August 21, 2005 6:00 AM PDT
Unlocking the enterprise for open source
(continued from previous page)
Associates in the 1980s and then worked under Tom Siebel at Oracle in the 1990s.
Baby steps for tech giants
The high-tech industry's largest software players are taking baby steps to reduce the large infrastructure associated with proprietary software development. IBM, for example, open-sourced its development framework called Eclipse, which competed with Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Borland Software's JBuilder. Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM reasoned that it would make more money selling hardware and services around a product supported by a robust community of developers than by just selling the Eclipse software itself.
Or consider these developments: Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates open-sourced its Ingres relational database last year; Microsoft ventured onto SourceForge.net, a kind of clearing house for open-source development projects, with an automatic-installation writing code that would help developers integrate their work more easily into Windows; and Palo Alto-based Sun recently made its Solaris operating system open source in order to gain an even larger following in the developer community.
Still, only a few corporations have dumped their commercial software licenses for open-source enterprise applications. Open-source testing and certification company SpikeSource, based in Redwood City, Calif., discovered after interviewing fifty chief information officers that their concerns revolve mostly around validation, integration, testing, support and service. "Open-source and commercial software applications will coexist in the enterprise for a very long time," argues Nick Halsey, SpikeSource vice president of marketing. "You will see more open-source alternatives in the future, but an important problem we are solving today is testing and validating commercial software to make sure it runs smoothly in open-source environments."
Adds Graham Byrd, vice president of marketing at San Francisco-based Open Group, a vendor- and technology-neutral consortium based on open standards and interoperability: "It requires huge technical expertise to get your head around how this will fit within your business. If you go to Oracle, they'll say Oracle Financials will do A, B and C. If you want to do the same thing with open source, you need people within your organization who have an architectural view of your systems and business processes."
Open-source software providers are responding to the problems by offering a variety of installation packages. Groundwork, for example, offers its code for an annual fee, but it also will install and integrate its open-source IT management software for a company for fees ranging from $50,000 to $300,000. By comparison, a license without integration costs for HP's OpenView costs between $200,000 and $2 million.
Licensing, or validation, remains a major obstacle, too. Because there can be a slew of licenses applicable to one piece of code and each license is slightly different, a company using that software in its own product might have no idea how much that software could cost it. "Some people might not do it because it's a little too hard for them to understand what kind of risk they're taking, and for some people they might not know whether they're even taking risk," says Bloor.
Waltham, Mass.-based Black Duck Software is one of the start-ups seeking to address this problem. Its technology analyzes a company's software to identify open-source code that may require vendor licenses. Says Douglas Levin, president, founder and CEO of Black Duck: "We want to help companies understand the consequences of combining open source with their proprietary code."
Support and service are the other headaches that can plague corporations considering open-source applications. When a customer buys from, say, SAP, they know the German software giant is responsible for making it work. That's obviously not always the case with open-source alternatives.
A company that sells or gives away open-source software almost always has some sort of support and maintenance program that it charges for. But if the company has pulled some code developed by the open-source development community that hasn't been repackaged by a company, it has to rely on itself to make it work.
SpikeSource, co-founded by Kleiner Perkins' Ray Lane, and Seattle-based SourceLabs, which has funding from former Microsoft executive and Ignition Partners co-founder Brad Silverberg, have emerged to try to tackle all of these installation, licensing and support issues. "We're providing a throat to choke if something goes wrong," says SourceLabs CEO Byron Sebastian.
The reason: IT directors have told Sebastian that their jobs would be at risk if they installed some open-source software and there was no vendor to rely on in case something went wrong.
If all these issues can be dealt with, corporate executives will grow increasingly excited about the possibilities of better and cheaper software on the horizon provided by reliable vendors. To Athena Healthcare's Gatewood, however, this is old hat by now. He was an early adopter of the LAMP stack and is now in the process of customizing the SugarCRM code so that the company can measure how effective its customer response efforts are on a real-time basis.
He's also tinkering with an open-source project called Dot Project, which is in the project management software arena. After determining how important the project management system is and whether he would want to modify it to fit Athena's own systems, Gatewood will decide whether to buy a commercial version, such as Microsoft Project, or an on-demand version from a company, such as eProject of Seattle, or instead just take the free Dot Project code and integrate it into their system on their own.
"If the SugarCRM and MySQL people can make this business work and are profitable, I would expect to see more business models like this pop up," says Gatewood. "And I would expect to see our costs go down without the quality of software being different."
That's the reverse of the planned obsolescence built into most proprietary-licensed software today. That would be truly revolutionary.
© 2005 The Deal.com. All rights reserved.
2 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment