Although not traditionally known for its contributions to the open source community, the German-based SAP is adopting more open source software, as well as contributing more of its own code back into the community, company officials said in an interview.
"In the past we didn't have an open source strategy," said Claus von Riegen, SAP's program director of technology standards and open source. "That has changed over the last two years or so."
In 2005, Shai Agassi, then the SAP executive in charge of the company's product group, expressed ambivalence over using open source software. In the years since, however, the company has warmed to the idea. Certainly, SAP's chief rival Oracle, for instance, is an active, if controversial, supporter and sponsor of many open source software projects.
In 2007, SAP began contributing significantly to the Eclipse project, and in October 2009, the company joined the Apache Software Foundation. In 2009, SAP contributed 1.8 million lines to the Eclipse project, making it the third-largest corporate contributor.
While SAP should not be considered an "open source company" in the same way as say, Red Hat, the company nonetheless "represents a good case study on how proprietary companies have learned that it is in their best interests to contribute to open source software projects," wrote 451 Group enterprise software analyst Matthew Aslett in a review note.
For SAP, using open source has become "a matter of development productivity," von Riegen said. "We have a lot of areas where we develop our own software, but there are a lot of commodity areas where we don't need to differentiate ourselves -- that's where we want to more efficiently use existing software, like open source," he said.
In these cases, it makes sense to use the open source application, saving the time and cost to develop the identical functionality in-house. Now the company uses more than 100 open source applications developed outside of SAP.
In order to use all of this externally generated code, SAP has standardized the way it manages its use of open source software. Using a program called Code Center, offered by Black Duck Software as part of its Black Duck Suite, von Riegen's office runs a companywide registry of which open source applications have already been approved by SAP for use within its products. It also specifies which versions of these applications have been approved, which streamlines the maintenance process for the company.