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Bluenog's Unconventional Open Source Strategy

Bluenog combines the development methods of open source with the technical support of a commercial company. Is this a prototype of the software company of the future?

Bluenog is a different kind of company: It doesn't produce open source code, but it integrates code from several open source projects to produce a combined commercial product, Integrated Collaborative Environment, also known as Bluenog ICE 4.0.

Given the speed at which open source projects evolve, Bluenog appears to be trying to combine the rapid develop methods of open source projects with the consistent technical support and integration of a commercial company. Is this a prototype of the software company of the future?

While many "open source" companies produce commercial products, most of them are intimately involved in producing the code at the center of project. Key JBoss coders became members of the company or were discouraged from continuing to contribute under Marc Fleury. While Bluenog contributes back to the projects from which it derives its core engines, it doesn't control or manage the core development process nor does it govern what directions they will move in next.

One antecedent, EnterpriseDB, produces a commercial product directly from the PostgreSQL open source database project, but it cultivates a direct, ongoing relationship with the project, employing some of its key developers and integrators. Bluenog does not. ICE 4.0, launched in mid-September, is an XML-based content management system that's been integrated with portal software, so that rapidly evolving content from nontechnical users can be frequently posted and edited on a Web site. In addition, Bluenog adds business intelligence to the combination, allowing nontechnical users to produce business intelligence reports and distribute them.

The three founders of Bluenog are high-level BEA Systems veterans who left the company in 2006, before Oracle made it first attempt to acquire BEA, although rumors were already afoot that BEA might be an Oracle acquisition target.

"That didn't have anything to do with our leaving," said Scott Barnett, COO of Bluenog and a former senior product manager at BEA. "It was our vision that you could marry together the benefits of open source and enterprise software. We did the pre-integration of three components, then we made them ready for your existing environment with 'ready-integration,' " he said in an interview. Basically, Bluenog is able to add custom connectors and adapters to its integrated ICE product so that it will fit into a variety of enterprise environments.

ICE draws its content management engine from the open source Hippo CMS project, which is based on Apache Slide, Apache Cocoon, and Open Symphony's OS Workflow, three open source projects. The Bluenog RichPortal is based on the Apache Portals, Apache Jetspeed, Apache Wicket, Adobe Flex, and SpringSource Spring projects. The third component, Bluenog BI, is based on the BIRT project sponsored by the open source programmer's workbench, Eclipse.

This integrated open source code is aimed at midsize companies with small IT staffs that are unlikely to want to integrate the three products themselves. It comes with a price tag of $25,000 a year for use on a single four-way server, or $50,000 a year on larger servers, Barnett said. The integrated product includes end-user management software that maintains the security of the system.

While Bluenog ICE is not open source code, customers get the source code of the product, instead of just compiled code, as is typical with most commercial products. Customers often make changes or build integration software for their own environments, and often give that development back to Bluenog to share with other customers.

His company has no pretense of creating an open source community around ICE, but "we do want to create a community of customers. We want them to have the same ability to collaborate as users of open source code," said Barnett.

"We believe there's a significant benefit to customers if they can leverage that community," he added.

The 30-employee company in Piscataway, N.J., is backed by venture capital firm NewSpring Capital, which has invested $4 million.

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