Evaluating Open Source: Walmart’s criteria

Reading Open Enterprise Trend I happened to know about Eugene Ciurana, Director of Platform Technology and Enterprise Architect at Walmart.com, and his view on how Open Source empowers what is called “Enterprise Mashups“.

penguin andpolar bearFrom Eugene Gallery

‘Enterprise Mashups’ Leverage Open Source
OET: Your tone of “enterprise mashups” appears to take into account the “blending” of open Source and commercial apps/tools throughout the whole enterprise framework, and not simply for client apps? Is that true?

Yes, it’s true. If we define a “mashup” as an aggregation of disparate technologies to achieve a goal, then an “enterprise mashup” is a way of combining legacy, in-house, commercial, and open-source software to create new products and services for the enterprise.

Clients are only one part of the mashup. Software as a service, and applications that act as services, consumers, or both, can be integrated together to provide more value than any individual component can by itself. On the commercial side, for example, Oracle acquired a number of companies in the last few years and had to get the products from all of them to inter-operate. They market their products mashup today as Oracle Fusion. Oracle’s experience is no different from the challenges and opportunities that enterprise architects face every day.

A better example would be rhx, Red Hat effort to create a multi-vendor (interoperable) ecosystem.

Is Open Source Ready for ‘Enterprise Mashups’

Evaluating projects and products is a similar exercise regardless of whether they are commercial or open-source. The key is to identify risk factors and weigh them against the benefits of using the Open Source.

Here are a few questions that must be answered:

  • What is the definition of maturity for the product in relation to the company’s SLA?
  • Is the product mature enough? Does it meet all functional requirements and features?
  • Does it have a rich, thriving community around it? Is the community growing? Is it easy to join and participate in that community?
  • Do the licenses for the product and its sub-components conflict with business goals in any way? Is there an alternate license if this is the case?
  • Are there one or more commercial entities providing support, training, custom development, etc. for the project?
  • Is there a commercial or other entity that provides indemnification for the product’s users?
  • Will the company’s engineering participate in contributing to the project? Is there a policy for releasing code back to the open-source community?

And, for good measure, here is a question to ask yourself from the gut:Assume that the licensing cost for competing commercial and open-source products is zero. Are the open-source product’s features compelling enough to overcome the feature set of the commercial offering in relation to your business goals and SLAs?

I was recently involved in one of those selection exercises between OpenLaszlo and an industry standard commercial Flash product. My team followed the selection criteria outlined earlier, including “if the cost is zero, would you chose X?”. Having an understanding of all the issues, business goals, licensing, support, etc. eased the decision to go with OpenLaszlo because the risks and benefits were known prior to committing to this product.

Here in Europe, we have no software patent yet, and I can’t buy his suggestions about indemnification but I found his final question fundamental.

Technorati Tags: Open Source, mashup, Walmart