Expert: Companies need to plug in to open-source

Linux and open-source software aren't for every situation, but with Windows licensing costs on the rise, lots of IT administrators in traditional Windows shops are looking more closely at all their options. Randy Terbush, who is founder of Covalent Technologies, co-founder of the Apache Software Foundation and currently a consultant with Tribal Knowledge Group, which he also co-founded, spoke this week at the Enterprise Linux Forum in Boston about where enterprise Linux and open-source are gaining traction.

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So many countries have chosen to adopt free or open software and will only go with Windows if there is no other option. Why does it seem that governments and government agencies are having an easier time than corporations when it comes to moving to open-source and Linux? They aren't all having an easy time. The Mitre report [an October 2002 report released by the Mitre Corp., which found that open-source software plays a critical role...

in the Department of Defense] took many months to become public, with a lot of fighting from Microsoft to keep it from becoming public. There was some discussion that no one should know what the government is running for software. Microsoft had a lot to lose by the release of the report. The government has much to gain by cutting costs. In this economic environment, there is a lot of concern. If you can show ways they can reduce license fees, they are interested. I hear from people in the government who want to use open-source but who are under a great deal of political pressure not to. They are looking for ways to stay out of the limelight and find other ways to 'bring it in.' There is a willingness to use open-source protocols in the pharmaceutical and financial verticals, particularly if a software vendor can deliver [open- source] products in a way that makes it look like a commercial, off-the-shelf product. How harmful is it to open-source when a high-profile consultancy says Windows has better TCO than Linux, even though the study may be co-sponsored by Microsoft? You have to pay less attention to analysts because they are driven by dollars. Look more at case studies where there are other governments and companies deploying open software with great success. Where is open-source best suited in a Windows environment? I have had the most experience with Apache because of my background. It's convenient to make your Windows server boxes look like your Unix server boxes. In almost any enterprise, you have a mix of both. Deploying Apache and having it look like Linux and Solaris machines will save you dollars because you can have the same person administer them all. There are some databases that can be deployed on Windows; MySQL is one of them. What do IT administrators who want to use more open-source software do to convince senior managers to bring more of it to the enterprise? The key points in those conversations are usually around return on investment and total cost of ownership, and the actual lock-in and ability to move the technology forward. If you can show that open-source can save license dollars and allow more freedom in terms of developing a more competitive solution, then it's an easier sell. What milestones are coming up for open-source software in 2003? In terms of scalability and its ability to cluster, there is some significant work being done to get Linux more data center-ready. The next release of Linux has many of these features. The open-source development lab has worked hard to see an actual product specification come out and is helping with development and testing. The Apache Software Foundation continues to extend the SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] stack with the advent of Apache AXIS. There are some projects like FOP, a translation engine for converting data formats on the fly, as well as newer releases of Tomcat [the open-source Java application server]. How will open-source technology evolve? Eventually, it will be considered acceptable for a company to use the source code as it comes from the Apache Software Foundation to deploy an application, Web server or SOAP Web services stack. Or to use Linux as it comes from some other pre-distribution. Or to have their own variant of Unix or Apache in-house with their own modifications. There is a lot of training and integration work that needs to take place. Companies need to get plugged in and involved in the open-source development process, and [they] need help doing revision control on their own architectures. These things have to happen, but it's nothing insurmountable, any more than keeping track of the last patch that has to be applied to a version of commercial software. There is also a need for user interfaces. Companies like Covalent have been successful because they deliver user interfaces that let users have the same experience on Apache as they have on Windows. Linux is challenged on the desktop because of a lack of the user interface like Windows. From a server standpoint, there is a lot of reason to deploy a server that does not have the weight of a user interface. There is also a need for user interfaces. Companies like Covalent have been successful because they deliver user interfaces that let users have the same experience on Apache as they have on Windows. Linux is challenged on the desktop because of a lack of the user interface like Windows. From a server standpoint, there is a lot of reason to deploy a server that does not have the weight of a user interface. How will open-source technology evolve?

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