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9/23/2005
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Open Source Goes Corporate

Big business has opened its doors to the Linux software stack.

Open source gets vetted for other reasons. At E-Trade, proposed software implementations undergo an architecture review to evaluate how the new software will fit in with the current environment and an engineering review where the company determines whether it can support the technology and integrate it into existing systems. An optional third step is for the company's technology-investment committee to determine if the new software's contract terms are compatible with other software contracts, says Greg Framke, E-Trade's executive VP and head of technology.

Nielsen Media Research Inc.
Media research
2004 revenue: $4.7 billion

Open-source JBoss application server serves Java and HTML pages and acts as a JavaBeans container for Nielsen's MarketBreaks, a Web-based system that allows clients to analyze TV ratings. Nielsen runs Red Hat Linux on Intel-based hub servers.
Sabre Holdings Corp.
Travel services
2004 revenue: $2.1 billion

Sabre in 2000 initiated a $100 million project to move its air-travel shopping and pricing services off mainframe technology and onto HP servers running the open-source MySQL database on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system. It also uses The Ace Orb, a Corba 2.5-compliant C++ object request broker, as well as JBoss and Tomcat.
UPS Inc.
Shipping and logistics
2004 revenue: $36.6 billion

UPS is completing the migration of Tivoli servers to Intel-based servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3. The company is also moving its UPS.com Web-site applications to Red Hat. It's using Apache, the JBoss application server, and MySQL at its Atlanta supply-chain solutions group.
The Walt Disney Co.
Entertainment
2004 revenue: $30.8 billion

Disney will by year's end upgrade its Vignette software-based business-to-business and business-to-employee portal and migrate it to the open-source Tomcat servlet engine running on Intel-based Linux servers. It also is using open-source JBoss to host Java-based Web services.
Yahoo Inc.
Internet services
2004 revenue: $3.6 billion

Three of its primary open-source technologies are the Apache Web server, PHP programming language, and MySQL database. The open-source MySQL database is part of the Yahoo Finance Web site's core infrastructure.
The overall review process is critical in an organization like E-Trade, which prides itself on using technology to innovate in the financial-services market. Open source has proven to be a good fit with its vision. The company's migration from Unix to Linux, which began in 2001, is saving $13 million annually while improving IT infrastructure performance, Framke says. More savings may be on the way: The company plans next year to move from BEA Systems Inc.'s Tuxedo middleware to Common Web Services transaction-messaging software, and it's looking for open-source software to replace Computer Associates Netegrity security software for central access control, distributed management, and single sign-on for intranet and extranet sites.

Similarly, every open-source application at UPS must pass the scrutiny of the company's technology-standards committee, which considers factors such as how important the software is to a given project, before it can be used. If an open-source application is approved, it's then downloaded to a software repository where it's made available to use for internal projects. ABN Amro likewise is in the process of creating a repository of company-approved open-source applications that have been tested and vetted for use. Sabre's IT department also works from an approved-products list that governs what open-source software can and can't be used.

Despite the advantages open source delivers, few multibillion-dollar companies are throwing out the commercial software in which they've invested millions of dollars just to make the jump to open source. ABN Amro has yet to adopt open-source databases as a standard, primarily because of its heavy investments in Oracle and IBM DB2 databases. "It doesn't make sense to replace Oracle with MySQL at this time," says Gallagher, whose company primarily runs new--sometimes mission-critical--banking applications on Linux. "We don't do a lot of going back to rip and replace."

Yahoo won't replace its core search technology, its customer-billing system, its system for managing online ads, or several other central systems with open-source software anytime soon, either. "There are cases where we've made significant investments in our business," Zawodny says.

It's a different story at Sabre, which five years ago embarked on a $100 million project to move its air-travel shopping and pricing services off mainframes and onto 13 HP NonStop servers and a cluster of 45 HP Itanium database servers running the open-source MySQL database on Red Hat's Enterprise Linux. The move was calculated to help the company keep up with growing customer demand for online services.

The initial success of Sabre's migration toward open-source technology spurred further adoption. Over the past 18 months, the company has migrated more of its services off mainframes to run on 48 Intel Xeon-based HP servers and 177 AMD Opteron-based HP servers running Linux. Sabre's experience with open source extends to The Ace Orb, or TAO, a Corba 2.5-compliant C++ object request broker, as well as JBoss and Tomcat. Sabre now considers open source whenever it has an IT project up for review.

Good experiences with JBoss, Linux, and other open-source apps have reinforced the company's strategy. "We put our biggest, most important application on it and it held up," says Bob Offutt, senior VP and chief architect of strategic architecture, pointing to Sabre's air-travel shopping and pricing services application.

Server RolloutOnce a big company decides to deploy open-source software, it also must figure out how to support and maintain it. Without access to qualified help, a company might lose the cost advantages that make open-source software such an attractive proposition in the first place. "You're always weighing the value of having a company like Microsoft behind you or relying on an open-source community you have no control over," says Larry Kinder, CIO of travel conglomerate Cendant Corp., which has saved about $100 million since 2001 when it began moving its airfare-calculations and ticketing apps to Red Hat Linux. The Apache Web server and Tomcat servlet engine run its CheapTickets.com operation.

But Cendant isn't going overboard with open source. "I don't think [it's] the panacea of low-cost computing that people thought it was," Kinder says. "We're not going to bet the farm on it" and move the whole company to open source.

Others are treading cautiously in some areas for different reasons. E-Trade's Framke says his company is taking a close look at emerging open-source databases, but he believes the technology is a few years away from replacing Sybase Inc. for E-Trade's site, which manages 3.5 million accounts and averages 50 million Web hits daily. Still, he's interested. "We're seeing that open source is moving much more rapidly than commercial software," Framke says. "Maybe there are four people in a garage that will break open the database market in this way."

Declining SupportNielsen Media Research Inc., a division of information and media company VNU N.V., has come to rely on open-source application-development tools such as Hibernate, which is part of the JBoss Enterprise Middleware System, to act as a bridge to send information among the company's NPower minute-by-minute ratings-reporting system and MarketBreaks Web-based ratings-analysis application and their relational databases. But Linux adoption has been hindered, in part, because the IT staff's expertise is with Sun Solaris, VP of IT strategy Kamal Nasser says.

In other cases, open-source applications simply aren't mature enough to be worth a swap. "The challenges get greater and greater as you move up the software stack because of the need for customization within the company where that software is used," says Charlie Brenner, senior VP of the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology at Fidelity Investments. Fidelity established the center in 1999 to explore emerging technologies, and Brenner and his team investigate open source in a number of areas, including desktop Linux, departmental databases, and application-development platforms. Says ABN Amro's Gallagher, "When you get to more user-oriented applications like CRM and content management, we're not at the same level of comfort as with Linux. They've only recently come to a maturity level where they can be considered."

Download your free copy of InformationWeek's Linux Outlook research report.

Still, more than one webbed foot already has wedged its way through Big Business' door, and waves of new and diverse applications are sure to add to open source's appeal. For corporate America, the march of the penguin seems unstoppable.


Illustration by Dale Stephanos

In Depth: Open Source

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