Open-source apps becoming more enterprise IT friendly

Von Todd R.

In a bid to make their applications more enticing for corporate IT users, open-source software vendors are working to make the applications easier to deploy and support. in Portland, Oregon, at the seventh annual O"Reilly Open Source Convention this week, many open-source companies have been touting enterprise applications that offer alternatives to proprietary software for a wide ranges of uses, including business intelligence, customer relationship management and content management.

A major difference in the open-source movement compared to a few years ago is an increased focus on making open-source applications easier for corporate IT departments to use. At least two companies, SpikeSource Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., and Seattle-based SourceLabs, have been doing just that by offering custom-built, preconfigured and pretested stacks of open-source applications to enterprise IT users.

The goal, said Nick Halsey, vice president of sales and marketing at SpikeSource, is to help corporate IT departments better manage the various open-source applications they want to use, including Web servers, application servers, databases and more. "It"s such a big problem to try to solve, managing the interoperational challenges of all these open-source projects," Halsey said.

Five years ago, corporate IT departments faced similar issues when deploying Linux and applications like Apache Web Server. As the number of open-source applications being deployed rose, interoperability became a major issue, he said. The problem was that multiple patches, release dates and bug fixes for applications had to be tracked and completed, complicating the process.

To ease the use of open-source applications, competitors SpikeSource and SourceLabs developed their own configuration and testing models, then offered their prebuilt or custom stacks to users. "The real issue is the interoperability of all these things and making sure they all work together," Halsey said. "That"s the benefit of automation" for testing and configuration.

SpikeSource"s stacks, which can be custom-configured with any or all of the 70 open-source applications the company supports, runs on SUSE Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. Seven preconfigured stacks are also available for users who want the most common open-source software assortments. The software can be downloaded for free from the company"s Web site and used without support, or users can purchase support and updates for US$995 per server per year.

The popular LAMP stack of open-source applications includes Linux, Apache Web Server, MySQL database and PHP, an open-source programming language mainly for server-side applications.

The SASH and AMP stacks include similar applications.

Cornelius Willis, co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing at SourceLabs, said his company"s focus is making open-source SASH and AMP stacks more reliable -- not just easier to deploy.

Willis said his company"s services also support the SASH stack on BEA Systems Inc."s WebLogic platform and on IBM"s WebSphere platform, as well as on Oracle Corp. databases. Pricing begins at $2,000 per server.

SourceLabs is also highlighting its recently improved support service, which includes a promise of a two-hour response time to customer calls, with the first callback from a software engineer, not just a tech support staffer, Willis said. "Support is now a business you can compete for," he said. "It"s a very big market."

Here"s a look at some of the other vendor announcements at the convention:

- Poway, Calif.-based MarvelIT Inc. announced its first life science/pharmaceutical sales and marketing analytics application, which provides business-intelligence-gathering capabilities for corporate users. Based on MarvelIT"s existing open-source stack, the suite provides preconfigured Web-based reporting and dashboard software, according to the company.

- Alfresco Software Inc. of Maidenhead, England, unveiled its open-source Java-based enterprise content management application, which runs on Windows, Linux, Unix and Mac OS X.

- Tersus Software Ltd. of Tel Aviv announced its Tersus Visual Programming Platform, which makes it possible to develop enterprise Web applications by drawing business flows instead of writing code.