Moderator: Terry Blevins, Vice President and CIO, The Open Group
Bruce Perens, Perens LLC
Dr. John Collins, Department of Computer Science, University of Minnesota
John Terpstra, Samba
John Schmidt, Best Buy
Eduardo Gutentag, Sun Microsystems
Andras Szakal, Federal Software Group, IBM
Terry Blevins posed the primary questions of the session:
Bruce Perens, Open Source consultant and pioneer, tackled the first question with a question: Is robustness always a goal of software? Clearly addressing his next question to the vendors in the audience, he asked if they really want their software to always be robust, easy to use, and trouble-free—which would negate the need for support calls. He used this idea as a way of introducing a key reason why an enterprise would turn to Open Source—an entire community is available to improve the robustness of a product.
On the issue of scalability, he saw no real problems. Regarding portability, Open Source scores highest; the operating system runs everywhere and so do its applications.
As Bruce sees it, Open Source shares a lot of goals with SMEs. To start, the biggest challenge they face is competing and surviving in a field of huge, multi-nationals; Open Source has a lot of the same issues. Open Source has an SME-oriented, user oriented mindset. The big thing that SMEs do need is better commercial support.
The next thing coming down the road is Open Source on the desktop. Open Source products such as OpenOffice and Mozilla perform the entire range of functions required by most clerical employees.
And what should SMEs do to minimize risk? Bruce returned to one of the major pieces of advice that emerged from the business panel: Have an Open Source policy in place, particularly if the company has IP concerns. He also cautioned them to understand the terms of support. Red Hat, for example, has support contracts that depart from the norm in the Open Source world; an SME needs to pay attention on a case-by-case basis.
In no uncertain terms, Bruce noted that Open Source has a central role in achieving Boundaryless Information Flow, as described by Allen Brown in his keynote. He referred to the lock-down of systems with increased digital rights management and deployment of trusted systems, and expressed confidence that Open Source provides the option for releasing the flow of information appropriately.
John Collins, University of Minnesota professor, concurred with Bruce that the answer to the first question (robustness, scalability, etc.) is “yes” on all counts. On the second question of Open Source’s usability for SMEs, he disagreed with Bruce. Open Source infrastructure software is interoperable at the infrastructure level, but Open Source desktop software is not as interoperable as needed between desktop applications.
Moving to areas of success as well as challenge in enterprise adoption of Open Source, John said that one of the reasons that government agencies are starting to adopt it is because of the document formats. He sees an opportunity to develop document formats that are common and well documented and have implemented applications around them to drive this process forward.
John Terpstra of the Samba Team, addressed whether or not Open Source software is robust by citing Linux and xBSD as examples of mature and robust Open Source offerings. This came with a footnote. Open Source has successfully challenged Microsoft’s business model; as a result, Microsoft has made strategic initiatives with Windows Server 2003, which he termed a great improvement over the previous offering. He expects it to challenge perceptions of Open Source in some areas.
In the areas of applications, interoperability, and portability, John assigned a “good enough” to each category.
Open Source seems to be making inroads in enterprise use. According to a June 15, 2003 SD Times article, between 36 and 38 percent of all corporate sites run Linux. John attributed this to its speed, ease of installation, maturity, and the fact that it works well. The two-fold problem, on the other hand, is configuration and manageability. Setting up a DNS or DHCP is difficult to do. This problem is the Achilles heel of Open Source.
John contended that the key obstacle for Open Source is the business model. The Open Source community needs to determine where the money is and get it coming in to allow development of products that will make it more successful. He placed importance on the development of tools to provide end-users with more freedom in what they will use.
John Schmidt, IS Leader for Best Buy, stepped up next to address the same set of questions from the perspective of a retail organization of 550 stores across the United States and 150 in Canada. He opened with a look at the integration spectrum at Best Buy and the metrics he presented focused attention on the magnitude of his IS challenge. Best Buy moves about 100 Gigabytes of data a day between systems, and there are 350 different systems (applications) within the company.
John categorized Best Buy as a user of Open Source and pointed to twelve different products in use, including Eclipse, Apache web server, Linux, and SendMail.
He then went straight to the standards discussion, asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” in presenting a graphic depiction of how few end users participate in standards activities related to the retail sector. Those who provide solutions to the sector dominate the standardization process because users have abdicated their responsibility—not because they can’t participate. He took a position on what he sees as the differences between traditional standards and Open Source. Primary contrasts were in the areas of driver, process, acceptance, deliverable, and motivation.
Eduardo Gutentag, XML Standardization Lead, Web Technologies and Standards, Sun acknowledged that Open Source offers many positives on an IT balance sheet, but he chose to focus on the obstacles to acceptance. Key among them are developers’ lack of experience with enterprise, lack of testing facilities for interoperability and testing, and perceptions that testing is boring and bug fixing isn’t creative.
Regarding the usability of Open Source for SMEs, he maintained that one should always make the assumption that SMEs don’t have a lot of resources for IT. They need reasonably priced support and reasonably readable documentation.
He looked down the road at opportunities for Open Source and saw that almost every functionality may be open sourced very soon; the real money to be made is in support. He also cautioned that there is too much flawed product in the marketplace. One way to address the quality—or at least the consistency—problem is through open standards. He called on The Open Group to start an education program about standards.
Andras Szakal, Chief Architect of the Federal Software Group for IBM, noted that he would not only talk about why Open Source is important to IBM, but also how IBM positions Open Source software as part of its offerings.
He reminded everyone of IBM’s early, traumatic encounter with desktop computing and blamed a lack of listening to customers as the cause of a revenue plunge that necessitated a corporate resurrection. As a company, they realized that products needed to be focused on open standards and, later, on Open Source when it grew in popularity.
IBM considers Open Source software important for three big reasons: Customers want it, Open Source software is a good approach to developing open standards, and it can be a source of industry innovation.
IBM’s goals for Open Source begin with the drive toward rapid adoption of open standards. They want to cooperate on standards development and compete on the implementation of standards. IBM also wants to use Open Source software as a business tool to block competitors from creating “lock-in” and proprietary control points. Finally, the company wants to extend IBM mindshare, to create a preference for IBM by linking to popular Open Source products and projects.
In his look at the road ahead, Andras called attention solely to the projects of greatest importance to IBM, namely, Linux, Eclipse, Apache, and Grid Computing. He asserted that Grid Computing will change the whole IT infrastructure and is an open standards, Open Source initiative from the ground up.
In positioning Open Source software within IBM’s strategy, Andras offered eleven areas of consideration, beginning with product support. Other areas: platform support, long-term viability, scalability, reliability, integrated tooling, support for open and government standards, dependence on individuals, security, perceived TCO, and partnership.
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