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Back to Basics Article February

These opinions are echoed by Marius Agenbag, MD of Ubusha Technologies, who says Open Source refers to software that is re-usable and shareable within the community. "It’s free software, but not so much in money terms," he explains. "It’s free in terms of freeldom of use and being open. "For example, anyone can take any piece of available open source code and add value to it." Agenbag points out that there are two broad categories of licence for Open Source software. "The first type of licence is where users can have the source code and do whatever they want with it, but they commit to keep it free e.g. the GNU General Public License (GPL). "The other licence type allows vendors to sell applications combining open source code and proprietary code e.g. GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) or Mozilla Public License (MPL) where changes and enhancements need to be fed back to the originator. (Reference: http://www.opensource.org/licenses/gpl-license.php, http://www.opensource.org/licenses/lgpl-license.php, http://www.opensource.org/licenses/mozilla1.1.php )

Ubusha’s Agenbag describes the projects that may not make it as victims of natural selection - and important for the overall strength of the community. "If a big software company takes on a project, it simply develops it from end to end. In the Open Source community, some projects will die if people don’t see them as viable - and that’s a risk you always run."

For a long time, Linux was seen as the "geek’s operating system", according to Ubusha’s Agenbag. In the 15 years since it’s been around, it has moved from geek to hobbyist and now to the (refference: http://liw.iki.fi/liw/texts/linux-the-big-picture.html) enterprise space, where it is ready to make a difference. "Linux now carries a whole value proposition that actually benefits big organisations as well as companies and individuals. "What makes it different from anything that’s gone before is development is focused around what the user or orginization wants - it’s being driven in the direction people want, not what the vendors want. "Unlike traditional software development, each user can have his say about the direction Linux goes in. That’s one of the reasons there is such speed to innovation and speed to market," says Agenbag. Although development trends are driven by users - and will only be adopted if they’re useful - the world’s big software vendors have had to get involved in order to give their customers what they want. "With the vendors getting involved, there is a tremendous monetary investment in Linux as well. There’s no way of stopping it now."

Sidebar: Open framework key to implementation Opting for an Open Source implementation doesn’t mean that users can forget the rules of engagement that have been carved out over the years. It’s as important as ever for projects to be properly specified, planned and deployed, or companies run the risk of them failing - and the Open Source and Linux start earning a bad reputation. The first, and often biggest, mistake companies make is assuming that a Linux or Open Source implementation will be "free" - or at least inexpensive compared to other systems. "Cost must not be the major driver," says Marius Agenbag, MD of Ubusha Technologies. "A strategy must rather consist of an open framework that is flexible enough to meet the organisation’s needs." Within an open framework, companies could run various different platforms depending upon their installed systems, current and future needs and the status of their chosen software vendors. A key point is that organisations have legacy, proprietary systems - in fact, the software they need to buy today could be proprietary - but these cannot be excluded from their planning going forward.*Open source, proprietary must integrate?

"Companies need to ensure that, once they’ve identified their needs, they can run in a cross-platform environment. If something is strategic to the business but happens to proprietary, the organisation must be able to integrate it into the framework." A number of South African companies and government departments are currently at the stage of defining their strategies and designing their open frameworks, says Agenbag. "There is a tremendous amount of interest at both the government and commercial level, where organisations want to start getting their strategies in place. "The next step would be to decide on a roadmap and then move on to adoption. "Most of the people we are talking to can see immediate benefits to an open framework strategy - come will be long-term but some will be immediate wins." Agenbag stresses that the decision to opt for Linux is not about replacing existing systems - in fact, it could end up costing more than an existing system by the time deployment, migration and retraining are taken into account. "Return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) are important to keep in mind when considering a move to Open Source and Linux. If the ROI and TCO add up, then make the move; if not - don’t do it." The types of systems where companies are seeing excellent ROI from Linux include data centre applications, Agenbag adds. "For example, moving SAP from a mainframe on to an Intel-based platform could offer massive savings. "If proprietary hardware is near the end of its lifecycle, there could be major cost savings simply by migrating to Intel servers. "However, companies must remember it’s not just about the cost. Often the proprietary hardware is more resilient than volume servers, so it’s important to build in the resilience, clustering and redundancy that are needed." Agenbag adds that Ubusha also warns customers to expect costs associated with new operational procedures, retraining and change management. "We advise companies to look at all the aspects of a project before they start. The last thing we want is any surprises. "The success of an implementation is based on how well we determined the how and why up front. We believe in the mantra: ‘Think twice, do once’ - and often we think three times just to be sure." Having planned and executed an Open Source project successfully, Agenbag says companies can look forward to a wealth of benefits over and above cost savings. "Getting away from vendor lock-in is probably the most common reason that people opt for Open Source. Flexibility is another - for the first time companies can really add software or features as they make sense; not when the vendor decides they are ready. "This relates closely to another benefit: speed to market - it could take a week or less to get a new feature into the software, or to correct a fault." A spin-off benefit for the whole country is the fact of the worldwide Open Source community which makes South Africa part of the development world. "Government strategy is to keep money local as far as possible and create jobs in South Africa. And it’s happening."

Marius Agenbag, MD of Ubusha Technologies, points out that competition is healthy. "We don’t want one single Linux; there needs to be competition and that way the fittest will survive. "Having said that, the industry have ‘standardised’ on Red Hat and Suse in terms of enterprise-class Linux. That way they can be certain of always getting support and maintenance and keeping staff skilled up."

Ubusha’s Agenbag points out that there is a tremendous amount of value-add investment that goes around the kernel in many Linux distributions - and especially in the enterprise world. "Typically, there is no cost to own Linux - users don’t pay for the R&D - but the subscription pays for support, maintenance and value adds."