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.
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.”
Open source gives enterprises
For his part, Brenner said Fidelity has concentrated on open-source developer tools and platforms. “Were basically trying to create a stack parallel to our proprietary stack, both on the Java side and on the .Net side” of developer tool sets, he said. “Thats been the thrust for the last year or so. And were beginning now to move into database applications and higher-lever applications that are going to be coming in the future.”
Strasnick said CitiStreet also uses open-source development tools. “In these economic times, we actually feel there is more stability with open source, as opposed to concerns about how much money a particular vendor will continue to invest in a proprietary product,” he said.
“Open-source software often provides the highest-quality solutions to a specific problem,” said Cory Ondrejka, vice president of product development at Linden Lab, in San Francisco. Ondrejka said Linden Lab uses Debian GNU/Linux, MySQL, Apache, Squid, Nagios and Mono, as well as GNU development tools such as GCC (GNU Compiler Collection), G++, GDB and Emacs open-source components.
Indeed, open source provides enterprises with more choice, Ondrejka said. “[Yet] more importantly, perhaps, is the knowledge that the open-source community provides solid, cross-platform solutions to a wide variety of problems,” Ondrejka said.
Moreover, open-source solutions generally require a little more technical expertise than their full commercial counterparts, “but [vendors] are making great leaps in this arena, especially with companies like OpenLogic [Inc.] now offering suites that preconfigure a group of products,” Chem-Fabs Hess said.
“As companies get leaner, staffs are stretched further and thinner and budgets continually shrink, and IT is no exception,” said Hess. “So in my case, Im not only the IT director, Im also my companys lead developer. As such, I can get a lot more software for my budget dollars by using open source, and I would rather spend my time developing solutions than tweaking J2EE [Suns Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition] server components.”
Paul DOyley, technology director at Seattle-based Blue Frog Mobile Inc., said availability, performance, market dominance and price attracted Blue Frog to open-source software. In addition, DOyley said adopting an open-source philosophy has given Blue Frog a competitive edge.
“When starting a new company, it is critical to capture the market quickly and on a minimal budget,” DOyley said. “Not only are the capital expenditures nonexistent, Blue Frog Mobile saved weeks of time by avoiding RFPs [requests for proposals], contracts and negotiations.
“Open source allowed a development team to be gathered quickly and begin production development immediately,” he said. “By leveraging existing software, methods and architectures, our development team quickly assembled a presence in the wireless industry.”
Blue Frog uses a combination of open-source technology, including Linux, MySQL, JBoss, Asterisk, PHP and more, DOyley said.
Meanwhile, although CitiStreet prefers to go with open-source solutions across the board, “We are not yet comfortable with using something like MySQL for the size databases we utilize,” Strasnick said. “Instead, our default continues to be IBM DB2—but potentially on Linux now, in lieu of AIX or HP-UX—for any new applications we are building.”
Andy Astor, CEO of EnterpriseDB, in Edison, N.J., said Strasnick is just the kind of customer he looks for because he said he believes MySQL cannot scale to the same degree EnterpriseDB can. EnterpriseDB sells an enterprise-class open-source database.
However, Corey Ostman, director of new-technology initiatives at PriceGrabber.com LLC, in Los Angeles, said he is quite satisfied with MySQL, which PriceGrabber chose over Oracle.
Eclipse project brings open
source into Java tools space”>
“We ultimately chose MySQL because of speed and support. We found that MySQL was significantly faster for our application,” Ostman said. “At the time, we didnt have need for replication or transactional processing, which would have probably caused us to choose Oracle instead, and when the time came when we actually needed those features, MySQL had already introduced them.
“For a nimble, growing company like PriceGrabber, MySQL support is superb. Weve always been able to access support personnel quickly at a modest cost, and this is in stark contrast to the larger database vendors,” Ostman said.
While open source has obviously made its mark in the middleware arena, perhaps equally strong has been its impact in the Java tools space, where the Eclipse open-source development platforms pull has caused nearly every Java toolmakers strategy to change.
Over the last year, Oracle open-sourced its JDeveloper tool for building Java applications and moved closer to Eclipse. In the same period, Borland Software Corp. saw sales of its market-leading, Java-based JBuilder application development tool erode at the emergence of Eclipse and now plans to base the next version of JBuilder, code-named Peloton, on Eclipse, said Patrick Kerpan, chief technology officer at the Scotts Valley, Calif., company. Sybase Inc., BEA and CA adopted Eclipse as the foundation for their tooling. In addition, IBM, which initially funded Eclipse, is now having a hard time differentiating some of its high-end Rational tools from lower-priced Eclipse-based tools from competitors.
In the meantime, one company—Genuitec LLC, based in Plano, Texas—has been able to rally around Eclipse to build a successful business model out of the platform. MyEclipse offers a low-cost, Eclipse-based IDE (integrated development environment), and Genuitec has been experiencing double-digit growth, the company said.
Overall, the result of open-source churn has been an influx of software for enterprise developers. Enterprises are moving to create their own projects as well.
Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, the investment arm of Dresdner Bank AG, in Frankfurt, Germany, has developed an open-source framework, called Openadaptor, for accelerating the integration of disparate systems.
DrKW signed a three-year agreement with CollabNet Inc., of Brisbane, Calif., to broaden support for DrKWs Openadaptor.org open-source community site.
CollabNet provides the hosting infrastructure and development platform for the site. With Openadaptor, enterprises can connect their systems over the Internet without writing new code, DrKW officials said.
DrKW initially built Openadaptor to facilitate systems integration within the investment bank and between the bank and its partners and customers. The platform is basically an EAI (enterprise application integration) framework with components for integrating JMS (Java Message Service); LDAP; e-mail; IBMs MQ Series; the Oracle, Sybase and MySQL databases; and XML data exchange, the company said.
Essentially, Openadaptor combines open-source components for use in a corporate environment.
Stephen Ferrando, CEO of dbConcert Inc., a New York-based company that helps customers implement open-source technology and uses Openadaptor, said, “Weve done work for a number of financial services and e-commerce companies. Almost all of our engagements utilize open-source software in one way or another. Weve used open-source software to build a signal transfer point gateway for financial services firms, a sophisticated presentation graphics application for a New York-based hedge fund and a Web-based performance marketing system for a large e-commerce player, to name just a few.”