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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.


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