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11/13/2008
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The Open Source Enterprise: Its Time Has Come

The problems that made open source code impractical for many businesses are falling away. Add in the 'cheaper' factor, and this should get interesting.

BY MICROSOFT'S SIDE
Continental has long been a strong Microsoft shop, relying on Windows Server, Windows System Management Server, SQL Server, Active Directory, and now SharePoint to handle many of its business processes. When it wanted to understand a Continental operation in New York or Albuquerque, however, it turned to a lightweight open source integration system, Jitterbit.

Continental needs to know when the workstations at a given site are beginning to tax the bandwidth of its network there. It needs to know the function a server provides, the traffic to its databases, and other critical system information in order to add flights and baggage handling and otherwise expand a site's operations.

"We used to fly an engineer to a site to see what's there," says Denise Wilson, Continental's senior manager of technology and enterprise engineering. That's no longer necessary. The company collects information from System Management Server and other points at each site through Jitterbit, which converts it to XML and sends it to SharePoint, where design planners and project managers view and use it.

The information can be updated as often as Continental wants to poll its sources. Jitterbit, the company that supports the code, helped customize the integration for the airline, and now Wilson writes Visual Basic scripts herself when she wants a new piece of data updated and loaded into the SharePoint Server. "I've been a Microsoft product user for a long time," she says. "Jitterbit has been a great pairing with our Microsoft software."

Pairing open source and commercial software is one road into companies. Even newer are open source efforts like GroundWork, which combines the output of several open source projects, including the Nagios monitoring capability, to create a network management tool.

Before a recent consolidation, the state of Oregon had 11 data centers, each with its own way of monitoring systems. When it came to data backup, it had 20 different procedures. In 2007, it consolidated into a new Salem, Ore., facility, the Oregon State Data Center. The GroundWork system replaced Hewlett-Packard OpenView, Cisco Works, Tivoli, CA eHealth, and Compuware Network Vantage. Alison Wood, who led the IT systems for the state of Oregon, says that instead of $64,500 in annual maintenance fees for those monitoring products, the state spends $16,000 a year for technical support, updates, and bug fixes for a GroundWork subscription, to monitor 2,271 routers and switches and 1,756 servers.

Another innovator, Terracotta, is showing how open source can take over functions previously reserved for the database and middleware. Led by founder and CTO Ari Zilka, once the chief architect for Walmart.com, Terracotta has built software that pulls frequently used data out of databases, pools it for a set of Java applications running on Web servers, and generates Java virtual machines across the server grid to do whatever work is needed on it. The data is loaded into the servers' memory as a giant, quick-response cache but managed as a pooled resource. Transactions and updates occur in the cache, with the underlying databases getting synchronized later. It's ideal for serving thousands of Web site users with quick, comparative information--the kind of data that's needed to make buying decisions.

Terracotta saves money not because you can download it for free--though you can--but because it's a substitute for buying more database systems, more application servers, and more hardware to run overworked applications, the former brute-strength solution to a data-volume problem.

So in today's bad economy, does that mean Terracotta's sales projections are rocketing? No. "This jitteriness in the economy is a two-edged sword," says CEO Amit Pandey. "Big deals are being put on hold and large deployments are being slowed down." Yet Pandey says the last three months have brought twice the inquiries on pricing and implementation. "We're seeing a lot less resistance to open source than a year ago," he says. After two years on the market, Terracotta has 60 customers, including Comcast and the online multiuser card game PartyGaming, and its code is being downloaded about 50,000 times a month.

Like many in the open source market, Pandey's betting that current economic conditions, combined with this wilting resistance to open source, will pump up its market share. "Right now, we're sitting on the edge of our seats," Pandey says. The reality is that, in all but a few markets such as Web servers and server operating systems, open source's market share is miniscule, even if it's grabbing more mindshare.

Mary Knox, an analyst in Gartner's financial services practice, wrote in a note on July 11 that banks and investment services firms, long leaders in open source adoption, continue to increase their use. About 84% of the companies Gartner surveyed say they expect to be using open source code by the end of this year, as they try to stay ahead of escalating transaction volumes and cost pressures.

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