Open Source Expands Beyond Linux, and Vendors Follow
Published: August 22, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
For many people in the IT community--particularly those who are under the age of 30--Linux was not only the first open source program they ever encountered. Linux was also the embodiment of open source ideals and the standard bearer for the open source movement. And, in many ways, Linux still plays this role. But if anything has become clear in the past few LinuxWorld conferences, it is that all eyes are moving up the stack from the operating system to other software, and possibly toward the holy grail of open source applications.
LinuxWorld, of course, has been long since taken over by the suits in the IT industry, even if they don't actually wear suits any more. The attitude is more or less the same. Linux has grown up, and platform companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard have been instrumental in the process of ruggedizing Linux for business as they use it for competitive offensive and defensive maneuvers. Not only do IBM and HP, among many others, contribute their substantial expertise to the Linux cause, but they are in large measure the main reason why Linux has become a corporate alternative to Windows and Unix and, not coincidentally, they are also the main beneficiaries of the Linux movement in the data centers and departments of the world.
IBM first got behind Linux in late 1999, just as a new chairman and chief executive officer, Sam Palmisano, was getting ready to take the reins of the company. HP, by virtue of Compaq, had been involved in Linux for about two years longer, but the combined HP and Compaq took a much more aggressive--and successful--stance with Linux. The two vendors are clearly the ones that make the most revenue from Linux, utterly dwarfing the money that Red Hat, Novell, and other commercial Linux distributors get from the Linux support services they sell. Neither IBM nor HP will talk about exactly how much money is involved, but since 1998 HP has sold nearly $6.2 billion in Linux-based servers, and has probably made many multiples of that in software, storage, and other services related to its Linux engagements. IBM said at LinuxWorld last week that it has done 15,000 Linux-related engagements with customers, and it is safe to say that this has probably resulted in tens of billions of dollars in revenue in the past seven years. The company has over 600 software engineers at work on open source projects, with half of them working full time on Linux.
Now, both vendors want to go one step further and adopt an even broader stack of open source technologies. IBM has a $17 billion annual software business, and it has embedded many open source technologies inside its proprietary wares. The first example of this was IBM's dumping in 1999 of its own Web server, which had hardly any market share even though IBM had been selling it for years, in favor of an embedded Apache Web server. This Web server was put into the very heart of IBM's WebSphere Application Server, and other Apache technologies have been woven into its WebSphere offerings (of which there appear to be millions). Not only that, but IBM has given back to the Apache community, helping to tune the software and make it more scalable. More recently, IBM also donated the Cloudscape database to the Apache project, which open sourced it under the Derby project. IBM has also added Apache Geronimo to its WebSphere middleware.
Another good example of IBM's moves in open source include the establishment of the Eclipse foundation in November 2001, and then funding it and setting it loose as an independent foundation in February 2004. Eclipse started out as a project to create an open source framework for integrated development environments, and has grown into something a lot more sophisticated--mostly because IBM let it go. And, because of that, IBM is one of the main beneficiaries of the technologies that some 80 companies have donated to the Eclipse projects. For instance, according to Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide Linux and open source software at IBM, the next generation of IBM's Lotus middleware--that's the "Hannover" server and its related Notes messaging and SameTime instant messaging clients--have interfaces that were created using the Eclipse Rich Client Platform tool. This Eclipse tool was used to create the Linux version of the Notes client, which was announced in July, and the SameTime 7.5 interface, which was shown off at LinuxWorld last week and which will ship in September. Eclipse RCP will allow IBM to take that code and redeploy the same client software on Windows and Mac OS--the first time IBM has been able to do this. IBM will no longer have to code different versions of Notes and SameTime for different desktops. Handy says that IBM has over a dozen different products that are being coded with the Eclipse RCP tools.
"We got a lot of learning from Linux, Apache, and Eclipse," explains Handy. "And we have now gotten to the point where we have figured out that this is a repeatable process. We have also figured out that expanding to open source beyond Linux will have more impact on business in the next three years than Linux had on business in the past 15 years."
That's a pretty tall order. But IBM is serious about open source beyond Linux. One of the things that IBM is doing is helping to port the open source Xen hypervisor created by XenSource to its Power-based servers--even though it has spent untold millions of dollars making its own Virtualization Engine hypervisor for the Power platforms. IBM is also preparing a set of office automation programs called Workplace Productivity Editors, which is an open source stack of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and other tools that store data in OpenDocument Format (ODF) and snap into the future Lotus Notes and Domino. IBM has 125 million Notes customers, and is the market leader in enterprise-class instant messaging, and if it can deliver an acceptable office suite to these customers, they will not spend money on Microsoft Office. The free tools will be good enough for many end users, and they will help drive Notes and Domino sales.
IBM is dabbling in open source databases with the Apache Derby product, is giving away an entry DB2 Express-C database (and will probably never open source DB2), and is giving away WebSphere Community Edition, which is IBM's variant of Apache Geronimo. Handy says that IBM has 200 ISVs working with WebSphere CE, which is a tripling in the number of ISVs in a mere eight months, and that downloads of WebSphere CE had also tripled and now slightly exceed the download rate for Red Hat's JBoss middleware.
How far IBM takes open source up the stack remains to be seen. But there is a long way to go to get up to the application software layer. IBM's dabbling in open-style organizations such as Power.org for its Power chips, Blade.org for its BladeCenter blade server designs, and the Aperi project for open storage management software (which is currently housed at the Eclipse site) indicates that IBM is willing to experiment. It may take IBM a long, long time to work its way into application software. But if open source application suites take off, you can bet IBM will offering ports to its platforms, tuning, implementation services, and technical support. Just like it does for open source middleware and databases today.
Over at HP, Jeffrey Wade is worldwide marketing manager for HP's open source and Linux organization, and he is also pushing HP up the stack. HP has partnerships with the Linux players, including a pre-existing partnership with JBoss for middleware that was in place before Red Hat bought JBoss and another important one with MySQL for open source databases. HP sells, preconfigures, and supports Linux, JBoss, and MySQL on its various platforms, and uses that support to get services engagements.
Because HP only controls a few operating systems--HP-UX and OpenVMS--and these have nowhere near the volume of the Linux and Windows platforms its supports on its ProLiant, BladeSystem, and Integrity machines, and because HP got out of the middleware business a number of years ago (when it mothballed Bluestone, a company it paid $470 million to acquire in the bubble years), HP cannot do open source exactly the same way that IBM can. HP's tactic is to get support agreements with dominant open source middleware and database providers and then create blueprints, which it makes available for free, that show customers how to plug all this software together to make a solution.
The blueprints bear the name Open Source Middleware Stacks, or OSMS, and they were first announced in April. Last week at LinuxWorld, HP added a blueprint for directory services based on Symas Connexitor and two more for databases, based on MySQL or Oracle's 10g database. The existing OSMS offerings have Red Hat or Novell SUSE Linux as the base building block, and then companies can plug in JBoss or BEA Systems WebLogic middleware, then HP's Systems Insight Manager administration tools and ServiceGuard clustering software. Like IBM, HP is perfectly happy for a blueprint to mix and match open and closed source software--even if purists don't think this is politically correct. Whether the open source community likes it or not, companies will mix and match various kinds of programs as they see fit.
Because HP is a channel-driven company, it is also important to note that the OSMS offerings are now part of the company's Linux Elite program, and are thus something that HP's channel partners can grab, sell, and add value to.
Wade says that in June alone, over 2,000 copies of the OSMS blueprints were downloaded.