“A lot of the value of open source projects is because there’s this community of highly skilled, highly motivated people that are continually evolving the project,” Heintzman says. “It’s a similar value proposition to the one that’s behind the eBay and Google and Amazon phenomena, where the size of the community is in direct proportion to the value of the community and how quickly it evolves and moves.”
Competing in the open
Open source isn’t IBM’s bread and butter. Although it has adopted open source code and methods at every level of its software business, Big Blue still retains a portfolio of mature, highly successful proprietary products -- such as the DB2 Universal Database.
In fact, the success of DB2 -- as well as that of competing products from Microsoft and Oracle -- was among the things that led Computer Associates to open source its own Ingres database management system. According to Tony Gaughan, CA’s senior vice president of product development, the idea was to draw on the community to develop Ingres in innovative ways that neither CA nor its competitors may have considered.
Although Gaughan doesn’t expect many enterprises to get actively involved in developing Ingres, he says the broader developer community has already made significant contributions, including a module that will allow applications written for Oracle’s PL/SQL query language to run atop Ingres databases.
“One of the other benefits we see in open source is just actually increasing that community,” Gaughan says. “So we get a QA organization that substantially grows because there are more people interested in the product; and it also builds mind share.”
For CA, the fact that open source projects are available to customers free of charge is a powerful tool. “Obviously, the ongoing cost if you move to Ingres goes from being whatever it is with Oracle to zero, from a licensing perspective,” Gaughan says.
More importantly, this in turn reduces the total cost of CA’s other, proprietary software solutions, which rely on relational databases for storage. By offering the option of a fully supported, open source database solution, CA eliminates the need for its customers to purchase additional software licenses from companies such as IBM and Oracle. It’s a strategy similar to that of Novell, which offers a suite of sophisticated networking infrastructure products built on an open source Linux foundation.
“The clear indication here is that the technology stack is becoming commoditized. There’s no real intrinsic value in that stack for the customer,” Gaughan says. “I think our value-add is certainly going to come from the management expertise that we have, not necessarily the technology stack that we build things on.”
The customer is king
In many ways, the big vendors have no choice but to contend with open source. According to Bruce Perens, a consultant and one of the founders of the open source software movement, open source isn’t something the software companies are presenting to their customers -- rather, it’s the other way around.
“Who has the biggest economic effect? Is it open source? Is it Microsoft? It’s actually the customers,” Perens says. “The customers and their businesses that are enabled have much larger economic effect than Microsoft ever could. IBM and Novell and Red Hat could invest as much as they want, and it will not sustain [open source] like having ten thousand customer organizations making that investment.”