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N°31  |  November   2008
Executive opinion

Capitalizing on all that Open Source has to offer
Interview with Jean-Pierre Barbéris, General Manager, Bull France

Photo A recent survey carried out by Forrester Research on behalf of Bull is proof positive: enterprise computing is shifting inexorably onto the Open Source path. The maturity of technologies, and the mutation of development methods are opening up promising new horizons.
Questions about the seriousness of the development community, the hidden costs, the durability, security and robustness of applications…. For as long as it’s been around, Open Source has been struggling to reverse the tide of prejudice against it. While this has not prevented it from assuming an increasingly important position within information systems in both public and private sector organizations, these various doubts have certainly held it back and compartmentalized its use to specific, restricted areas. However, a recent study carried out for Bull by industry watchers Forrester Research shows that the latest received wisdom is starting to crumble, and that a great many businesses have decided to start joining forces, so they can finally reap the real benefits of all the opportunities offered by Open Source.

The survey highlights two essential points. The first is that Open Source is gaining much greater credibility. As a result, it is being much more widely used in different areas, and this now includes critical and/or business-specific applications. Its key qualities of robustness, flexibility and performance are also now being recognized, alongside the cost benefits, as criteria when it comes to choosing applications. The second major lesson learnt is that enterprises are increasingly adopting approaches inspired by Open Source as when it comes to developing and managing their software assets.

These results reinforce Bull’s long-standing conviction that Open Source is not just an alternative to traditional commercial applications, but also a movement which is in the process of profoundly changing IT in the enterprise. This is a silent revolution, but an inexorable one, which operates on two levels, corresponding specifically to two major avenues of expansion highlighted by the Forrester survey: technological maturity and development methods.

In terms of technology, Open Source is gradually implanting the idea that, for many software tasks, the best solution is a generic component that is standard, maintained by a community of conscientious experts, and freely re-usable. Neither software publishers nor businesses that use the software have the desire, the need, or the resources to spend time re-developing certain basic functions while there are excellent ones freely available. And this applies right up through to the highest levels of the technological chain, to applications and infrastructure. The inherent issue that Open Source raises is added value: it is in the interests of both supplier and user to take part in the collective development of shared and reliable fundament components, in order to be able to focus the maximum amount of effort precisely where the essence of the added value is to be found; that is, in the design of systems aimed at meeting specific business needs. As the Open Source model is proving its worth through its relevance and its effectiveness, this belief is becoming more widespread, and is leading to the creation of more and more business and/or technical communities.

One of the essential consequences of this maturing techniques and mind-sets, is that we are starting to see the emergence of an offering, but also of a demand, that complements traditional commercial software. Two distinct market segments are emerging. On the one hand, ‘Open Source publishers’ are already appearing, who use their expertise in the field to offer low cost tools built exclusively from free, high quality, components, and so deliver a simple but effective service. On the other hand, we are going to find high-level integrators, like Bull, who will draw on Open Source methods and software to design and develop complex, high added-value solutions that are tailored yet scalable, and retain the capacity to grow in volume at a reasonable cost. HPC is a good example of this, and Bull – as well as its recently acquired subsidiary science + computing – is bringing the proof everyday. Thanks to the development of these offerings, as a result public and private sector organizations will have a significantly wider range of software solutions to choose from.

The second – perhaps even more fundamental – contribution Open Source offers is the widespread adoption of its development methods, which even now are extending to major corporate computing projects. The Forrester research shows, for example, that 47% of the enterprises consulted are opening up access to their source code beyond the project development team, and that 43% of companies interviewed have created internal communities around their own software components. The Open Source world has, in effect, spontaneously created good practices for shared development. These are proving to be increasingly efficiency with each day that passes, with rapid and responsive mobilization on projects, and noticeably higher software product quality. When applied at corporate level, these practices are actually making the break with traditional linear approaches, which involved breaking projects down into several parts which then had to be re-assembled at a later stage, along with all the problems this posed. This is what led to the development of offshoring, which made it possible to entrust certain tasks to remote, and so less costly, resources. With the Open Source approach, everyone reaps the benefits of the ‘network effect’, as well as from the fact that the solution is constantly being enriched by the various contributors. This means, for example, that it is very easy to spot when a project is veering off course, to implement changes immediately, and to get appropriate technical or business experts involved at just the right point in time…

With the launch of its Virtual Shore™ concept – an approach to project management that encapsulates and formalizes this practice – Bull is leveraging all the power of Open Source to those who develop enterprise applications. Virtual Shore is a means of gathering together all the various skills around a shared tool, the NovaForge™ development factory, to improve communication between all participants and coordination between the different parts of the project, and to ensure the collective respect of the key constraints of costs, timescales and quality.

At a time where enterprises are constantly being compelled to roll out new services, adopt new technologies at breakneck speed, and take on board the constant demands being made by the various business departments... while working within ever tighter budgets and timescales, Virtual Shore stands out as the ideal solution. With the dual revolution of emerging technologies and methods from Open Source, public and private sector organizations now have a new and effective resource with which to tackle the challenges that confront them every day.

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