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n°22  |  January   2008
Experts voice

Open Source: moving from revolution to maturity
By Boris Auché, Director of Open Source development, Bull Services

Boris Auché is responsible for developing the Bull Services Open Source offering, working with customers in the early consultancy phase of projects.

Nominated in 2007 as the Executive Director and Vice President of FNILL1, Boris has a longstanding involvement with Open Source, Open Source software services companies and communities. Boris is also responsible for the Open Source section of AFNOR ’s Website, Standarmedia.com2.

 

This year has seen a growing number of changes around Open Source: an expansion in the uses of Open Source, Open Source players acquired by major IT companies, etc. Why is this?
When you look at how it comes to market and is adopted by users, Open Source is obeying the same rules as any other product or offering. This understanding of the Open Source phenomenon, and our analysis of the impact it was having led to Bull be the first supplier to restructure our offerings, under the Open Energy™ banner. We have put in place technology watch, promotion and sales activities in line with the level of maturity and penetration of Open Source in the marketplace.

The significant movements this year around Open Source confirm just how accurate our analysis of this phenomenon was. Open Source is now widely accepted, and is moving beyond the limited sphere of the ‘innovators’ to the much larger one covering the majority of users – what analysts call the ‘mainstream’.

The time for evangelizing about Open Source is coming to an end, and we are moving into a phase of mass availability and uptake. We no longer have to explain how Open Source facilitates innovation, or how using it will reduce costs... What users now want to know is, basically, how they can use it, and to what for? So we have moved on from a technical ‘how does it work’ model, to a ‘what’s it for’ approach to its use.

The deployment of Open Source is happening in a highly pragmatic way, and is no longer unduly concerned with ideological arguments about Open Source vs. proprietary solutions. But it is accompanied by a clear statement – that from now on, Open Source software is firmly established within information systems – and demands from both ISVs and Open Source communities: to be able to benefit from off-the-shelf solutions, to make implementation easier by providing support, to guarantee interoperability between the whole spectrum of solutions, in order to be able to implement mixed architectures…

In actually fact, in 2007 we saw the first signs of Open Source’s maturity with its use in large-scale implementations such as the 20,000 workstations rolled out for the PSA Group, or widespread critical applications such as the French inland revenue’s IR Télé project for filing on-line tax returns.
So it is entirely normal that the market is starting to become more structured, and that Open Source is becoming professional: that’s what customers are demanding, and is certainly a pre-requisite to the utilization and deployment of Open Source in the information systems of major enterprises.

What are the consequences for Open Source industry players?
The consequences are huge. Open Source extends well beyond the purely technical sphere, and is starting to touch decision-makers, those responsible for strategy, purchasing and even senior management. This is a whole different universe. One where the technical arguments – about technological advances, technical quality, innovation, etc. – are less crucial, and where other criteria hold sway: total cost of ownership, the established user base, support, documentation, stability... In this universe, we’re moving away from a tactical attitude to using Open Source, and towards a strategic approach, with formal policies, and even strategies for choosing software, applications and deployment.

Two surveys, carried out by Saugatuck Technology and published in August 2007 and October 2007 , identify possible impediments to the deployment of Open Source software. While there is no longer any convincing argument for using Open Source, there are no major barriers either. Functionality and innovation now account for less than 50% of any decision to use Open Source. Support, scalability, and strategy have taken the lead. The ‘costs’ and ‘support’ arguments will carry the day purely on the grounds of independence and flexibility. Not because the users have changed in themselves, but because they are no longer the same people!

This upsets the rules of the game in Open Source. We are moving away from a strategy of ‘offering’ to a strategy of ‘demand’.
To the extent that the use of Open Source is widening away from just innovators and early adopters, to a greater number (the ‘early majority’), the demand is changing. The first users were ready to take risks, and to take on part of the effort of integration and implementation. The second group is very pragmatic. They want solutions that are more ‘off-the-shelf’, which function immediately, with other users to refer to, full support, etc.

While customers appreciate the shared nature of Open Source developments, they have fully understood that the size, recognition and power of the communities were the determining elements in the success of their solutions. This is pushing Open Source players to organize themselves differently. We are seeing a movement of consolidation and vertical integration which is accelerating among the major communities, distributions and alliances (Apache, Eclipse, Novell, Mandriva, OSA, OW2, Red Hat...). With Open Source publishers now being very marketing-oriented (just like in the automotive market, where we have moved from the era of mechanics to that of designers) and increasingly developing product ranges marketed under dual licensing agreements (eXo, Talend, JBoss, EBM). In addition, of distribution and integration ecosystems are becoming ever wider. A good example is the recent appearance within the marketplace of Red Hat Exchange and the SourceForge.Net/MarketPlace, with the aim of simplifying access to service providers around their solutions.

And, of course, you need to take into account the increased positioning of IT services companies as global integrators and Open Source consultants. Bull is an important pioneer in this area, and is now a major player with its Open Energy offering, its involvement in the OW2 consortium, membership of the international System@tic competitiveness cluster, and commitment to the FNILL.
Finally, over and above those Open Source providers, we are seeing some very significant changes when it comes to the users, with increasingly powerful user communities: a fundamental trend.

What form does this increase in users’ power take?
At the same time as the Open Source market is reaching a high level of maturity, and in the process of being adopted by the majority of users, we are also seeing that having conquered the infrastructures, or ‘middleware’, it is now targeting business applications. And this is leading to a very interesting movement: the emergence of communities of business-oriented users seeking to share technological developments and capitalize on them. This movement has already begun, with IDABC in Europe,
AdminSource and Adullact, ACube and Improve Foundations in France... It is taking shape and gathering speed, particularly in the areas where users have an interest in sharing certain developments or business standards. This is, of course, the case with public services (government ministries, local and regional authorities, health and social services) but these strategies are also appearing in telecommunications, industry and finance. After all, who better than a consortium or an Open Source community managed by the users themselves to respond to business problems?

Is this movement a kind of blueprint for the next round of changes?
For my part, I am convinced that it is a major trend in Open Source. Increasing professionalization is obvious; it is a pre-requisite for adaptation, a Darwinian phenomenon, and nothing more.
The rising power of user communities is the new counterbalance for this infatuation with Open Source because it offers users access to an approach to development that they value. This is made possible by the shared nature of licensing, because it gives them a share of the independence hitherto closely guarded by publishers, and because it enables them to reduce costs and timescales while capitalizing on and sharing a part of their development workload.

Their challenge is to get access to the tools that enable them to unite these communities, combining the openness of collaborative development environments and secure industrial resources (for project management, capitalization and receipt), that are well-suited to the world of the enterprise. Hence the inevitable development of appropriate software forges. Bull is a pioneer in this area, with its NovaForge™ platform. NovaForge integrates and offers the best of Open Source technologies in this domain. It is in this spirit and in the continuity of our vision that we have opened up NovaForge.org to the user community, contributing to greater transparency for the greater benefit of our customers.

1 FNILL: the French Open Source software industry federation
2 Association Française de NORmalisation
3 Saugatuck Technology, Risk to Open Source Users and Vendors, August 2007
4 Saugatuck, Open Source: The Next Disruptive IT Influence, October 2007

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