Open Source at the Heart of the Enterprise

If you've read my past couple of posts, you've seen that many attendees at the Catalyst Conference were aware of open source and its potential benefits, but nevertheless felt it was not "ready for prime time."

A fellow presenter, Adam Joffe of Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), offered a completely different perspective. SOE hosts multiplayer online games like EverQuest and Field Commander; these games can have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of simultaneous participants.

And it's mostly run on open source -- thousands of Linux servers, applications written in open source scripting languages, and even open source-based databases.

As Adam explained it, the scope of SOE's infrastructure dictated the use of open source. Licensing costs for commercial alternatives would have driven the price of the final service too high. In other words, SOE designed a business based on the economics of open source, and thereby created an enormous revenue opportunity.

Regarding open source's prime-time readiness, Adam said that it was high-quality -- even better than commercial software.

He made some observations about the implications of open source:

  • You need to be willing to chart your own course. There's much less vendor assistance, so you need to make your own decisions and educate yourself about your options.
  • You need to hire a certain type of employee -- one who would prefer to solve his or her own problem rather than waiting in a telephone queue for tech support help.

It may be tempting to dismiss SOE as irrelevant to your situation -- online gaming is different from your business. Certainly the magnitude of SOE's computing infrastructure forced it to select open source. However, the explosion of data and Internet-based commerce activities (e.g., SOA) implies that many organizations will begin to take on characteristics of SOE and need to address licensing economics.

In my view, the evolution of our economy toward an information-intensive environment means that the old scarcity-based software licensing models are unsustainable. While your vendors will never help you move toward a business based on widely-available (but cheap) computing, you won't have a choice. Start getting ready for tomorrow's world of ubiquitous software, with all it implies.

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