eFashion Solutions seeks agility, not do-it-yourself

Open source allowed flexible options without having to start from scratch

To deliver branded e-commerce sites for customers such as JLO by Jennifer Lopez, Members Only, and OP, eFashion Solutions wanted a platform it could easily customize and enhance, without being chained to custom, homegrown code. Open source was the answer, says Mitch Pirtle, the company’s director of open source initiatives.

“It’s a real fit for us to have a framework where the code is developed by the community,” Pirtle says.

Open source technology is found in most of eFashion’s systems, including the widely deployed LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl/PHP/Python) stack.

The company’s initial reliance on open source technology was largely driven by the limited resources of a startup. In those early days, eFashion was also worried about betting the farm on a particular vendor’s proprietary technology, because that might require retooling systems whose vendors went out of business or were orphaned in an acquisition. “We had very few programmers and limited funding, yet we had to do a lot before our competitors did. We’ve been at a dead sprint since the beginning,” Pirtle says.

The use of open source has allowed Pirtle’s team to stay focused on technology that differentiates the business. “MySQL makes it really easy to focus on the Web development, rather than get a DBA for something like Oracle, Microsoft SQL, or Informix. It’s a lot like flat-file storage, so it’s really easy,” he says.

In addition, choosing widely available open source technologies such as the LAMP stack also simplified staffing. “For PHP, it’s easy to find talent, as opposed to Java, where it’s hard to get veterans rather than students,” Pirtle recalls.

Today, eFashion is in the process of migrating to newer open source technologies, such as the Joomla content management framework and the PostgreSQL database. “Now it’s time to step up and look at the applications from a framework perspective,” Pirtle says, adding that this is a marked change from the early days, when eFashion would often hand-code e-commerce sites in a hurry.

By adopting Joomla, Pirtle expects to manage the e-commerce sites in a modular fashion, making it easier to roll changes over to other sites because of the common framework. A separation of the user interface and other services such as chat from the e-commerce engine will also allow each site to be unique while allowing reuse of services through the common API.

Pirtle also expects the Joomla platform to be more stable and better tested than commercial offerings. “When a vendor ships a product, they have 20 to 50 developers look at it. When Joomla is released, you’ve got thousands of people looking at it, so problems are found much quicker,” he says.

He also expects that broad community involvement to ensure Joomla’s development fits users’ needs. “It scratches the same itch for so many people, which lets it develop in the direction that users actually want,” he says.

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