IBM LinuxONE; what’s in a name?

So the new IBM LinuxONE has now been officially launched. And not to put too fine a point on it, the Lustratus opinion is that it is pretty much the best Linux server around. In fact, to really stiEmperor_300x230ck my neck out, the LinuxONE could become the premier Linux server of choice in the next 5 years. As long as IBM doesn’t trip over its own feet to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on what IBM’s got. The LinuxONE currently comes in two sizes, the full-scale enterprise Linux server (Emperor) and an entry level server (Rockhopper). Cunning use of penguins to stress the link to Linux ūüėČ . LinuxONE offers a range (if two is a range) of Linux servers with outstanding reliability, security and non-disruptive scalability coupled with probably the best data and transaction handling facilities in the world. Bold words, but there is proof (see later).

But the LinuxONE also offers the openness and productivity support expected in the Linux world. Customers can choose between Red Hat, SuSE and Ubuntu environments, a range of hypervisors such as KVM and PR/SM, familiar languages such as Python, Perl, Ruby, Rails and Node.js, various databases like Oracle, DB2, MongoDB, MariaDB. In addition, LinuxONE adopts open technologies extensively, including Openstack, Docker, Chef and Puppet.  Even the financiang for the LinuxONE is more aligned with Linux and Cloud expectations, with a usage-based fixed monthly charge or even a rental option being offered. The LinuxONE is even the basis of an IBM community cloud being rolled out now.

So how can anything go wrong? And anyway, how can I make those claims about reliability, security and so on? Well of course, the secret is that the IBM LinuxONE is based on the IBM mainframe, arguably the most proven server the world has ever known for reliability, availability, data and I/O handling, transaction processing and enterprise serving. To this base, IBM has been able to build on its extensive experience over the last few years of running Linux workloads and serving Linux needs with z/Linux, providing the ideal launchpad for delivering the ultimate Linux servers. Fortunately IBM has not tried to resist the march of open technologies, taking the opportunity to bring open, non-IBM and IBM offerings together with the aim of delivering the premier Linux server environment.

The ‘but’ is that IBM cannot manage to tear itself away from its pride in the mainframe. Rightly, IBM is very proud of its mainframe technology and its long history of success under the most demanding environments. Perfectly understandable. And so I suppose it is only natural that IBM would want to refer in all its marketing literature to the fact that the LinuxONE is an enterprise Linux mainframe, and to stress that it IS a mainframe, albeit with significant Linux and open technology support added. But from the outside, this makes no sense. let’s split the world up into three camps; mainframe fans, those who do not know about mainframes and the mainframe ‘haters’. Perhaps ‘haters’ is a bit strong, but there is absolutely no doubt that there are a significant number of companies across the world who for various reasons see ‘mainframe’ as almost a derogatory word; old-fashioned, expensive, etc.. So how will the three markets react to the LinuxONE? IBM mainframe fans don’t need to be told it is a mainframe; they know, and they will also usually have an IBM rep who will be pointing it out with great frequency! The uninitiated who know nothing of mainframes would not see any plus or minus from being told the LinuxONE is a mainframe; they will simply want to look at what the LinuxONE can do for them, what tools and environments it supports etc.. But the third category can only see the ‘mainframe’ word as negative.

I can almost hear some people pointing out that this is a silly argument. That anyone who starts to look at the LinuxONE and who knows anything will quickly work out it is essentially an IBM mainframe. But I would submit that is not the point. Reaction to the mainframe word is to put the third group off from taking a closer look. Once they do look, as long as the server has the tools and offers the capabilities they need, and they can carry it forwards in their company without overtly exposing the ‘mainframe’ word, the strength of the LinuxONE offering will carry it through.

So I make this plea to IBM. Please, please, remove ‘mainframe’ from all the literature. Replace it with ‘server’ or ‘Linux server’ or enterprise Linux server’ or whatever. LinuxONE should be associated with being the best, most reliable, most productive, most scalable, most effective and safest range of Linux servers in the world, not with being a Linux-enabled mainframe.

Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly remembere! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

A practical approach to Open Source (part 4)

So far, these posts have covered user benefits of OSS, risks and the need to understand the various different OSS business models.

This final post in the series looks at tips for getting benefit from OSS implementations.

The first point to remember is that even though OSS software is ‘free’. its adoption¬†needs to be planned carefully.¬†This is even true forthe lowest risk area¬†of personal productivity tools, surprisingly. Most people think this is the easiest OSS¬†area, and are happy to let¬†OpenOffice or Firefox or any of the multiplicity of user tools be loaded….but¬†this can lead to trouble.¬†Remember that one characteristic of OSS is that because it is free, there¬†is no need for a user¬†to gain purchasing approval, and hence¬†adoption can be uncontrolled. If it then turns out that the new software introduces an incompatibility with other systems, this can be a¬†nightmare.¬†Make sure that adoption is controlled and that every¬†employee is aware that OSS¬†software purchasing should¬†go through the same governance procedures as commercial software, even if it¬†doesn;t cost anything.

This¬†leads to the next point. In fact, OSS software is¬†never free. The LICENSE may be free, but there are users to train, developers to educate, support to be arranged, risks to be evaluated and countless other tasks. Indeed, at the OSS infrastructure level as opposed to end-user productivity tools area, most OSS offerings are of the ‘framework’ type where the user is left having to do extensive development and customization before the software can¬†be used productively. So, to succeed with OSS it is necessary to evaluate the business case taking all¬†these resource and service requirements into account, even if license costs are 0.

The next tip is think ahead. Ask yourself why the software is free. Is it because the software community, out of the goodness of its heart (!), wants to share its bounties with everyone for free, or is there some other game plan at work? A number of OSS projects have come about from users wanting to find a way to defray their costs of supporting their home-developed code base. Projects such as AMQP and Swordfish srping to mind. The issue here is that if the particular project never really gets popular acceptance, then¬† future updates are at risk of dying off if the original authoring company changes direction. Other OSS projects are offered by vendors having a ‘full-function’, priced version of the software. Remember IONA’s Artix / Celtix ESBs? Artix was the commercial product, and Celtix the OSS version. Every time IONA added new function, it tended to put it in the commercial one first, and only backfitted it to the OSS version if it didn’t get wide acceptance. So, be aware that if you go with an OSS project you may have to take a commercial license in the future.

Watch out for projects that claim massive acceptance but which in truth are only supported and used by a small minority. A typical trick to watch for is claims of ‘Millions of donwloads’. This is really weak – remember that if something is free to download, every student in the world is likely to download it at least to play with. Only a timy fraction of these downloads would even move to a point of trying to actually use it.

The best tip of all is to wait for clear signs that a particular OSS project has gone mainstream. So, Mozilla Firefox is so well-known as a browser, with so many users, that it is a reasonably safe bet. LINUX has huge industry support, and rich backers such as IBM. There is no way it would ever be allowed to fall behind in the technology stakes, and because of its wide acceptance there are hundreds of companies in the LINUX ecosystem now offering support, services, training and other OSS LINUX add-ons. However, If you really want to be a trailblazer, then go ahead with unproven projects…but just go in with eyes wide open.


A practical approach to Open Source (part 3)

The third post in this short series looks at the need to understand the business model surrounding the OSS offering being considered.

One of the defining qualities of OSS is that, at least at a basic level, the produt can be licensed at no charge. This immediately raises the question of how sustainable the model surrounding theOSS project is. The fundamental question is, who is going to keep the code base up to date? Who will apply fixes, develop new function, offer support, provide documentation, etc?

There are a number of different types of OSS project, and each has different business model implications that affect its likely success and future longevity. At its heart, the OSS movement really got under way based on an ‘anti-commercial’ theme, where programmers wanted to share their skills and use software that was developed ny them, for them. This is fine as far as it goes, but as people’s interests change, the exposure is that these developers will move on to something new and the original OSS project will wither away. In the rare situations where th problem is overcome, there is usually a viral element to the project’s success, like in the case of Firefox for example.

The next model is where a commercial company is set up around the OSS project. Usually, these companies sell services around the OSS project such as documentation and training, as well as offering commercial licenses to cover support, or verified and tested versions of the OSS code base. The success of this approach will depend on whether the OSS users are prepared to cross the ‘free software’ line and accept that there will still be costs incurred. A big problem here, however, is how extensive the support offered is. The worst threat is that OSS projects often use other OSS offerings to fill out capabilities, and therefore either the commercial support organization has to become expert in all these code bases, or there will be gaps in the support.

The most devious OSS model is where a vendor sponsors an OSS project for its own advantages, regardless of the implications on the user. Typically, a vendor might take a base level of code and make it an OSS project ‘for the good of the community’, but instead of this project attracting other development partners it remains drive by the single vendor. Now, that vendor typically produces an ‘authentic’ version of the project which DOES have a license cost and maintenance fee. The idea is to get users on board thinking the product is free, and then hook them with the professional versions.

Finally, the best OSS model of all from a user point of view is where a number of large vendors decide it is in their interests to back a particular OSS project. This is the case with LINUX, for example, where vendors such as IBM have put in millions of dollars of investment. As a result, a whole ecosystem of LINUX-oriented companies have sprung up, and all of this ensures that LINUX users can have a degree of confidence in its future.


A practical approach to Open Source (part 2)

Following my first post in this short series, in which I looked at the benefits of going with an open source project, this post focuses on the risks that counterbalance those benefits.

The main risks for users to consider fall into four areas:

  1. Support
  2. Longevity
  3. Governance and control
  4. The 80/20 rule

The first is perhaps the most obvious risk of OSS. The principle behind OSS is that the code is developed by a team of interested parties, and support is often initially offered in the same light. So, problem resolution is based upon someone else giving time and effort to work out what is wrong and fixing it. Similarly with documentation, education etc – they all depend on someone else’s good will. Some proponents of OSS will point to the fact that commercial companies have sprung up that provide fee-based support for various different projects, but this has a number of big drawbacks. One is that this is fee-based and therefore impacts one of the open source advantages (free licenses), and the other is down to the nature of most OSS projects. OSS developers usually operate on a shared code mentality, and frequently use many other OSS components in their own solutions. While one of these groups might form a company to offer support contracts for the code they have developed, they usually have to rely on ‘best can do’ support for the other components they have embedded. All of this brings in a great deal of risk attached to using OSS. The one difference is where a company has decided it wants the OSS specifically because it gets the source and can now staff its own maintenance and support team.

Longevity relates to the support question. OSS projects need their driving teams of developers, and if for some reason these people decide to move onto something more exciting or interesting, the user could be left using a code-base that has noone left who is interested in it. This means future upgrades are extremely unlikely, and leaves the user stranded. A special case to watch out for here is those crafty vendors who start an Open Source project around some new area they are interested in, supplying a very basic code base, and then when enough users have bitten on the bait they announce that future development is going to be supplied int he shape of a traditional licenses software offering, while the original code base remains at a basic level.

The governance / control risk is a tricky one. The problem is that be definition anyone interested in a particular OSS project can download and use the code. A company might decide to use OSS for specific needs, only to discover that it has proliferated without control due to the ease with which people can download it. These downloaders may think they base is supported because the company has decided to use it in other places, but they may have downloaded different versions or anything. Related to this is the control of quality – as other OSS users develop updates, these are supplied back into the OSS project, but who if anyone is policing these changes to make sure they do not alter functionality or remain compatible?

The final risk area relates to the nature of people. The driving force behind any OSS project, at least in the early days, tends to be a fanatical group of developers who really enjoy making something work. However, anyone familiar with software development will be aware of the 80/20 rule Рthat 80% of the code takes 20% of the effort to write, and vice versa. The natural inclination for any OSS team is to do all the fun stuff (the 80%), but to tend to shy away from the really heavy-duty complicated stuff. So, areas such as high availability, fault tolerance, maintainability and documentation are the sorts of areas that may suffer, at least until the project gains some heavyweight backers. This can severely limit the attraction of open source software for commercial, mission-critical needs at least.

It is for many of the reasons given above that the area of greatest attraction for new OSS projects tends to be in the personal productivity area, where there are alternatives to mitigate the risks. So, Firefox is great, and has super usability features because it has been created more or less by users, but if something went sour with a latest level of the code the users could switch to IE without too much pain. Deciding to use OSS in a production, mission-critical environment is much more dangerous, and generally only acceptable when there is a cadre of heavyweight underwriters, such as in the case of LINUX. In this case, IBM would never let anything go wrong with LINUX because it is too reliant on its continued success.

Part 3 will look at this area more closely as it discusses the OSS project business model.


A practical approach to Open Source (part 1)

I am often asked about OSS (Open Source Software) – I am not sure whether it is because I have been somewhat outspoken in the past…

…or whether it is because users are not completely sure whether they can trust the marketing messages put forward by different OSS projects and their supporters and are looking for an independent perspective. However, I have decided to jot down a few¬†thoughts around OSS, based on a practical and logical assessment. I have gathered these observations into four areas

  • What are the user benefits of open source?
  • What are the risks?
  • How does the particular open source project business model work?
  • What needs to be done to achieve the benefits?

This first post deals with the first area – what are the user benefits of open source?

I guess the most common one users bring up is that OSS is free! No license fees has got to be good, hasn’t it? Just one work of warning here – it is worth checking the exact terms for the specific OSS software to validate that it really IS free. Strange as it may sound, some ‘OSS software’ is NOT free of charge.

However, there are other potential benefits to consider. For example, some users find that having access to the source code is a benefit. This may be because the user can now make changes to customize the software so it is more effective for the company, or the confidence it brings that a failure can be resolved locally without having to wait for support organizations to respond. Once again, however, check the small print. Some OSS Software projects do NOT distribute the source, and others require any updates and new developments to be fed back into the project.

Another appeal of OSS is the fact that it can pool the ideas of thousands of technical minds across the globe. Hopefully this will mean that the code is usable and effective. Since these minds will also be available to check the code, it should also give a higher code quality. The caveat in this case is to make sure that the particular OSS project of interest really IS a broad community, and not just a small interest group or worse still a single vendor pretending to be pushing a widely supported OSS project.

Finally, there is the hoped for standardizing effect of OSS. That is, if an open source project takes off and gets wide industry backing, then all vendors are likely to find it easier to support because there is no hidden agenda of favouring a particular vendor. This can stimulate a much wider and more rapid acceptance of the particular code-based, resulting in it becoming at least a de facto standard if not one supported directly by standards bodies.

More to come – the next post will be about the risks of open source….


Will Swordfish make its point?

The ECLIPSE organization has finally made its announcement of the first release ofSwordfish, the open source ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) framework.

A lot of the work for Swordfish has come from Sopera, a German open source company that has developed an offering around the DeutschePost service bus development. Sopera offers a valid and competent framework for service integration, and therefore it is assumed that Swordfish might also work.

So, will Swordfish make a successful strike at the ESB market? So far, open source ESB projects have not had a great deal of success, and as far as 2009 goes Lustratus has forecast that open source projects will suffer due to the lack of the necessary people resources to turn open source frameworks into a useful user implementation. However, Swordfish has the backing of the influential ECLIPSE organization, which has done a lot to standardize the look and feel of many software infrastructure tools.

Looking at the¬†initial marketing thrust for Swordfish, things don’t look to¬†good. From the announcement letter, the top functional bullet reads

Support for distributed deployment, which results in more scalable and reliable application deployments by removing a central coordinating server.

Well – duh! This is not new – it is part of the basic definition of what an ESB does! However, this initiative is still worth watching, despite the ill-fated marketing attempts so far. ECLIPSE has significant industry backing for its GUI look-and-feel stuff, and indeed most of the big industry names like IBM, Oracle and SAP are involved in the running of ECLIPSE, and provide a lot of the financial backing.

It is this that might be the source of most excitement with Swordfish. Oracle and IBM both actively market and sell their own ESBs, and SAP offers its own equivalent functionality as part of its NetWeaver set of offerings. I wonder how they feel about ECLIPSE driving an open-source ESB version that competes on functionality and is free? I would love to be a fly on the wall in internal ECLIPSE meetings about the future of Swordfish.


Viable open source business models emerge

The problem with Open Source has always been to my mind that the myth of Open Source slowed down the development of mature business models.

The myth is that OSS is an almost altruistic endeavour when end-users cooperate to produce the software projects they require.   In this myth, the vendor role is one of coordination, packaging and support for which the end-users willingly pay maintenance and support fees.

Unfortunately, this virtuous circle was the exception rather than the rule when it came to enterprise OSS:  Most Open source projects rely almost entirely on vendors for code contributions and vendors have found it hard to get the maintenance fees from users who struggle to justify paying for something perceived as free.  This has made the path of any business following this model extremely difficult.

Therefore, I have been pleased to see that the myth is beginning to dissipate and what has been happening behind the scenes emerge.  The451, who have an excellent blog focused on the enterprise Open Source space, have recently published a report which is interesting because it rings true to my experience when it says:

The majority of open source vendors utilize some form of commercial licensing to distribute, or generate revenue from, open source software.


Ad hoc support services are used by nearly 70% of the vendors assessed, but represent the primary revenue stream for fewer than 8% of open-source-related vendors.


Most vendors generating revenue from open source software are reliant on direct sales staff to bring in the largest proportion of revenue.

The cynics among us might say that this is starting to sound very like the closed source model that OSS was meant to kill.¬† However that would still be a little unfair ‚Äď OSS is still different but maybe not as different from a commercial perspective as originally advertised.


Jitterbit kick-starts an OSS solution marketplace

An article in ebizq alerted me to Jitterbit’s just launched “Trading Post” for integration-specific solutions.

Jitterbit claims to the “World’s most popular Open Source integration platform” – which surprised me as I had not heard of them before.

The idea of setting up sites to enable the selling of software components is hardly new (although rarely successful) and of course sharing is precisely what an OSS community is supposed to be about. What is more interesting about the “Trading Post” idea is that

– It focuses on solutions: i.e. not just source code for the bits of the puzzle but also the patterns and knowledge essential to deliverying the complete solution.¬† And directs potential users to the services provided by “Trading Post” providers who can help to deliver the solution and

РIt focuses on both application specific solutions (such as JD Edwards) and industry specific solutions.  Again moving the emphasis away from raw technology towards problem solving.

РIt provides an interesting revenue opportunity for OSS service providers/vendors who often struggle to drive revenue from support/maintenance alone.  This is because it crisply defines the value they (as Trading Post providers) can give around specific solutions.

While just launched, it is already ‘pre-stocked’ with 50 solutions which demonstrates a certain amount of apparent momentum.¬† Perhaps it is a model other OSS vendors should take a look at…


Beware of the OSS Trojan Horse

Open source software (OSS) seems a great idea, particularly for segments of the market like SOA where there are lots of standards – some would even say too many.

After all, the software is free isn’t it? Of course, in reality,the decision whether to go with an open source approach to SOA is a lot more complicated than that. The key thing when considering SOA is to be realistic about the business case, as discussed by Ronan in his recent post. Evaluating the value proposition for open source SOA is a non-trivial exercise. This is a subject that Ronan goes into in much greater detail in his recent Lustratus Report, “The open source value proposition for SOA”, available from the Lustratus web store, where he considers a wide range of factors affecting the final decision.

One point that jumped out at me from the report related to the need to be sure that the chosen OSS solution is not a trojan horse. The problem is that some open source projects are actually being used as test-beds by commercial vendors, as a way of gaining valuable input and experience that can then be used as part of a future commercial offering. On the one hand, this can be attractive – after all, if a vendor is driving the project then it is likely that skilled resources will be available to ensure its vitality. But on the other hand, if the vendor plans a commercial offering then what functions will be reserved for the ‘full function’ offering? Will these be needed in the future? As Ronan states in the report,

It is common with the larger vendors in particular to promote OSS as a light weight alternative to their full strength closed source products. For these vendors, it is essential that due diligence verifies that the OSS solution will be sufficient for all current and future requirements. If this is not the case, the cost of the closed source product must be factored into the business case.

This doesn’t mean to say that these projects should be avoided – just that it is wise to consider the gifts the Greeks are bringing, and what’s in it for them….