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January 2006
Executive opinion

Jean-Pierre Barbéris, General Manager, Bull's Services and Solutions activities
Why there’s going to be an Open Source breakthrough in 2006…
… and how businesses can capitalize on it.

2005 proved to be a pivotal year in terms of growing awareness of the potential of Open Source. Doubtless, 2006 will be a key year in the acceleration of its deployment.

Because, although it takes time for technologies to be refined, and for attitudes to them to develop and change, Open Source is already establishing an important position in the information systems landscape. Today there are four main phenomena which are actively speeding up its inexorable development:

The dynamic of critical mass: Open Source has power in numbers: the contributions of tens of thousands of developers, the active involvement of thousands of public and private R&D facilities, and the fact that it is used by millions of users throughout the world all linked via the Internet in a virtual development circle. The IT world has already seen what can happen, with the evolution of Linux over the past few years from the status of a challenger among operating systems to an established leader. No doubt the movement which is currently under way in the world of middleware (application servers, databases) will eventually have the same kind of impact.
The convergence of strategic interests: The strength of the Open Source model is that everyone benefits from it: developers have a direct involvement in the technology, users have control over the environments where it is applied, businesses share part of their R&D effort and reduce their costs. The days are long gone when Open Source was seen as purely an ‘alternative’ or ‘academic’ movement, disconnected from the world of business. Today there is hardly a single major commercial R&D facility that does not follow Open Source, and utilize it, at least in part. For their part, ISVs have clearly understood what is happening, and more and more of them are developing Open Source strategies to strengthen their competitive positioning or enable them to concentrate their efforts on higher added value functionality or services. Nowadays, the evolution of Open Source is being driven, in no small measure, by major commercial R&D centers, including Bull’s own in Grenoble (France) and Phoenix (USA).
Adapting to the needs of business-critical infrastructures: Open Source is not only suitable for IT infrastructures, it is increasingly becoming appropriate for inclusion in business-critical ones. Control of your own destiny, a critical mass of developers, cost optimization, new turnkey support services from specialist suppliers: there are now some very powerful arguments in favor of Open Source. What is more, the best proof is the reliability of the Internet: let’s not forget that operation of the Internet network relies very largely on Open Source components. And the most striking demonstration? That 80% of the software running Tera-10 – Europe’s most powerful supercomputer and one of the most powerful in the world, which Bull recently delivered to the French Atomic Energy Authority (the CEA) – comes from the Open Source world, the remainder consisting of proprietary code and a specific software kernel developed by Bull.
Simplicity: last but not least of the key success factors behind Open Source is its sheer simplicity, linked to complete freedom of usage. A solution is only as successful as it is easy to deploy! Because there is complete freedom to download, test and deploy in whatever way the user wants, Open Source already offers huge advantages. The emergence of specialist service and support providers is now lifting the final barrier to deployment: ‘plug-and-play’ packaging and 24/7 support.

Open Source offers a great opportunity for public and private sector organizations who, having already benefited from the increasing ‘commoditization’ of hardware, are now starting to see the same thing happening with software infrastructures. A source of standardization, flexibility, ownership and savings that could just as easily be invested in developing higher added value functionality as in cutting costs.

So how can businesses use these benefits to their best advantage? There are three main routes open to them:
Firstly they need to optimize the costs of buying and operating their IT platforms, by combining the best open systems servers with the best Open Source software stacks. That is the logic behind the deployment of Linux-based server infrastructures, even though Microsoft solutions also offer very significant advantages, based as they are on a proprietary approach, albeit very efficient, to ‘commoditization’.
Then, reduce their operating costs by replacing existing costly infrastructures, one by one, with ‘commoditized’ middleware infrastructures based on Open Source: databases, application servers, etc.This migration can be carried out relatively easily, because the applications are no longer so dependent on the underlying infrastructures. This approach is particularly suitable for non-strategic infrastructures, which are not at the very heart of the organization’s information system but nevertheless can account for a significant element of overall IT costs.
Finally, they can make much more widespread use of Open Source in the development of new applications. This involves choosing the best mix between Open Source and proprietary software to meet the organization’s particular requirements, depending also on functional, performance or loading constraints. It is clear that Open Source code does not cover the entire spectrum of needs, and that a significant part of those needs will still have to be met by proprietary software, especially when those needs are highly specialized. IT security is a good example of this, and one where Bull itself is a proprietary software publisher, because the race for new functionality is extremely fast, linked to the development of both new technologies and new threats. Open Source software began with a much narrower spectrum of functionality than so-called ‘proprietary’ software, but this has also ensured that it is often very robust technically. Finally, the ‘comfort zone’ for the use of Open Source software is expanding and becoming more powerful all the time, so that it is more and more possible to envisage the widespread implementation of these new software ‘commodities’, in the same way that microprocessors are constantly eroding the domain of the proprietary chip in the hardware world. Best practice (as the above example of the CEA’s supercomputer demonstrates) will involve using both types of code.
This approach involves a triple challenge: to take full advantage of the platforms that utilize Open Source to its best effect; to capitalize on the powerful Open Source middleware tools now available; and finally to be able to call on experts with all-round knowledge of both Open Source and proprietary solutions, project management methodologies and business issues. All this is essential to ensure optimum pay-off, integrate all the components effectively and carry out any specific development work that may be required, as well as to sustain everything in a way that meets business needs.

That is what Bull’s involvement and commitment as ‘architect of an open world’ is all about. As Europe’s foremost player in Open Source, Bull has put together a comprehensive approach to respond to these needs, with:
The launch of the NovaScale program in 1998, which resulted in the availability of a server platform combining the best hardware and software components with a mainframe-class open system architecture, from 2003.
The establishment of the ObjectWeb consortium in 2002 (in collaboration with INRIA and France Telecom), which has now become one of the world’s three largest Open Source consortiums, and the main software forge for the development of middleware.
And finally, the launch of a global Open Source services offering ‘Open Energy’, in November 2005.

The latest major milestone in Bull’s Open Source strategy, Open Energy, is Europe’s first comprehensive professional services and support offering focused on Open Source. It includes support (Open Access), porting (Open Exchange), development (Open Service) and integration (Open Enterprise), and is complemented by the launch of NovaForge, a shared, international and secure development forge providing the optimum professional environment for development and integration.

The enthusiastic welcome and interest generated by this launch underlines the significant interest out there in the marketplace.

Doubtless, 2006 will prove to be a milestone year in the effective deployment of Open Source!

To complement this, at the industry’s main annual Linux event in early 2006, Linux Solutions Paris, Bull will be unveiling another related service in the area of workstations.

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