XAware Takes the Open Source Plunge
November 6, 2007 Alex Woodie
Data integration tool vendor XAware yesterday announced it’s leaving behind the world of propriety software development and a direct sales force, and staking its future on the commercial open source business model. As part of the move, the company is giving away licenses to XA-Suite version 5 (which was just released), launching an open source development community at www.xaware.org, and hitching its horse to database maker MySQL, whose success in commercial open source software XAware will do its best to emulate.
XAware is a Colorado Springs, Colorado, company that has been developing a collection of XML-based data integration tools since it was founded. The company promotes a high-level configuration-based approach to data integration that relies heavily on the reuse of components and the avoidance of low-level programming. The company supports the IBM System i server and has System i customers (in addition to all other popular business systems), and is firmly entrenched in the Java side of the IT jungle.
While it was convinced it had built a better mousetrap, there was really nothing spectacularly different about the company or its business approach, according to Bill Miller, XAware’s executive chairman. “We started the company with what we thought was a better technological approach to solving the problem of data integration, and went to market with a pretty traditional enterprise middleware-type of model,” he says. “Our direct sales approach forced us to focus on vertical markets.”
The company currently has about 50 installations, mostly in the financial services and healthcare industries, which traditionally run big servers and have big data integration problems. At that rate, XAware was slated to have a decent business helping its customers, while making a nice living for its employees in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. But unless something dramatic happened, XAware wasn’t destined to have a big impact on the evolving market for data integration software.
Miller, however, wanted the company to have a big impact. He wanted it to make more money, as capitalistic entities are programmed to do. And so the strategic planning at XAware took a different direction. Instead of charging the going rate for enterprise-level integration software–$25,000 to $50,000 per CPU–Miller and his executive team decided the company and its future were better served by giving away its core bit of software. And because it wouldn’t be selling as much software (some management features are fee-based), it didn’t need to support a big expensive sales force, either.
Giving away a product and firing (or “repositioning”) the sales force are extraordinary moves for any company to make, let alone a software company whose biggest assets are its intellectual property. But such moves are not without precedence. Indeed, they’re becoming increasingly common in the enterprise software industry every day.
Miller notes that MySQL has been hugely successful in the commercial open source business model, and has reshaped the market for relational database management systems along the way. The same thing happened in the application server market with JBOSS, the open source Java-based app server now owned by Red Hat, the open source operating system maker that is perhaps the original commercial open source success story.
Will data integration tools be the next segment of the software industry impacted by commercial open source? Miller says it will be. “It hasn’t been done. That was one of the things we recognized a year and a half ago,” he says. “It’s only been done in targeted, thin functionality ways. In terms of comprehensive, fully featured, enterprise-class data integration products, there wasn’t anything out there.”
With the release of XA-Suite version 5, XAware is moving toward commercial open source. It has nearly all the bases covered: the GPL version 2 license; the integration with other open source products like the Eclipse development environment and the Spring Framework data services runtime engine; and the creation of a developer community at www.xaware.org, where about five dozen members are active.
And like any good open source project, strong hooks into MySQL are needed. So with version 5, the company delivered better MySQL integration, including real-time access to MySQL data, the capability to expose MySQL data through XML as Web Services (either SOAP or REST); among other features.
While Miller expects the lure of free software and an active open source community to deliver exponential growth in its customer base, XAware is not totally abandoning the commercial software approach. The company will still sell licenses for XA-Suite to organizations that want to adopt and modify the product under an OEM license. It will also charge for tools that manage the configuration, deployment, and performance of the XAware environment. And of course it will charge for technical support, training, and implementation services, but that is par for the commercial open source course.
XAware isn’t abandoning its development organization, but it will be relying on the open source community to deliver new features and functionality, in addition to doing the standard open source bit of reporting bugs and beta testing new releases.
“We’re rolling out a brand new community Web site that supports the idea of hives and karma points,” Miller says. “People who are active in the community and report bugs, post in forums, update a blog, or participate in hives–if you do these things the system will automatically award you karma points for participation.” Develop a new “bizdoc,” or a new data connector or adapter, and you’ll get even more points. Accumulate enough karma points, and you can get a free XAware T-shirt or an all expense-paid trip to an XAware conference in a beautiful tropical location.
XAware may be early into the open source data integration tool game, but it’s not the only player. Just a couple of week ago, Talend, an open source ETL tool developer, was featured in this newsletter. Open source data integration tools can also be found at www.hibernate.org, and there are others.
But to hear Miller explain it, nobody has brought all the necessary data integration elements together into a single open source package. “Since we started down this path there are three or four other open source companies and projects that have emerged,” he says. “They’re very early stage, though, they’re not very well featured. They don’t have the product maturity or installed customer base that we do. So we think we’re bringing something very significant to the marketplace at the right time.”
There will be a lot of experimenting going on before a brand leader emerges in the open source data integration tool space, as MySQL and JBOSS are leaders in their respective spaces, Miller says.
“Consumers and users are technical. They’ll Google it, go download two or three of these, and they’ll give them an hour or two and see what they see,” he says. “Our product is quicker to learn how to use, quicker to make useful, and more fully featured. It’s gonna win.”