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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Guest Blog spot - Open for Business

One of the great aspects of running the Open Source business at Unisys is the opportunity to meet so many noteworthy people in the open source world. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to create a “guest blog” spot where some of those people could contribute an article for the benefit of all of us.

So, for the first of such contributions, I’ve asked a friend of mine, John Carrow, who is currently the Senior VP for Strategic Client Development at Unisys, if he would like to submit such an article. John joined Unisys as the CIO and VP of Worldwide IT in 1996 and led the global IT activities of Unisys for ten years. Before joining Unisys, John served as the first CIO for the City of Philadelphia. For his work in that role, he was selected as Public Official of the Year by Governing Magazine. Needless to say, John knows a lot about technology, particularly how it can be leveraged to create business benefits for large organizations. I was very pleased when, within 30 minutes after sending him an email request late on a Friday evening, John responded with his enthusiastic support to write such a posting.

Open for Business
by John C. Carrow

Open Source Déjà Vu


It was 1998 and the tech industry was flourishing in the irrational exuberance of the dot com era. Off in the Northwest of the U.S., a gathering of engineers from Microsoft and Unisys were designing the Windows Data Center Edition operating system to be run on open servers. Microsoft engineers brought their Windows desktop experience, and Unisys engineers and others brought their experience to building mainframe operating systems. The goal of this partnership was to build a first-class operating system that could run high transaction volumes within a highly reliable environment.

While in the late 1990s IT budgets were strong across all industries in preparation for the Y2K event, this was also a time when there was a great deal of skepticism among the CIO community as to whether it was practical to think that Microsoft, known for its desktop OS and tool set, could produce an operating system that would be industrial strength enough to run mission-critical applications inside the data center. After all, there were the strong mainframe environments, although proprietary and costly, yet so reliable. There was the UNIX environment that had matured to be the platform of choice for the many applications and, of course, Solaris.

Today, when we look at the IT data center environment, some nine years later, we see that roughly 50 percent of the data center operating system environment runs Windows Data Center Edition. In fact, it has displaced much of the previous installed base of proprietary operating systems. It has shown that it is reliable, scalable and capable of running the large mission-critical applications. It has also shown the power of supportability cost savings achieved through standardization from the desktop through the mid-tier servers and into the data center. Skeptics are now believers!

So what does this have to do with Open Source?

Here we are in 2007 with a new concept, Open Source, for the creation of applications from operating systems to data base management systems, ERPs and beyond. Limited only by the imagination, virtual gatherings of talented engineers, each with their own area of specialty, embark on software development projects sponsored by a variety of sources, built around shared IP and unrestricted use. Their goals are to provide unique applications which benefit the IT industry and the companies that the industry serves. Strong leader projects have emerged to provide viable products, such as MySQL, JBoss, Apache, and the Linux operating system to name a few. Predictably, the CIO skeptics have also emerged.

Open Source brings with it the unknown. And unknowns create risk and doubt that causes slow acceptance in the marketplace – and that’s not all bad. It’s part of the vetting of new ideas. These unknowns show themselves in IP liability issues, supportability questions, interoperability and scalability concerns. At the same time the open source community is coming to grips with these issues. Policies and standards are being set, and service companies are being created to address the maintenance, distribution and general support concerns. Companies like Sourcefire and SugarCRM have paved the way on licensing and pricing models. A whole new set of service providers geared toward the Open Source issues has emerged. Unisys has announced a set of service offerings, Unisys Open and Secure Integrated Solutions (OASIS), which will address the installation, interoperability and configuration of a defined Open Source technology stack. Oracle, Microsoft, and Sun have also joined the party with their own Open Source offerings.

At the same time, as this segment of the IT industry is forming, the skeptical CIO community sees that it cannot be avoided. Most IT shops have taken on the Open Source standards just as a function of acquiring normal commercial product, which has embedded Open Source functionality. The government and some industry segments in media, entertainment, utilities and communications have become very aggressive in their adoption and use of Open Source for even critical business applications, as the claims of lower total cost of ownership and lower acquisition costs are realized.

Here’s to the winners

Much like the early days of the Microsoft venture into the data center operating system market, which took a decade for large-scale penetration and acceptance, the Open Source marketplace is forming -- and its viability is being proven. We will look back in a decade’s time, and maybe quicker, to see an industry that has been radically transformed by virtual engineers, working collaboratively with great innovation, supported by a new model of service companies. The winners will be 1) engineers who will apply their endless creativity, 2) entrepreneurial companies who see the voids and fill the spaces, 3) consumers who see the future and the benefits to their environment and 4) the global IT industry as it strives for greater agility, speed and business focus.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Open Solutions Alliance (OSA)

I’ve spoken (and written) often on the need to drive open source not only from the bottoms-up, but also from the top down to help clearly articulate the value proposition of what open source can do for business, from a CxO perspective. There is noticeably much focus on enhancing open source components with new features, improved reliability, and the like. But, where is the push to ensure the business needs are being clearly captured and driven throughout the community? It sure would be nice if there was an unbiased initiative setup with the right level people and the right culture to drive such a focus. And now there is.

The Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) is a 501c organization (nonprofit) with a vendor-neutral membership focused on driving the development and acceptance of open source business solutions. The organization will work with open source software developers, system integrators, and the broader open source community to improve interoperability among software products. The goal: create more integrated and rapidly deployable solutions for business users. This is a very good thing for everyone involved.

Driving interoperability standards for open source components should lead to greater enterprise-class functionality and increased breadth of applications. Not only will standards help the incumbent players better develop their applications, but this should draw more ISVs into the fray leading to more competition and better products for the end user. But, in order to incorporate mission critical business requirements, you need someone who really understands systems integration, high-end enterprises, and vertical markets. Enter Unisys.
As the first SI player in OSA, we will work closely with the members to help position these requirements. Additionally, with our product development capabilities, we are going to help implement some of the glue code to help make that integration work. There are several other top notch organizations that are part of OSA, and I’m sure others will soon join. The end result: more rapid creation and better applicability of open source solutions to address compelling business challenges. I am very excited to help drive this initiative.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

SOA, OSA, and the Philly Emerging Technology Conference

To those who follow my postings, I apologize for the short-term absence. Between completing 2007 strategic planning, meeting with clients, attending the Eastern Technology Council's CIO Rountable on Web 2.0, Web Services / SOA on Wall Street conference, Linux World in NYC, and developing a press-release around the open solutions alliance (OSA), it’s been a busy time. New York is such a great city to visit, especially when I have an opportunity to chat with so many open source leaders. The only negatives (besides the snow storm that stranded so many would-be attendees) were the accommodations at the Roosevelt Hotel. The rooms are very tiny, with zero sound-deadening, and the closets are no more than 10 inches deep … forget about trying to hang any shirts or jackets in there, unless you cram them in sideways. The in-house restaurant service is very slow, and, like everything else in NYC, prices are very expensive. A single bottle of spring water at the Roosevelt costs $16. But, putting all that aside, it was wonderful to see so much buzz around open source, both from a vendor perspective as well as from major Wall Street firms. And, that buzz is just starting to heat up for 2007.

Some great events coming in March include the Open Source Think Tank, the OTD conference, and the Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise event.

The Think Tank is sponsored by the Olliance Group
and will be bringing many leading open source companies together to discuss the future of commercial open source. Myself and Ali Shadman from Unisys are planning to attend.

The ODT conference is a two-day event addressing the Department of Defense’s Open Technology Development (OTD) to leverage open source software, standards, and architecture into the DoD. One of the foremost leaders in this space, John Scott, will be attending this event, not to mention other top executives from the government.

The Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise event had a huge turnout in 2006 and looks to be even bigger this year. It is the largest event in the Philadelphia region around open source technologies for the enterprise. The conference is sponsored by Chariot Solutions
, which, by the way, is a great open source consulting firm with some very impressive talent. A senior Unisys executive and CIO, John Carrow, will be speaking at the event as well as the founder of Spring Framework, Rod Johnson. Also, I will be part of a panel session discussing the various legal aspects of open source, including how to select the best tools, applications, and licensing models to best meet various business needs.

I know these events (and many others this year) will help further the open source movement and draw more businesses closer to realizing the huge potential from leveraging open source. I can only hope the accommodations for these events will not resemble the Roosevelt.