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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.


Anonymous said...

It's important to note that because companies chose products that best fits their requirements, which is not always the best product. The advantage that Open Source brings to this part of the equation is that with the source a company has the option to make up the difference of the requirements that were not met, which would not be possible with close source.

Mike Anderson
Unisys Chief Architect Open Source

Uwe Vieille said...

Remember the paradigm of "best of breed"? For some IT organizations that used to mean: implement the perceived best product on the market regardless of whether it fit's into the enterprise business and IT architecture (if it even existed), or would support the business/IT strategies. As can be seen, the proliferation of silo best of breed implementations added to the support and maintenence pain, but more importantly to the OPEX cost of IT, leaving precious little resources for new development. And therein lies the problem: the disconnect between business needs and IT implementation. Commercial Open source products finally give IT the tools to implement the best possible solution that actually fits the business, as well as the IT strategy and its supporting architecture and technology frameworks. Resources now can be directed towards creating business value, away from ever increasing maintenance and support cost. As Mike indicated, even if the product does not address all requirements, the user now has the means to close missing functionality gap and customize the implementation to derive at the optimal solution for the enterprise.

Michael said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I have asked all my IT team to read the post.

We operate an ever changing hybrid environment and would not still be in business if we didn't.

Jim Irwin said...

Open source tends to be very elastic - projects range from whole operating systems to middleware to niche solutions like parsers and loggers that are embedded in applications. This is one reason why Open Source is a natural for hybrid solutions - it fits easily where its needed (and only where its needed). In many cases commercial vendors can not produce and maintain small and portable pieces like this. In fact, many commercial solutions are built using OS software - so even a pure play commercial solution may be a hybrid "under the hood."

ror said...

It seems interesting that what you are talking about hits very closely to the old debate over ‘best of breed’ vs ‘super-suite’, without you actually mentioning them. Why do Enterprises buy what they do, when in a choice situation? Legacy environment, skill base, previous experience, these can all be added to the debate. Will this paradigm be changed by the maturity of Open Source in the Enterprise?

The best of breed approach is an Open approach to COTS/OS for find the best product of its type. Organizations often purchase software from different vendors in order to obtain the best-of-breed for each application area; for example, a human resources package from one vendor and an accounting package from another.

On the other hand we have the super-suite approach, which has enabled software industry giants such as Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP and Microsoft to grow and prosper. Within this approach, individual application module functionality remains the key decision driver but is coupled with a preference for ease of doing business and ongoing support/maintenance with one vendor. Now these vendors are increasing there modular base using Open Source.

Choice x Human Intervention = Hybrid