If an I.T. shop is a summer barbecue, open-source software still is stuck at the kids' table while commercialized applications sit with the adults at the big table. The CIO behind the grill is trying to make sure the meal comes off as planned and isn't so sure that more than one or two unsupervised open-source applications can be trusted not to squirt mustard on Uncle Ralph.
There's a huge effort under way in the industry, though, to get open-source software ready to join the grown-ups. Unlike in the past, the energy isn't centered on promising individual applications. Instead, startups are sprouting around bundled and supported software stacks in an effort to instill confidence that groups of applications will work well together. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Novell also recognize that open-source applications won't be adopted in a significant way unless they're supported and well-integrated, and that means with proprietary software, too.
Support will make open source more competitive against proprietary software, says David Bauer, Merrill Lynch's head of infrastructure, architecture, and engineering.
When a company plans to integrate any new software into its environment, IT is on the hook to make sure everything's compatible. Traditionally, vendors take care of compatibility testing for commercial software packages, but "in the open-source community, you're on your own," says David Bauer, Merrill Lynch's head of infrastructure, architecture, and engineering. It's the same with solving problems once software is up and running, Bauer says. With open source, users have been largely left to their own devices.
Hewlett-Packard plans to address these concerns this week at the LinuxWorld conference by disclosing it has certified that more than 200 open-source applications, from the Apache Web server to the Zope app server, will run on HP's Integrity NonStop servers. Novell said last week it would validate that a number of software applications will run in high-performance computing environments on HP BladeSystem servers and offer technical support for users of JBoss Inc.'s open-source Enterprise Middleware System.
Venture-funded startups see an opportunity, too, to create a new class of open-source "aggregators." One, SpikeSource Inc., lets companies build to order for free from its Web site a stack of open-source components that SpikeSource has tested for compatibility. SpikeSource then charges $995 a year per server for ongoing upgrades to those apps. The company also proposed a concept called the Business Readiness Ratings, developed in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University and Intel, to provide a standardized way for companies to evaluate the maturity of open-source applications (see story, Open Source To Get Rating System).