IBM Adopts Open Development Internally

IBM has quietly been using a form of open-source development internally to create technology the company will sell commercially.

Following on the success of its Eclipse open-source development platform, IBM has quietly been using a form of open-source development internally to create technology the company will sell commercially.

IBM calls its model Community Source, which it defines as a collaborative, internal, open-source-style environment for developing and testing new technology.

Danny Sabbah, vice president of strategy and technology for the IBM Software Group, in Armonk, N.Y., said IBM is using its Community Source model across 100 projects and 2,000 developers in the company. These projects span the IBM Software Group, Systems Group, Research and Global Services, he said.

Already, more than 30 of the Community Source projects have produced code that has found its way into IBM products, such as WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Business Integration Server, IBM Lotus Workplace, IBM Rational Application Developer, Rational Web Developer and some Tivoli offerings. And using this approach has cut development time some 30 percent while improving quality, Sabbah added.

Sabbah said its a new way for IBM to build software products, and it is here to stay. "Its an arrow in our quiver," Sabbah said of the Community Source model.

The process evolved out of IBMs work with open-source communities.

"We got to know more than just that community; we got to understand the process that they use and how various code bases [evolve]," Sabbah said.

At the same time, IBM has been shifting its own development, moving to more granular views of delivering capabilities. As a result, IBM has had to take capabilities being developed by each of its individual brands and componentize them "so that they not only had an external persona as a product, but also an internal persona as a capability," Sabbah said.

The type of reuse IBM was doing was not cutting it for such a widespread organization, he said. "We said, Were not trying to tackle the entire world, were just trying to solve a problem for IBM, and maybe the same process could actually work internally," Sabbah said. "It took off and succeeded beyond anybodys wildest dreams."

"I personally believe there are many practices and principles used by the better open-source communities that can be brought to internal development," said Brian Behlendorf, an open-source pioneer and founder and chief technology officer of CollabNet Inc., in Brisbane, Calif. "Transparency doesnt just mean access to code; it means access to the development plans, requirements and defects, and the team members themselves."

Among the components being used and shared among the projects are a Java Content Repository based on JSR (Java Specification Request) 170, a business process choreography engine and some core tooling components out of IBMs Rational division.

"One of the big benefits and drivers for open source they see is aligned interests," said Michael Goulde, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "By that I mean the ability to coordinate through collaboration and sharing across multiple entities, either companies or development groups, where those groups have interests in common."

To date, IBM has kept its Community Source project close to the vest. "We were running experiments around it, and we had not made a big deal out of it before," Sabbah said.


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