Alfresco Puts Out Second Annual Open Source Barometer Report
Published: February 14, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Enterprise content management software maker Alfresco Software last year made some big headlines when it gathered up some of its own internal data about its customer set and took it private as a barometer of sorts for the adoption of open source applications among enterprises. The big finding from the July 2007 report from Alfresco was that companies test open source applications on Windows, but deploy on Linux. This time around, Alfresco is asking its customers some more detailed questions and the barometer is therefore a better indicator of the application weather in the data center.
Alfresco conducted its open source barometer survey by polling its 35,000-strong community, which spans over 260 countries. And according to Ian Howells, chief marketing officer at the software developer, the reason why the survey is interesting is not just because of the detailed questions it answers. "Our software has to fit the existing software stacks that enterprises have already chosen, so that is what makes us different," Howells explains.
And that is also what makes the survey data gathered by Alfresco relevant. Of course, you have to ask yourself how statistically significant a poll among users of a particular content management system is when discussing the broader desktop and server platform preferences in the wider IT community. But in the absence of any alternative data--or better still, an aggregation of data from a wide variety of open source products that are deployed by enterprises in productions--the Alfresco barometer is a great conversation piece at the least and perhaps a true indicator of larger movements in the overall IT space. It also helps to keep in mind that the Alfresco community has gained 35,000 members in about a year, growing from next to nothing. This is a huge wave of corporate users, and stunning for a company that was only founded by John Newton, a co-founder of Documentum (now part of EMC), and John Powell, formerly chief operations officer of Business Objects (acquired in 2007 by SAP).
This time around, Alfresco's numbers suggest some refinements. Specifically, developers tend to test open source applications on a Windows laptop and then deploy applications on a Linux server in production. This is inferred from two sets of data. Among the new users of the Alfresco product added in 2007 (and surveyed as part of the download process), 51 percent downloaded a Windows version of the software, compared to 30 percent for Linux and 6 percent for Unix (including Mac OS X, which is a Unix variant). Some 44 percent of new users to the Alfresco CMS said that they test it on a laptop, which suggests strongly that open source projects should make sure their code works well on popular laptops if they want to be successful. This compared to the 26 percent who deployed their trial Alfresco software on a company server, the 22 percent who used a hosted version of the product, and the 8 percent who left the question blank. When it comes to recent deployments, 64 percent of Alfresco's users deployed the software on Linux, compared to 22 percent for Windows and 14 percent for Unix (again, including Mac OS, which had 5 percent).
The other interesting thing to come out of the Alfresco barometer survey is the growing popularity of Ubuntu among Linux shops. According to the survey, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux accounted for 21 percent of installations of Alfresco (this is a mix of trial and production data), compared to 9 percent for Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and 23 percent for Ubuntu. If you add in Fedora to the RHEL variants, you get 35 percent, and if you add the other Debian distributions to Ubuntu you get 38 percent. Adding up SLES and openSUSE only brings the Novell total up to 13 percent. If you compare the data from the 2008 barometer to the earlier one from 2007, then Red Hat installations for supporting the Alfresco CMS are up 21 percent and Ubuntu is growing at 24 percent, compared to flatness for SUSE Linux. Why this is the case is not clear. "My feeling is that developers lean toward Ubuntu, while corporations tend toward Red Hat," says Howells.
Geography matters, however. While Red Hat Enterprise Linux is preferred by a factor of two-to-one worldwide for deploying the Alfresco CMS, in Germany, where SUSE hails from, SLES outnumbers RHEL by a four-to-one ratio. Interestingly, Howells thinks that the partnership with Microsoft helped Novell make some serious money from Windows shops who were curious about Linux, but it has not done anything, if the Alfresco data is representative, to boost the installations of SLES among enterprises.
On the Windows side, users are still deploying Alfresco's CMS on Windows XP (63 percent) and Windows Server 2003 (28 percent). Windows Vista only accounted for 2 percent of installations among the Alfresco community polled for the barometer survey.
On the database front, MySQL accounted for 60 percent of the installations, compared to 14 percent for an Oracle database or 13 percent for Microsoft's SQL Server, 9 percent for the open source PostgreSQL database, and 2 percent for IBM's DB2. The open source Tomcat application server accounted for 70 percent of installations, compared to 18 percent for Red Hat's JBoss Application Server. Sun Microsystems' Java Application Server accounted for 4 percent, Oracle's soon-to-be BEA WebLogic had 3 percent, and IBM's WebSphere had 3 percent.
Among those customers who use Alfresco in a virtualized environment, VMware's ESX Server and VMware Server products dominate, with 61 percent of installations, followed by Microsoft's Virtual Server at 16 percent, the Xen hypervisor (in its several flavors) at 9 percent, followed up by Parallels at 5 percent.
The lesson to be learned from this data, according to Howells, is simple. "Companies want an open source standard bearer," he says. "So at each level in the stack, you will see one genuine open source alternative," he says. So it ends up being Windows versus Linux, VMware versus Xen, and so forth. The Web application servers get a little messier, of course, with many open source alternatives and Tomcat, at least as far as Alfresco goes, dominating.
Companies Test on Windows, Deploy on Linux
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