Open source software ready for big business

Open source companies to watch focused on cloud computing, collaboration, security

Open source has moved into a new phase where it is evaluated more on its technical merits than on the community model of software development. Here's a collection of established companies, up-and-comers and outright start-up projects worth watching.

The combination of pumped-up technical features and relatively low prices are giving vendors with open source-based products more inroads to corporate networks than ever before.

View a slideshow of 11 open source companies worth watching.

"In the dot-com bust it was Unix to Linux migration because Linux was cheaper than Solaris on SPARC," says Barry Crist, CEO of Likewise, a maker of integration and identity management software for mixed environments. "Phase 2 [of corporate open source adoption] has been accelerated by the current economic conditions. IT is looking to do things in a cost-effective manner and there are a lot of viable open source solutions out there."

Adoption has also been fueled by the success of established open source companies such as Red Hat, Novell, Alfresco and  SugarCRM, which have proven to enterprise users that it isn't the development process but the results (and quality support) that matter.

"The license terms attached to products have become secondary to the value it offers," says Mike Olson, the CEO of Cloudera and the founder of Sleepy Cat, which he sold to Oracle in 2006 when the Berkeley DB derivative had more than 200 million deployments. "People now are much more rational about how they adopt technology across the board. Open source is a detail, not a defining characteristic. At Sleepy Cat, we were proud to be an open source company. At Cloudera, I think of us as an enterprise software company that happens to be built on open source software."

The vendor also is a member of a group of open source companies that Network World has identified as being worth watching.

Cloudera is bent on making the open source Apache project Hadoop easier to use and available to a wider audience. The powerful Hadoop technology is considered a cost-effective way to manage and store large amounts of data, and mine intelligence. Yahoo is the biggest contributor to the open source project also used by Facebook and Google.

Cloudera doesn't count that trio as customers, but the three offer proof as to the power of Hadoop.

Another cloud vendor to watch is Eucalyptus Systems. The company just released Eucalyptus Enterprise Edition, which lets users implement a cloud environment using existing network infrastructure without requiring modification.

The current edition creates a sort of proxy that makes internal virtualized environments appear to run just like Amazon Web Services including Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3). A single management console works will multiple hypervisors including Xen, KVM, vSphere, ESX and ESXi.

The software lets users move applications freely between their local Eucalyptus cloud and Amazon's cloud. In the future, Eucalyptus plans to add support for other cloud platforms.

"We make your stuff act as if it is Amazon though internally it may be working in a very different way," says Rich Wolski, CTO and co-founder of Eucalyptus.

Also on Network World's watch list is Cfengine, which develops Nova, a commercial edition of its open source server configuration management technology that adds full policy-based server life-cycle management. The company added technical and commercial-based support this year.

"Now companies are asking can you integrate with IBM's monitoring platform, can you integrate with HP's monitoring platform, and the answer is yes," says Bob Whirley, president and COO for U.S. operations.

A derivative of cfengine called Puppet, which is developed by Reductive Labs, is an up-and-coming open source option. The company, which just raised $2 million in venture capital funding, provides policy-based, automated configuration management using a Puppet Master server that knows all the policies and communicates those to Puppet clients running on host computers.

The company is eyeing virtualized environments, especially those in cloud environments, as a key area of growth.

"Puppet is tying the data for how things should be configured to the enforcement," says Andrew Shafer, who helped found Reductive Labs. Google uses Puppet to manage all its workstations.

Also in the management realm is the openQRM project, a revival of an open source data center management project begun by the now-defunct company Qlusters. OpenQRM is a single-management console for infrastructure both physical and virtual. It provides an API for integrating third-party tools, including Puppet, and incorporating plug-ins.

The newest iteration, version 4.4 includes Simple Object Access Protocol -based Web services for remote control and other infrastructure management tools for cloud deployments

Gluster is another company that deserves attention. It develops a clustered file system for storing unstructured data called GlusterFS. Its unique architecture uses an index to look up files, employing a hashing algorithm to find a unique identifier for each file. Each server in the cluster knows where every file is stored.

"Because we don't have a separate meta data server we don't have updates in multiple places and this allows us to scale to very large size without worrying about reliability," says Anand Babu Periasamy, CTO of Gluster.

Also focusing on infrastructure is LikeWise, which integrates Active Directory authentication across multiple computing platforms. The company functions as a hybrid, offering a free product and a proprietary version. Likewise Open integrates authentication across Linux, Unix and Mac environments, while the enterprise version adds migration, group policy, auditing and reporting modules.

Established open source company Talend is worth watching as it expands into master data management (MDM) technology. The company, which competes with other open source vendors such as Jitterbit, offers a suite of data integration tools. The MDM piece extends Talend's tools across data integration, data trust and data consistency, according to Yves de Montcheuil, vice president of marketing. The tools are available for internal deployment or as a service.

On the enterprise search front, Lucid Imagination is offering commercial support, training, consulting and software add-ons to its certified distributions of the Apache Lucene search library and the Solr enterprise search server.

The company is working on LucidGaze for Solr, an open source visual framework for monitoring Solr performance. Solr, which runs in a Java servlet container, features XML/HTTP and JSON APIs, hit highlighting, faceted search, caching, replication and a Web administration interface. Doug Cutting of Cloudera, who created Lucene along with Hadoop and Nutch, sits on the company's advisory board.

On the collaboration front, MindTouch, touted by Forrester Research as the best product alternative to Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus, offers both a standard and enterprise version of its open source platform that is part wiki, portal and application server. It includes integration with Microsoft productivity tools, database and CRM adapters, charting tools and directory integration.

"Quite frankly one of our challenges is explaining it," says Aaron Fulkerson, CEO and former distributed systems researcher at Microsoft. "It is kind of like an app server with a wiki-like interface. I can use it like a wiki, like a portal or like an app server for developing apps on." Amazon's Shelfari.com social book site is built on MindTouch.

Another collaboration player is CubeTree, which isn't a traditional open source vendor but its free collaboration suite based on social networking tools is built using Debian, MySQL, memcached and Ruby on Rails. The service integrates with Twitter, Google Docs and Salesforce.com. The company has received seed funding from Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus and designed Lotus 1-2-3

The platform offers familiar features including user profiles, activity feeds, micro-blogging, wikis, blogs, polls, file sharing, link sharing and search.

Last, but definitely not least (in terms of size), are Microsoft and Google.

Microsoft bears watching on two fronts. Earlier this year, the company contributed its first open source code to the Linux kernel in the form of virtualization drivers. But the company turned around and angered the open source community when it tried to sell off some Linux-related patents only to be intercepted by Open Invention Network, which saved the patents from questionable buyers some labeled as "patent trolls."

In August it raised eyebrows again, opening the CodePlex Foundation to bring together open source and proprietary software companies to participate in open-source projects. The interim board of directors was so laden with Microsoft employees that many are waiting to see how the organization will develop when permanent officers are in place.

But Microsoft clearly understands that it must interoperate with open source platforms, even closing earlier this year its first collaboration with Red Hat to test, validate and integrate their respective virtualization platforms.

Google on the other hand has always been a heavy user of open source technology, including software that runs its internal systems.

The company's Open Source Programs Office maintains a link to the open source software development community, releases Google-created code, and aids in the education of open source software developers through its Google Summer of Code program.

Google Android, Google Chrome, and later this year, Google Chrome OS are some of its most visible open source efforts.

But those three also offers threats to other open source projects. So while Google is more trusted than Microsoft, it still gets a long, critical review from the open source community.

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