What role does Bull intend to play in the area of Open Source software?
Our first priority is to bring a more professional approach to an area that has experienced rapid developments in information systems, brought about by the individual and largely uncoordinated efforts of thousands of diverse interested parties. The main issue here is one of IT system governance. In real terms, the proliferation of Open Source components represents a formidable resource that most people still know relatively little about, and, because of this, it is a movement that is hard to manage.
So every provider knows that while 90% of IT projects include so-called ‘Open’ components, in the majority of cases, the companies leading these projects are completely unaware of their presence.
The reality is that Open Source is both omnipresent and almost invisible. Open Source software has an ever-wider field of applications: one which, far from being relevant only to system components, also concerns the most critical applications. Bull’s initiative in this context involves coordinating the efforts of major companies in the industry and working with them to adopt a pragmatic methodology. In actual fact, this strategy involves identifying the advantages each software component offers clearly, while avoiding any dogmatic attitudes, whether ‘for’ or ‘against’ Open Source. It is no better to refuse from the start to use Open Source than it is to try and impose its widespread uptake, and in the process jeopardize the existing achievements. In any case, even the most demanding of users now recognizes Open Source’s strengths when it comes to robustness or security. It’s worth remembering, too, that Bull itself deployed France’s most powerful supercomputer for the French Atomic Energy Authority (the CEA) at the start of last year, and that the software that operate it relies on Open Source components to the tune of 80%, as against 15% on proprietary applications and 5% on bespoke software developed by Bull teams.
Over and above these intentions, what concrete solutions is Bull offering to allow businesses to reap maximum advantage from the two worlds?
In essence, Bull has put together a range of services designed to resolve the problems organizations meet when trying to manage Open Source software. The main challenges in this area are well known: they relate to maintenance, and component integration or development timescales, not forgetting the essential condition of interoperability. This range of services, known as Open Energy, responds to four major categories of needs: support, porting, development and integration.
If we take maintenance, our Open Access service gives companies and public sector bodies a single point of contact for all the support and maintenance they need for their software stacks (whether at level 2 or level 3), in the knowledge that this support is available 24/7 in a multi-lingual environment.
The second group of services involves porting to Open Source. Called Open Exchange, this service enables an organization to port its operational applications from existing software stacks to the Open Source software stacks that it has chosen, in a workstation or server environment. In this area, Bull uses migration methodologies, tools and professional infrastructures for databases, messaging systems and infrastructures, for workstation or application server environments.
A third category of services fulfills the needs for development work in an Open Source context. For Bull, this involves offering the use of its network of software development factories to businesses, guaranteeing comprehensive expertise in technologies such as JAVA, J2EE and PHP. In parallel, we have developed a collaborative and secure infrastructure, NovaForge™, based on distributed development methodologies, designed and used by our own R&D teams. NovaForge™ is a true ‘industrial’ software factory, and is a key element within our drive to improve development productivity.
Finally, the Open Enterprise service guarantees integration of Open Source components within the information system. In particular, it ensures cost and quality control for these components in the framework of co-operative work projects, portals, exchange systems, Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) or Enterprise Bus Services (ESB). In addition, Bull development projects such as the JOnAS (Java Open Application Server) application server and the Bonita workflow engine enable business applications to be managed as an integral part of service-oriented architectures (SOAs).
What human and technical resources does Bull have at its disposal to guarantee adequate provision of all these services?
We should be clear from the outset that 40% of services delivered by Bull are Open Source-related, which in itself demonstrates our legitimacy and our standing in this domain. So it follows that Open Source skills are a major feature of all Bull’s centers, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world, representing a total of some 4,000 staff.
This vast network is mainly dedicated to Open Source technologies and the various services offered are supported by all our service centers in France (in Bordeaux, Angers, Paris, Grenoble, and Marseille) and abroad (in Brazil, Poland and China). Bull can similarly mobilize its two specialist R&D centers at Phoenix in the United States, and Grenoble in France.
In terms of support, all these resources effectively enable Bull to provide level 3 and 4 support services, as well as to manage its entire range of expertise.
What will be the next stages of your involvement in Open Source?
The motto Bull has chosen to describe our ambitions in this area is to be “Architect of an Open World™”. Playing this role, as a systems architect, led us to launch the NovaScale program in 1998, and to found the ObjectWeb consortium in 2002, in partnership with INRIA and France Telecom. The year 2007 will undoubtedly be marked by a speeding up of the process of forming major industrial groups around Open Source. It is in this context that the ObjectWeb consortium decided to add a new dimension in its merger with the Chinese consortium OrienWare, and to formalize a strategic agreement with RedHat. These initiatives form part of the strategic continuity initiated by Bull to increasingly professionalize and automate the Open Source universe, and to continue to guarantee increased interoperability between components, better quality and more effective governance for corporate information system.
Interview made by CIO, January 2007