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Open source products grab corporate attention

By , Network World
October 18, 2004 12:01 AM ET

Network World - When the Internet travel market began to kick into high gear in 2002, National Leisure Group, which sells vacation packages through sites such as Orbitz and Priceline.com, knew it had to step its services up a notch. It embarked on a project to create an online system that could put together custom vacations for prospective customers in minutes.

That meant writing a new application and extending its application server platform.

"When we did that we had a bunch of choices to make. We had already been using J2EE as our application development environment for other applications in the business, but we had been a traditional consumer of commercial application servers," says Jamie Cash, director of technical architecture for NLG in Woburn, Mass.

Cash and his team looked at the costs involved in expanding their server farm to support a broader BEA WebLogic deployment and realized the costs would be a definite hurdle.

"So we began to seek alternatives," he says. "The alternative we landed on was [open source application server] JBoss."

NLG had the JBoss platform running by April 2003. In the first year alone, the savings associated with using the open source application server as opposed to the commercial BEA software amounted to $1 million in avoided licensing fees, Cash says.

"And we were able to scale much faster in terms of technical perspective and in terms of the business," he says.

Alternatives beyond Linux

NLG is not alone in looking at open source alternatives beyond Linux. Analysts say that in the move to cut costs and drive efficiencies, enterprise users are starting to get more serious about open source products such as Jboss; and databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL, the Apache Web server, the Samba file and print server, and OpenOffice desktop software.

"The trend is that organizations are trying to find cost reduction strategies that allow them to continue to do what they're doing but do it at a lower cost structure," says Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software at IDC. "They are considering open source software where it's appropriate. JBoss, MySQL, PostgreSQL are on the list of things that people are looking for."

A Forrester Research survey of 140 North American firms earlier this year found that 46% of respondents are using open source software today, and 14% have plans to bring open source into their data centers in the future. Thirty-nine percent of the companies said they had no plans for open source software, citing lack of skills and lack of support as primary inhibitors.

Ups and downs of open source
Corporate users, pleased with the capabilities of Linux, are taking a closer look at open source software such as databases and application servers. Some things to consider when moving up the open source stack:
Pros:
Cost. As far as software acquisition costs go, open source products are free.
Flexibility. Just like Linux, open source software frees companies from vendor lock-in.
Close to the code. With open source, enterprise users can pinpoint problems in specific code and suggest patches to solve problems.
Growing support. Vendors such as HP, Red Hat and Novell are enhancing support for open source products beyond Linux.

Cons:
Cost. While acquisition costs are free, corporate users must pay for support and services, and there are often costs associated with training IT staff.
Integration. Today, users are on their own when it comes to integrating open source products into legacy infrastructure, although this is starting to change with companies as varied as Gluecode and HP rolling out support for open source stacks.
Capabilities. Today’s open source databases and application servers are technically very good, but still not up to par with heavy-duty commercial offerings such as DB2 or WebLogic.
Intellectual property. The SCO Group’s legal assault against Linux should serve as a warning shot for any company considering open source. Understand the open source license governing the product and what your rights and responsibilities are.
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"[Open source software] has been a very active area of inquiry for about a year," says John Rymer, a vice president at Forrester who focuses on J2EE application servers such as JBoss. "In other words, clients are calling me up and asking me, 'Should we be using it? Is anybody using it? We love the price. We'd love to make greater use of it. What are the risks?' Those kinds of questions."

The uptick in interest is driven in large part by the growing acceptance of Linux within corporate data centers, analysts say. In many cases, companies have become familiar with Linux, making them more amenable to moving up the stack within the open source community.

"Companies have gotten comfortable with Linux, and they're scratching their heads and saying, 'The argument for Linux was total cost of ownership and skills, and our developers like it and applications are supporting it,'" says Pierre Fricke, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates. "Then they start thinking, 'What about this thing called JBoss. Doesn't it offer some of the same things?' And it does."

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