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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.

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