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Monday, October 29, 2007

Hybrid environments – the realm of Open Source

It is very rare that I come across a datacenter environment that is purely one technology. By that, I mean that most infrastructures are composed of some hybrid mix of legacy (old proprietary), commercial, and open source components. Why is that?

Well, for one, most of the companies I deal with are very large companies (Fortune 500), so chances are they have been around for a while, have probably gone through at least one M&A event, and have evolved over time. I know that many new, small startup companies rely heavily on open source components, but even they have some elements of “commercial” software … even if it is only the BIOS supporting the chipsets in their workstations/servers.

But perhaps even more significantly is that businesses have unique requirements that must be met in totality, which can rarely be done by any one software vendor or “class” of software products. People want to leverage the “best-fit” products to solve their business challenges and are increasingly evaluating the plethora of opportunities prior to making their enterprise selections. As such, the (software/solution) world is becoming more of a hybrid environment.

At every layer of the computing stack, organizations have a choice of very good components to choose from. Whether it is an Oracle, SQL, or MySQL/PostgreSQL database, Alfresco, Documentum, or FileNet content management system, Windows or Linux operating system, and so forth, are all choices that companies are considering. And, there is no one solution that fits all. Furthermore, much of the old legacy stuff in place in large organizations actually works well and doesn’t make a lot of sense to “rip out”. [NB: No doubt some of that old legacy stuff is limiting from a new-feature or support perspective and does need to be “modernized”.]

The beauty of open source is that it offers so many opportunities to complement existing environments with a solution that can help reduce cost or add flexibility, usually with little to no restructuring costs. So, it comes as no surprise that Novell is choosing to “bundle” IBM’s Websphere with its SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) product. This certainly represents one package that can work in certain environments. Of course, so is JBoss on top of Linux, a play obviously more “logical” to Red Hat than Novell. Although, it is ironic that IBM took an equity position in Red Hat as far back as 1999 to promote its open source software model.

Bottom line: the world is becoming more “intermixed”. That is true of population distributions, project teams, and yes, software environments. As much as any software vendor (particularly the giant ones) would love to “own” your entire environment, those days are waning. The new world is a hybrid one. Hybrid cars, hybrid species, and hybrid software. So, as you choose which components are right for your environment, look at the entire ecosystem of software solutions (commercial and open source) to meet your most demanding needs.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

GTC East 2007 – Business & Technology for Government

It’s been awhile since I traveled to Albany. And, this time of the year, seeing the leaves changing colors along the Hudson was absolutely spectacular. This is the 19th year for the event, obviously highlighting New York’s leading-edge efforts at studying emerging technology and its implication for government.

I had the honor of presenting a seminar session entitled “Open Source – Ready for Prime Time?” I co-presented with Ross Brunson, one of the solutions experts at Novell. My pitch focused on how big open source has grown in government, how we got here, and what hurdles remain impeding even faster growth ... including discussing how the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) is working to drive interoperability standards across open solutions. If you’d like a copy of my presentation, just comment here and I’ll send it to you.

As I walked the show floor, it seemed like all the big players in government were at this show, but one company that surprised me was Apple. They were there not to showcase the iPhone (nor were they particularly interested in my complaint of receiving only a $100 store credit when they dropped the price of the iPhone by $200). Apple was there showing off a server … what looked like a bunch of 2U-3U blades in a small rack. The rep indicated that this had been somewhat of a stealth product for Apple. So, an Apple server, presumably tuned and configured with government-related applications. It will be interested to see what sort of traction they get.

Another honor for me was receiving (along with RedHat) an award at the show for “Best Solution” for our New York State Courts’ Family Case Management System. Shown in the photo is (L to R) Mary Sharp, Unisys GOIS; Dr. Melody Mayberry-Stewart, NYS CIO, Joseph Lynch, Unisys Account Executive and also Advisory Board member for GTC; Naren Paten, Unisys Sales Executive Head for NY, and Garry Russell, Unisys sales executive. [Click on the photo to see a much clearer version.] As the state migrated to RedHat’s JBoss application server, some issues remained with web service enablement. According to Project Manager Carol Champitto and Technical Services Manager Jason Hill, the system is the court system’s most mission-critical application, processing close to 700,000 cases per year. Once we completed our efforts, the new JBoss cluster was comparable to the previous proprietary solution in terms of performance and scalability, but with much faster build and deployment cycles. Furthermore, by migrating to open source software, New York State Courts saved tax payers over $75,000 annually in maintenance fees and $500,000 in licensing fees over time.