Open Source, Part 2

A second generation of open-source tools such as databases and app servers is winning business converts. But do they have the innovation and influence to prosper?
Perhaps the biggest question for these second-generation companies will be the involvement of established technology companies. SAP last year turned over the source code for its SAP DB relational database to MySQL AB. The move came after SAP concluded, "We're not a database vendor," says Shai Agassi, an SAP executive board member. Yet SAP wanted to continue to support and develop the system, so about 80 developers at SAP continue to work on the software. They turn their work over to MySQL AB, which offers it as MAX DB for transactional and high-performance uses.

Finding a company to support the widening number of open-source pieces can be a challenge, says Burton Group analyst Gary Hein. Aztec Software Inc. and Gluecode Software are two companies looking for a niche providing service and support for software stacks that combine various open-source products.


The next generation of open-source products making inroads into corporate America represents vital areas of interest for most companies, such as application servers and databases

This second generation hasn't received endorsements from influential technology companies because these products threaten to cut into the market share of leading commercial products

The companies marketing these products realize the importance of service and support; they often hire the original developers of the products

James Chaney, senior project manager at Consolidated Communications Inc., purchased Gluecode's stack, guaranteed to work together, for $15,000, combined with a $15,000 proprietary business-process engine and portal server that works with it. Chaney can use the Gluecode package on an unlimited number of servers. He figures he would have spent $100,000 per CPU for the same functionality in commercial software. As a result, he's using Apache, Linux, MySQL, the PHP scripting language, and Tomcat, and expects to add JBoss later.

Chaney says he would have run into more opposition if he hadn't been able to purchase Gluecode's technical support. He has had to tap that support. "I got the response I needed the same day," he says.

But do the new open-source companies have staying power? Critics point out that VA Linux, a former supplier of Linux hardware, became a much-reduced VA Software, providing collaborative development applications; Scriptics, a supplier of a commercial version of the Tcl scripting-language tools, and GreatBridge, a supplier of technical support for PostgreSQL, both went out of business.

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What's more, open-source products aren't necessarily open for life. SourceForce, an open-source collaboration portal, went from being open-source code to a closed and proprietary product. "It's not easy to close an open-source project, but it's possible if the copyright holder chooses to do so," Hein warns. "Viability and stability risks cannot be ignored when considering open source."

As users have learned with Linux, and as Microsoft officials love to point out, open-source software isn't always free. The venture-capital investments make the second generation of open-source products look more like commercial software. It's the goal of JBoss and MySQL to create profitable companies, with consequent top- and bottom-line expectations.

"Open-source code is in flux," Sabre Holdings CTO Murphy says. "You can't tell exactly where you will end up." Still, he's forging ahead. Sabre Holdings purchased an enterprise license for MySQL and will likely add even more open source in the future. Says Murphy, "Things are working."

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