Management Tools ‘Priority One’ for Open Source

BURLINGAME, Calif. — If the open source movement is to continue its traction in the enterprise, it will have to develop a better managed business model.

That’s the conclusion of IT professionals that attended Thursday’s SDForum Open Source Summit here. Representatives from Oracle, IBM, Novell, IBM, Red Hat, Apache, BEA, Sun, and HP huddled to discuss the needs of customers who are poised to adopt open source technologies such as Linux, Apache or FreeBSD.

Most, if
not all, are looking at management software and support as key to their success.

There has been an industry-wide call for open source management software. Research firm IDC estimates the system management market for Linux and other open source technology will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent between 2002 and 2007.

That would make it one of the fastest-growing segments in the performance and availability management software market. Some open source vendors say IT managers are kicking the tires because of the non-centralized nature of open source. According to a March survey, executives said that within five years open source would be their dominant server platform.

But as the products gain in popularity, users are faced with a dilemma: How can they deliver the performance and availability required of their open source applications without a comprehensive management application?

“Any large customer is going to question why they can’t get what they want . . . even companies that want that one throat

to choke,” said Novell director Linux business office Matt Asay during a breakout session. “Ford [Motor Company] asked me, ‘If [we] wanted changes to the source code to fit [our] needs, what could Novell do?’ I said we could submit it to the
community and then go through the approval process, to which their eyes rolled over.”

Asay said Novell’s situation is unique because it is straddling between its proprietary legacy systems and its future with Linux, which was bolstered by its proposed acquisition of SUSE Linux.

“If you subscribe to Clayton Christensen’s views in Innovator’s Dilemma, the Harvard professor’s book about disruptive technologies, basically your best customers can be your worst enemies,” Asay said. “We have been dabbling in open source but we will continue to support legacy customers. Anyone doing that shift will have to expect that feet dragging. Anyone looking at that shift from proprietary to open source will
have to look at support in different ways.”

Pure-plays like Red Hat are running into the opposite problem. Mike Evans, company vice president of business development with the North Carolina based Linux distributor said the allure of open source is finally meeting the reality of licensing models.

“Open source is quasi ‘Wild West’ but it is advancing,” Evans said. “We started changing about 18 months ago and slowing down the business model because we realized that it was difficult to keep up with all the changes in the industry. We have a business line of software with systems management software but we’ve taken a free product and now put that into a project basis called Fedora. It’s a subscription model where ISVs will be able to certify for a period of time.”

Evans also said customers are evaluating open source in much the same way as they are comparing proprietary applications. “These are political charts because you want to have management sign off on the projects,” he said.

Cignex CTO Munwar Shariff, who consults businesses, mirrored the politics issue involved with open source decisions, and suggested that IT departments are reluctant about making such changes because they are used to legacy systems. “Marketing and Web sites are more open to open source than IT departments,” he said.

Despite some hesitation in the marketplace, customers are closely monitoring open source efforts, according to IBM vice president of Emerging Technologies Rod Smith.

“That is important because as open source initiatives develop they need to know that they made the right decision,” he said. “Our enterprise customers are very receptive to XML and open source but they like to make sure that it solves the problem that they are tackling in the first place.”