Open season

Open season

Utah State University also employs Opengear to manage its local and remote management of servers and disk arrays from Solaris, Linux and other vendors. The institution said it provided only what was needed - perhaps lowering the ticket price but also offering improved value to the customer.

According to Waldie, incorporating and supporting open source makes Opengear servers more cost-effective. "Open source has two major strengths particularly appropriate in management tools: flexibility and extensibility," he said.

Vendor lock-in

Another benefit of open source is users can avoid vendor lock-in, according to Waldie. They can also develop and extend the application to do even more. One of the most effective arguments against open source has been its insecurity compared to proprietary systems. Waldie claimed such security fears were out of date.

"That was a paranoia play that has reached end-of-life," he said. "Open source protocols are now proven to be more robust than having secrets hidden inside. Financial transaction [applications] make the algorithms public, so you end up with something that actually works and is not only secure because it is a secret." It seems government departments - a market which retains considerable channel appeal - may officially agree. According to the Australian Government guide to open source software in government agencies, open source software offers considerable flexibility in its support options by virtue of its development, release, distribution and licensing regime.

On the other hand, some government agencies question whether the software could be considered reliable, the guide said, and there had been few, if any, good studies assessing quality and reliability. But if users steer clear of new applications that hadn't been through the full feedback-based development model, open source software can prove useful.

Another thing to watch out for is the licences that apply to software - whether proprietary or open source. It's not just about licensing a copy per user, but can include what users actually do with the software - and the same is true of open source.

Governance and risk mitigation

HP is a big player when it comes to open source in the datacentre, with a focus on support for Debian distros on ProLiant and other HP servers. The company wasn't available for interview for this feature, but in January announced an open source governance initiative to help companies address legal, financial and security risks when adopting free and open source software (FOSS).

The vendor is researching how to manage open source effectively as part of an overall enterprise IT plan. "Traditional corporate policies for managing software assets are often inadequate to address the unique characteristics of free and open source software," the company said in a statement.

"For example, HP discovered three times as many FOSS licenses as one client originally thought. This left the customer with a choice: implement governance policies to allow the safe use of FOSS or replace the software at an estimated cost of $US80 million."

HP has introduced two open source initiatives, FOSSology and FOSSBazaar, dedicated to helping enterprise customers mitigate such risks and realise the full business benefits of open source software.

FOSSology helps users address FOSS acquisition, tracking and licensing, while FOSSBazaar is a collaboration between The Linux Foundation and vendors such as HP, Google, Novell and SourceForge to analyse FOSS business issues and promote governance practices. An HP Open Source Health Check service has also launched, but it's not known if this will be available to the channel.

Rittal IT business development manager, Mark Roberts, said Rittal's solutions were all Java-based. While not open source-derived as such, they were open standards-based and aimed to take advantage of the flexibility and cost-effectiveness open source could bring.

The environment is getting more heterogeneous - demanding more solutions that can cope with an array of varying platforms and that can manage everything from airflow to heating and anti-spam. Multi-platform solutions are becoming increasingly important as those who manage datacentres find their job description merging with those who manage facilities such as electricity and air-conditioning, Roberts said.

Rittal is seeking channel partners to on-sell some of its Java-based solutions.

"We're looking for partners that can provide the value in terms of configuration and also people that can provide the relevant backup for cooling and power," Roberts said.

Network security vendor, Webroot, is in the process of launching its own datacentre in April. "What we provide is software-as-a-service [SaaS], and certain elements of infrastructure based on open source products, such as Linux, are chosen for reliability, scalability and performance," managing director, Charles Heunemann, said.

Webroot uses "hardline" Linux as the OS, partly due to its interoperability. But Heunemann said he wouldn't want open source product for all operations. Certain elements of security were an example, and mail transfer agents (MTAs) were another, he said. Heunemann said Sendmail and Postfix users were limited by what the open source product would allow them to do.

Webroot instead built its own MTA from the ground up and put it on silicon, which it claims gives the service provider more flexibility.

Some open source setups can take 4-24 hours for a new configuration to 'take', and if that doesn't work it is 4-24 hours before a replacement can kick in. For a company that provides email services, that was way too long, Heunemann said.

But as the Australian government guide pointed out, appropriately designed open source solutions can be a better and faster alternative for some customers.

" [And] if properly designed and properly managed, open source applications can develop with remarkable speed. OSS projects that meet market demand tend to accrue additional developers, vendors and early-adopter technologists quite quickly," the guide said.

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