakeoff between BEA and IBM. We went to WebSphere. We [migrated] a large amount of applications to WebSphere. Its just a question of whens the right time to move to the next level. Its not two years. Im not going to let that investment go to waste."

Besides, hes simply satisfied with the database hes got.

"Im satisfied with my database vendor. I dont want to say their name, but its Oracle," he said. "Their level of support is so good, and its prolific throughout the organization. Introducing MySQL would give me trouble."

Besides, Haile said, while Fidelity prides itself on being technologists, even a smart technological move to a new database would slow the company down, and thats simply unacceptable.

"If I say Im going to move to a new database, cost is one factor, but the cost of the move, thats a big deal, and it would slow us down."

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