Software // Enterprise Applications
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9/2/2005
12:35 PM
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Apps Migrate To Open Source

As more companies move to open-source platforms, enterprise-application vendors adapt their software for the new environments

Siegenia-Aubi KG had to reboot its Compaq servers about every 14 days until it decided to chuck Windows for Linux. But that meant the German maker of sound-insulating ventilators, as well as windows, doors, and room-ventilation equipment, would run all its enterprise applications on a relatively new open-source platform.

The open-source movement has increased dramatically in recent years. To keep up, enterprise-application vendors--Manhattan Associates, Oracle, SAP, Siebel Systems, SSA Global Technologies--are adapting their software to run in these environments.

It takes a leap of faith to unleash enterprise apps that support a company's core business processes onto a new operating system. That was true for Siegenia-Aubi. Its mySAP Business Suite is responsible for managing the production of 80,000 parts required to create 13,000 products, and it supports more than 750 concurrent users. Today, Siegenia-Aubi is one of more than 3,000 open-source database installations that SAP supports. It now runs SAP's customer-relationship-management software on Linux, as well as MySQL database, Apache Web server, and PHP Hypertext Preprocessor scripting language. "We're trying to get all applications off Windows and onto Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server," says Markus Döhr, one of the company's SAP specialists and a database analyst. So far so good, and Döhr says the move has yielded some welcome benefits, including access to source code--which is rarely available when using proprietary operating systems--that integrates well with other business applications the company uses.

Of the enterprise-app vendors, SAP and Oracle have the largest customer base running enterprise-resource-planning and database deployments on Linux. SAP's commitment to Linux dates back to 1996. It was the first major ERP player to offer customers software on open-source platforms six years ago, SAP says. The following year, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server became the first Linux platform to be certified for both mySAP Business Suite and Adaptive Computing infrastructure.

Today, SAP supports all major 64-bit Linux hardware platforms, including Itanium, 64-bit x86 chips from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, OpenPower, and zSeries, as well as multiple Linux distributions, including Novell SuSE, Red Flag, and Red Hat, along with major database systems such as Informix, MaxDB, and Oracle. SAP has made Linux one of its two strategic-development platforms for SAP NetWeaver. It's also certifying its software on open-source Solaris 10. SAP began the process two months ago.

Oracle began supporting open source in 2000. Its E-Business Suite is certified to run on Asianux Linux, Novell SuSE, and Red Hat. Oracle's Enterprise and Enterprise One Suites run on Red Hat. Certification on an operating system involves installing and configuring the software and running a set of automated regression tests to make sure the software operates properly. Upgrades also are tested.

Running its own business infrastructure on Red Hat and Novell SuSE, an initiative pushed by CEO Larry Ellison, has helped it secure customers such as Overstock.com Inc. and Welch Foods Inc. "We recently implemented Oracle's platform from financials to human resources," says Jacob Matusevich, lead infrastructure analyst at Welch. "Since Oracle runs their business with Linux on Dell servers, it persuaded us to make that decision, too."

Oracle estimates that about 20% its ERP and database customers run some form of Linux, says Greg Seiden, VP of Oracle applications integration.

SSA Global sees much less opportunity in open source, even though it supports Linux for the desktop and client-server apps running browsers such as Mozilla or Firefox. It also supports JBoss and Tomcat, and by year's end will add open-source database MySQL to the list. "We've seen just about zero adoption--only about 20, maybe 30, of our customers run one or more of these platforms," says Cory Eaves, SSA Global's chief technology officer.

Siebel has converted multiple applications to open-source, starting three years ago with Siebel 7.5 for Oracle Linux. In April, the CRM vendor revealed support for IBM's Linux version of the DB2 database-management system. Then, in August, it expanded a partnership with Novell. Under the agreement, Novell will provide support for Siebel's business apps on Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. The CRM product is scheduled to ship next year, says Skip Bacon, VP of technology at Siebel, adding that about 50 customers have expressed interest in running CRM on open source. Siebel also will make its CRM product available on Sun Solaris Sparc 10 next year.

Manhattan Associates is the latest vendor to move its apps to Linux, joining the ranks last year with the certification of transportation-management, distributed-order-management, trading-partner-management, and other applications in the Logistics Event Management Architecture on Linux, Novel SuSE, and JBoss.

A crucial piece of a company's open-source strategy is understanding that Linux can support most apps, but some features may not produce the same results as proprietary systems, says Pervinder Johar, CTO and senior VP for research and development at Manhattan Associates. "You may lose some of the features and have to write code to accommodate the change," he says.

Microsoft has yet to make a move toward open source. It has contemplated the concept of an open-source ERP platform for business apps for five years, says James Utzschneider, general manager for Microsoft's Business Solutions strategy. "When Linux and open source burst onto the scene, we thought about the phenomenon it would create in the software market," he says, noting the momentum in databases, Web browsers, and operating systems, but not in business applications.

Having source code doesn't solve all problems, says Florian Kainz, computer graphics principal engineer at Industrial Light & Magic.

Having source code doesn't solve all problems, says Florian Kainz, computer graphics principal engineer at Industrial Light & Magic.

Much of the push toward open source comes from the promise of lower maintenance, support, and hardware costs. But having the source code doesn't make you an expert in fixing bugs, says Florian Kainz, computer graphics principal engineer at Industrial Light & Magic, a visual-effects company owned by George Lucas' Lucasfilm Ltd. It's a very different world, he says, and if you try to develop these skills with a support staff versed in Windows, it's a big step up.

Companies that start out on Unix and migrate to Linux rather than Windows are more apt to see savings. That's because technical experts with Unix skills can just as easily support Linux. Jack Garzella, Overstock's VP of data-warehouse reporting and analytics, couldn't agree more. Most of the company's tech staff is proficient in Linux, having spent years supporting Unix platforms. About 80% of Overstock's 500 servers run Red Hat and Novell SuSE Linux.

Jim Mainard, head of research and development at DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., estimates the movie studio has cut at least 20% from licensing and operating costs annually and is less prone to software-virus attacks since moving to Linux desktops and away from Silicon Graphics Inc. proprietary RISC workstations that cost between $30,000 and $40,000 per artist in 2000.

Those savings could be lost if enterprise-app vendors don't provide support services specific to open-source environments. In addition, if customers start altering the Linux operating system, vendors can find themselves "stuck in a world of potential unlimited unknowns" trying to fix problems that may have been created by changes the customer made, Siebel's Bacon says.

Another potential snag: Because much of open source's evolution is driven by communities of developers, upgrades are unpredictable. Some code can even fall by the wayside. Companies that have run open-source apps for years say it's possible to become dependent on a particular feature or desktop configuration only to find it discontinued without notice. "Not knowing the road map far enough in advance for a project within the open-source community is a problem," Mainard says. "If the owners of the project decide it's not valuable and it should move onto a new architecture, they do."

That's changing as more open-source apps are designed for the enterprise. For example, the enterprise versions of Linux--Red Hat Workstation 3.0 and 4.0--provide "that important stability an enterprise requires to believe the features you count on will be there tomorrow," Mainard says. The enterprise-apps vendors' increased open-source efforts should only help to bolster that stability.

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