Open source stacks not answer: analysts

Non-proprietary application stacks aren't necessarily the solution to vendor lock-in, some say

Many vendors are offering open source application stacks as an alternative to integrated sets of proprietary applications that have long locked users into the technology of a single supplier.

However, some vendors and analysts are quick to criticise the emerging stacks, contending that they could lock in users the same way integrated stacks of a single vendor’s applications do.

Vendors hawking open source application stacks whose integration is precertified include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Red Hat, Novell and independent support providers such as SpikeSource, SourceLabs and many others.

However, not all open source providers are seeking to sell stacks to customers.

“Stacks are rigid and deterministic,” says Winston Damarillo, chief executive of Simula Labs, an open source software provider. They are “prefab solutions, which most customers don’t really want”, he says.

Simula Labs recently announced its Community-oriented Real-Time Network (Core), which it describes as a flexible framework for building, running and managing open source software. Simula Labs also announced that open source software providers Covalent, LogicBlaze, Megere, WebTide and Chariot Solutions have agreed to support Core.

The Core offering allows users to customise open source stacks, offering more flexibility than the precertified stacks, Damarillo says.

Davis Tharayil, CIO at Home Insurance, is in the process of testing another alternative to a precertified open source application stack: a custom server appliance from rPath that’s designed to integrate Ingres’ open source database with a stripped-down version of Linux.

Home Insurance tested the appliance as part of its search for a lower-cost alternative to Oracle databases running on Solaris-based servers.

Tharayil says Home Insurance didn’t consider emerging precertified open source application stacks in its search for a plug-and-play product. “A full stack just wasn’t necessary”, Tharayil says. “I’ve been in the business for 35 years. Every time something new comes along, they say it’s a silver bullet. I still haven’t found one.”

Dennis Callaghan, an analyst at consulting firm The 451 Group, says the rPath model is impressive, though he notes that the company has “a pretty small niche and customer base at this point”.

James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk, another consulting firm, says the tidiness of open source stacks will likely continue to appeal to some customers despite their rigidity. He believes the true standards-based component modularity promised by service-oriented architectures will likely make the current stacks less relevant.

Application stacks have a long history among mostly large vendors of proprietary software, such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. Such vendors contend that their integrated software products can boost interoperability and cut costs, though suppliers of best-of-breed software often note that such products also lead to vendor lock-in.

To date, the task of integrating open source software is mostly the responsibility of corporate users — or their highly paid consultants. Such projects could easily wipe out the savings from using free software.

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