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Monday, May 28, 2007

The State of Open Source Business

Sean Michael Kerner wrote a nice article on the state of open source business, summarizing findings by 451 and other research firms. Having just attended and presented at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), not to mention spending the last twelve months meeting with CIOs and CFOs of Fortune 500 companies discussing open source, much of what Michael discusses rings true.

However, one comment jumped out at me that I felt warranted further discussion. I’m not sure if this quote is Kerner’s or is attributed to Andrew Aiken at Olliance, but in any case, the quote reads, “CIOs apparently feel that proprietary solutions still have an edge over open source solutions when it comes to on [sic] integration and interoperability.”

Certainly if the reference was to proprietary solutions that are built by one vendor as a true end-to-end solution, I would agree. However, I’m sure we’ve all battled with proprietary solutions across the stack from multiple vendors … the data doesn’t integrate, the same service is performed in multiple applications, user interfaces are different, and so forth. The real challenge: how do you leverage the benefits of open solutions (no vendor lock-in, reduced cost, etc. … all the points mentioned by Michael in his article) without suffering from the multi-vendor integration issues that plague our industry?

Enter the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA), and the primary reason that Unisys joined OSA. The OSA is all about helping address those interoperability issues, building reference architectures and customer proof points, driving greater developer involvement in open solutions, and creating increased consumption of open solutions in the business community. The first proof point: a demo at LinuxWorld (August 6th-9th) in San Francisco showing the interoperability of a legacy point-of-sale application tied into a CRM, ERP, and other open solution components. And, there are several other activities going on within OSA including a single sign-on working group. Everything in OSA is transparent to the entire world (members and non-members alike), with the goal of addressing the problem statement noted above.

I think the future of business solutions, whether they are open or proprietary, depends heavily on how well they interoperate across the business … hence the major thrust around Services Oriented Architecture. And, the key to making that work is interoperability standards that allow it all to play together.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Open Source Business Conference (OSBC)

What a great show put on by Matt Asay and the rest of the crew. Kicked off by a compelling presentation from Matthew Szulik, the buzz during the first day was wonderful. Just about anyone who is “anyone” in Open Source was there, with a few notable exceptions (I didn’t see any folks from Sun or IBM). During Matt Asay’s welcoming remarks, he commented on the value of the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) and what we are trying to do there.

I served on one panel session discussing the traction of open source in the channel. My fellow panel members included Ranga Rangachari (CEO, Groundwork), Lars Nordwall (Sales VP, SugarCRM), and Anthony Roby from Accenture. Some great points were raised about the role of the channel and how important it is to optimize heterogeneous environments in order to leverage open source within existing environments.

I also delivered one of the breakout keynotes on Open Source in High-Performance Information Systems. The group asked some good questions around how business executives determine which open source projects are right for their particular strategy and how to go about integrating within legacy environments. I also presented some case studies around Reuters, SHK (largest non-bank financial services company in Hong Kong), and Redmayne-Bentley (largest independent stockbroker in the UK) and how each of those companies is using open source in mission-critical environments to modernize their business.

It was also very nice speaking to many companies about the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) and the work that organization is doing to drive the development and consumption of open solutions. Plus, with a nice plug from Matt Asay during his kickoff presentation, I received a lot of questions about how to go about joining OSA.

One of the surprising elements was the amount of Microsoft bashing that went on in public presentations. Certainly MSFT has its share of detractors, but they are also doing a lot of work in the open source space (Bill Hilf’s team are top notch with a great vision). I suppose people have a need to identify villains and victimizers (helps make us feel better perhaps). But, in a few cases, the villainous statements directed toward MSFT were flat out wrong. The curse of being big.

Another surprising element (at least to me) was the lack of business users at the conference … you would think with the title of “open source business conference” that there would have been many more customers and potential customers. However, the show seemed to be comprised of vendors, their partners, some VCs, and a lot of lawyers. Interesting, even with so many lawyers there, I did not hear a lot of debate around GPL 3.0 (nor a lot of lawyer jokes).

It was also very nice seeing some old friends there like Tom Costello, CEO UpStreme in Pennsylvania; Derek Rodner, marketing executive for Enterprise DB; and Peter Gallagher, CEO Devis. And, since I’ve gotten in the habit of commenting on the hotels I’ve been living out of over the past year, the Palace Hotel on New Montgomery Street in San Francisco was superb. The rooms were decent and the ambiance was great. My only complaint: they have this air-conditioning system where you can set the temperature to anything you want (down to 65 degrees), but it is controlled by a motion sensor. So, once you stop moving around in the room (ie sitting at the desk working or sleeping in bed), the A/C turns off and the room gets very warm.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Open Source for Knowledge & Learning Management

A new textbook aimed at universities and researchers deals with how private and public sector institutions evaluate open source software alongside traditional software. The book, Open Source for Knowledge and Learning Management, includes a chapter by Christian Wernberg-Tougaard (Unisys director of Marketing and Communications, Global Public Sector, Continental Europe) entitled, "Evaluating Open Source in Government: Methodological Considerations in Strategizing the Use of Open Source in the Public Sector." I had the honor of reviewing and editing this chapter, which places particular emphasis on our detailed experiences integrating open source solutions for many clients.

The many benefits of FOSS have made it attractive to public sector institutions, but a successful implementation of FOSS in government, Wernberg counsels, should be based on a solid evaluation of the impact open source will have on an organization. Wernberg presents a well-thought-out and comprehensive methodology (based on the 3D-VE modeling approach) addressing how governments can go about making the best and cheapest choices when facing the challenge of how to gain maximum business value from open source solutions.

Christian and his fellow editors (including Patrice Emmanuel Schmitz, director EU Consultancy Practice) included much of the Unisys knowledge expertise in this area. The result is a wonderful chapter that sheds light on the decision-making factors to be considered when integrating FOSS in government. Check it out today; the book is available at Amazon, as well as other major retailers.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Forrester Consulting Study: A Key Role for SI’s in Open Source

Today Unisys issued the results of a study commissioned from Forrester Consulting. It surveyed European, UK and North American companies that had evaluated or are using open source software. The interviews with nearly 500 senior IT decision makers indicate a growing acceptance of open source in business-critical applications. They also indicate a major need for integrated solutions wrapped around services, including consulting, integration and continued support, to unlock the full potential of open source for mission-critical applications.

Those results indicate a strong and growing role in open source for systems integrators. With proficiency in delivering enterprise solutions and broad – often global – solution delivery capabilities that small software and even service providers lack, SI’s can provide the key to unlocking the full value of open source software, transforming low cost into full business value.

I encourage all of you to check it the results, and I’m hoping we can have some good discussion around this topic. Furthermore, along the lines of open source integration, take a look at the OSA interoperability roadmap and the Common Customer View prototype. There is some really cool work going on there. I look forward to your comments. Thanks for reading.