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Former BEA executives launch open source company

Sep 29, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsOpen Source

Three former BEA Systems executives who left earlier this year have resurfaced as founders of a Seattle start-up that plans to begin integrating and supporting a variety of open source server software next year.

Byron Sebastian, Will Pugh and Cornelius Willis have all surfaced as founders of SourceLabs Inc., which on Monday announced it had received $3.5 million in venture funding, including an investment from Ignition Partners. Ignition managing partner Brad Silverberg will sit on the start-up’s board. Silverberg was formerly a senior vice president at Microsoft.

SourceLabs’ Sebastian formerly was vice president and general manager of BEA’s WebLogic Portal and Workshop divisions. Pugh and Willis served, respectively, as principal technologist and vice president of developer marketing.

The start-up will focus on two major areas: certifying and testing open source software and selling support and maintenance subscriptions similar to those offered by Red Hat, said Willis, vice president, sales and marketing with SourceLabs.

The company plans to support server software beyond the software included in the typical Linux distribution, he said. “There are 20,000 open source projects out across the Internet. To date, customers have really only heavily invested in Linux,” he said. “We’re going to provide these tested and certified stacks and systems and sell support contracts for them.”

These support contracts will first be sold in 2005, according to Willis.

The company was founded in April, three months after SourceLabs CEO Byron Sebastian left BEA. Sebastian began interviewing open source customers and trying to understand why open source software wasn’t more widely used, Willis said. “It became clear that there was no source for dependable open source systems. There were rock solid components, but nobody was integrating them into a system,” he said.

Though SourceLabs is not saying what specific software it will support, the company will focus on software such as the MySQL database and Apache Web server, Willis said. The Linux operating system could eventually be part of the software that SourceLabs supports, as could Windows.

Part of SourceLabs’ initial round of funding came from Index Ventures, an information technology and life sciences venture firm. Danny Rimer, a partner at Index, is also an investor in MySQL AB and Zend Technologies, two companies that sell the kind of open source software that SourceLabs plans to support. Zend develops and supports the PHP scripting language.

SourceLabs has identified a growing area for open source vendors, said Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst with industry research company Robert Frances Group. “The process of integrating the software packages can be time intensive as well as costly,” she said. “There is value in the market for that.”

Though Linux distribution vendors have recently begun to focus more on middleware and database software that is generally not considered to be part of the operating system, companies such as Red Hat do not have the resources to test and certify every open source software package, Quandt said. “Red Hat is going to do their stack, but they’re not going to do everything.”

SourceLabs could find itself competing with companies with large support organizations and open source specialists that focus on particular applications, said Bob Bickel, vice president of business strategy with JBoss, the Atlanta developer of the JBoss application server.

“With a number of growing open source projects, there’s a need for more integrated stacks,” Bickel said. “However, companies like HP and Novell are going after broadly integrated stacks and companies like JBoss and MySQL are going after focused integrated stacks. They’re going to have to find the middle ground between those two end points,” he said.

SourceLabs hopes to eventually have partnerships with some of these companies, Willis said. “If our business unfolds the way we hope it will, we think we would be a great partner for the global systems integrators,” he said.