Open Source Spreads Its Wings in Enterprise

A growing number of enterprises find open-source software delivers advantages in cost, choice, support.

Charles Brenner entered the open-source realm several years ago the way most others do: rolling out Linux in an effort to save a few dollars.

"We started a couple of years ago, having been introduced through Linux and then Apache and then kind of up through the stack," said Brenner, vice president of the Boston-based Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, a unit of Fidelity Investments. "Then we wanted to see if we could leverage the power of open source for a higher level of different applications. The rationale? We came to the table around the idea of saving money—just the simple stuff, no license fee."

But Brenner, who has emerged as a champion of open-source software in enterprise IT, said hes since learned that, beyond cost, "there are tremendous advantages for a company like us in working with that model." Thanks to increased competition among open-source providers, large and small, and the evolution of the open-source development business, Brenner and others have more and better choices, along with improved support and innovation as they seek relief from burdensome licensing costs.

Fidelity, for one, sees the activity among upstart open-source developers and the software industrys old guard as reason to expand open sources presence in the enterprise. While Fidelity officials initially worried about who would support the technologies, according to Brenner, the financial services company created an open-source support center and later signed on with SpikeSource Inc., a Redwood City, Calif., open-source startup that delivers customized stacks of tested open-source components.

Enterprises are increasingly beneficiaries of such growth in the open-source market, according to experts. Startups and open-source software projects abound in an increasing number of categories, challenging entrenched companies.

MySQL AB and EnterpriseDB Corp. have emerged to challenge Oracle Corp., IBM and Microsoft Corp. in the database arena. JBoss Inc. has severely tested both BEA Systems Inc. and IBM in the application server space. SugarCRM Inc. is posing a challenge to SAP AG and Oracle in CRM (customer relationship management). And last month, open-source-based Zimbra Inc. launched its challenge to IBM and Microsoft in the collaboration software space with its Zimbra Collaboration Suite.

/zimages/6/28571.gifSoftware industry comes to terms with open source. Click here to read more.

In reaction to the roiling water in open source, IBM this summer acquired Gluecode Software Inc., a company that offered an alternative open-source application server platform to JBoss. Novell Inc. in 2003 acquired SuSE Linux AG and Ximian Inc. to better compete in the Linux and open-source market.

In addition, Oracle, Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Computer Associates International Inc. have had to react by open-sourcing key technologies, releasing patents, creating open-source-czar positions and other moves. Even Microsoft has had to react by hiring open-source experts and creating a quasi-open-source alternative with its Shared Source Initiative program.

"What I think is interesting is the way you see the big players reacting," said Leon Hess, IT director at Chem-Fab Corp., in Hot Springs, Ark. "Companies like IBM and Sun are mingling in the open-source arena—and have benefited greatly from it—while Microsoft appears to be on the defensive, sitting back trying to protect the kingdom. IBM and Microsoft got their original lead on Apple [Computer Inc.] by being inclusive, not exclusive."

"I firmly believe that the pressure from open-source projects has already upped the ante for large corporations to adapt either through acquisition or by opening up their businesses to provide Linux support solutions much in the same way open-source pay per support issue project models currently do," said Greg Roy, a senior systems engineer at Flight Centre Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia.

That kind of cause and effect in open source is giving IT the most benefit in open-source efforts. Barry Strasnick, CIO at CitiStreet LLC, in North Quincy, Mass., said his company switched from BEAs WebLogic Server application to JBoss because of licensing costs, among other issues.

CitiStreet had been using WebLogic Server for its participant, contact center and sponsor applications for a number of years, Strasnick said.

"We had a need to dramatically increase the hardware resources available to this layer and do it quickly," Strasnick said. "Unfortunately, BEA had what we considered to be excessive licensing costs in order to support these increased resources. We had been monitoring JBoss since its inception and were at a point where we felt comfortable switching to the much-lower-cost, open-source-focused JBoss solution."

In addition to the JBoss code, "one of the things we like about JBoss is the quality of the support," Strasnick said. "These are business-critical applications where we would be out of business if they werent available. On an average day, we can have more than 250,000 separate participant sessions utilizing this infrastructure. Best of all, we didnt have to go through inexperienced Level 1 support when we had already checked the obvious answers."

Next Page: Open source gives enterprises more choice.