Interoperability Issues Hamper Open-Source Adoption

The Open Solutions Alliance says more open-source projects need to be built with good interoperability hooks.

While commercial open-source solutions are being broadly adopted, there are obstacles slowing that adoption, particularly around interoperability, the Open Solutions Alliance has found.

The Alliance, which was established in late 2006 by companies including CollabNet, SpikeSource, and Unisys as a consortium to help drive the interoperability and adoption of open solutions, sponsored a series of five customer forums in the United States and Europe in 2007, which were attended by more than 100 customers, integrators and vendors. A summary report of the findings from those forums will be issued Dec. 12, which includes a list of the six most common interoperability issues attendees are experiencing.

Among these are centralized identity management, or single sign-on; data integration, including both real-time data synchronization and batch transfer; and portability, as customers want their solutions to work across different platforms, particularly the various Linux distributions and Windows.


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Dominic Sartorio, the president of OSA and lead author of the report, whose day job is director of product management for partner products at SpikeSource, told eWEEK that customers also want user interface customization and portal integration, so that integrated solutions have a consistent look and feel. In addition, customers want content management integration so that shared content can easily integrate with the same back-end content repository; and component compatibility, ensuring that a given version of one component works with a given version of another component, Sartorio said.

According to the alliance, larger enterprises consistently said business process orchestration remains an issue and they want to be able to integrate their solutions into an end-to-end business process, using SOA-style best practices.

They also want to be able to integrate the production management and monitoring of open solutions into the same management frameworks used to manage other IT applications and infrastructure, the summary report said.

Asked what is being done on the interoperability front, Sartorio said: "We believe the broader open-source community is doing too little. That's why we exist. Left to their own devices, developers prefer to build new features and focus on the point solution where they have expertise. Open-source projects are only infrequently built from the ground up to have good interoperability hooks."


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If interoperability is not treated as a core feature, many potential users of open-source solutions will simply not adopt those products, resulting in less revenue opportunity and fewer engineering resources to fix the problem in later releases, Sartorio cautioned.

"This may sound like a chicken-and-egg problem, but vendors need to get interoperability right in Version 1 of their products. Clearly there's a need for an organization to champion interoperability, to educate and to facilitate collective action," he said.

Sartorio added that the OSA is driving interoperability by publishing the best practices for interoperability and helping get projects off the ground, where member product teams work together to get their solutions to interoperate.

With regard to Microsoft's very public and aggressive strategy around interoperability with Linux and open-source companies, Sartorio said that this was barely mentioned by forum attendees.

"Most had seen the news about Microsoft's patent saber-rattling, including its claim that 235 of its patents are being violated by a variety of open-source projects, but very few knew of the good work Microsoft was doing on interoperability. This is where we believe Microsoft and the commercial open-source industry have done themselves a disservice," he said.


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"By focusing on intellectual property, which customers see as a vendor problem, and on the philosophical issues of open versus closed, which customers see as a distraction, the industry isn't getting the word out about what customers really care about—getting these products to work together," Sartorio said.

And therein lies the rub for the OSA, which was told by a number of vendors that while they see the advantages of open-source solutions and would recommend them to their customers, they need to be able to guarantee a level of interoperability with products from proprietary vendors such as Microsoft.

"While Microsoft's legal department may rattle the patent saber, other groups have a mandate of making open source run better with Microsoft products. We particularly applaud Microsoft's Open Source Software Lab, whose mandate is to make open-source applications and infrastructure run better on the Windows Server. This kind of portability is a good thing because it enhances customer choice and removes a reason for customers not to adopt an open-source alternative," he said.

The OSA also believes that, over time, Microsoft will be forced to collaborate more with open source, since customers will demand it, Sartorio said.

The OSA report also points out that some customers have expressed concerns about support and maintenance for open-source solutions, saying they want "one throat to choke."

While customers can get support for individual solutions, they have difficulty in managing projects that involve multiple vendors. "Inevitably the blame game results, and nobody wants to own up to the glue code. Customers just want one phone number to call to get issues resolved," Sartorio said.


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While the OSA's plan to address interoperability will not address these issues head-on, it has a ratified proposal for how vendors can collaborate more effectively in resolving such support cases, he said.


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