Open Source Making Enterprise In-Roads

It may not be obvious, but open source software is everywhere. It is incorporated into many of the products enterprises rely on every day. Apache Web servers, Cisco routers, Sun servers, Linux operating systems, all are either open source based or rely on open source solutions to operate., Google, and Yahoo! all rely on open source technologies for their core infrastructure and offerings. And, of course, the Internet is built on open source. Sendmail is the email backbone of the Internet and Apache accounts for 67% of all Web servers in use today, according to Netcraft.

Open Source on the Desktop

Even desktop Linux is slowly making its way onto IT manager’s radars as open source productivity suites such as OpenOffice and Sun’s commercialized version, StarOffice, mature into bona fide competitors to Microsoft Office. RedHat, which makes its living from supplying corporations with support for the Linux operating system, plans a soon-to-be-released version of desktop Linux bundled with OpenOffice, said Karen Bennet, vice president of engineering for Tools and Application layer products.

Internally, RedHat uses OpenOffice as well. Why? “Microsoft’s costs money,” she said, “but OpenOffice is free.”

Dual-licensing companies such as Sleepycat Software, makers of the Berkeley DB database, which is embedded in host of enterprise products and software from EMC storage solutions to Sun’s full line of servers, and MySQL, an increasingly popular database for companies that do not need the power of Oracle or IBM’s, DB2 are experiencing excellent growth, said Mike Olson, CEO of Sleepycat.

“Apache was really the first out-of-the-park home run for open source software that people really heard about and Linux is the one everyone talks about now; in no small part because of platform support from IBM and Sun and others,” he said. “The success of companies like Yahoo! and Amazon and Google in building big, scalable, high-performance information systems on Linux and other open source components like Apache and Berkeley DB, has demonstrated to CIOs and the commercial application developers that open source can work in production systems.”

According to Olson, there are over 200 million copies of Berkeley DB in circulation and use and IBM, Sun, Cisco, EMC, to name a few, all use it in their offerings.


The first driver is, as usual, cost. Many organizations have turned to open source to save money. But that is only part of the equation. Open source also offers corporate IT departments viable solutions that work, said David Kipping, director of business development for TrollTech, the makers of TrollTech QT.

QT is an open source GUI (graphical user interface) tool kit used to build customized applications. It is widely used in the semiconductor industry and by ERP vendors like JD Edwards to customize packages for customers, said Kipping. QT can also be found in the IT departments of such easily recognizable companies such as Sony, Motorola, IBM, Siemens and Disney, he said.

Paul Dravis, founder of The Dravis Group, agrees. In his reports on Linux and open source adoption, Dravis found corporations first turn to the open source community because of cost but stay because of quality.

“The first driver for a lot of folks is just the cost,” he said. “But once they get involved … they find out this isn’t as painful as (they) thought.”

Massive Parallel Debugging

Besides cost, another reason commercial developers are beginning to incorporate open source solutions is the “massive parallel debugging” that occurs when source code is poked and prodded by a thousands of developers world wide, said Kipping.

“It’s amazing how quickly bugs and problems are identified and resolved in an open source environment,” he said.

Outside of Apache server, Sendmail and, of course, Linux, the most commonly used open source product in and for the enterprise seems to be databases, said Dravis. MySQL, for example, is to be incorporated into the next release of RedHat’s Linux offering, said Bennet. And Veritas uses MySQL in their storage products, said Dravis.

While open source products will not substitute for more mature, mission-critical proprietary offerings any time soon, all those interviewed for this article agree, open source solutions have come of age and will continue to find their way into enterprise IT departments at every level.

“A lot of commercial production applications have incorporated open source pieces into what they do things,” said Kipping. “So, open source has come of age as a technology source but, as a complete application, I don’t think its quite there yet.”