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Open source solutions offer agility and collaborative development

Laura Smith, Features Writer

As part of the Obama administration's push for open government, many branches of the federal computing infrastructure are migrating away from legacy systems and

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proprietary software toward open source solutions.

"We use open source as much as possible," said Michael Howard, vice president, advanced enterprise solutions at QinetiQ North America Inc., a Department of Defense (DoD) contractor and division of QinetiQ Group PLC. "We're trying to transition off of [Oracle] Solaris and need a lot of middleware products, so we brought in open source experts from several vendors."

When asked how much resistance he gets when trying to sell open source solutions -- especially to the security-conscious DoD -- Howard said, "The open source stuff is actually more secure. We can view the code, can get in it and lock it down."

During the past three years, Union Pacific Railroad Co. has migrated its Oracle databases off HP-UX platforms and moved to open systems, according to Travis Tiedemann, systems engineer at the Omaha, Neb.-based company. Union Pacific now runs a variety of open source applications (including Red Hat Inc.'s JBoss application server and Apache's Web server) as well as homegrown applications on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Union Pacific is also moving from its Xen virtualization hypervisor to Kernel-based Virtual Machine, or KVM, a rival open source product developed by Red Hat and IBM and endorsed by a handful of heavy hitters (including Novell Inc., Intel Corp., BMC Software Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Eucalyptus Systems Inc.). Last week, the group announced the Open Virtualization Alliance at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.

Misplaced worries about enterprise open source

The knock against open source solutions in corporations has been mainly about support, but executives at the Red Hat Summit held earlier this month in Boston said that's a misconception. "Overall, we have seen Red Hat to be very stable," Tiedemann said. "Our CIO was the one pushing open source stuff."

The IT community has been told, essentially, to 'change your diet.'

John Casebolt, president and chief technology officer , Jackpine Technologies Inc.

John Kyros, a senior project engineer at Union Pacific, said he's "really happy with Red Hat. I hack around a lot and have had pretty good support." When migrating, Kyros had one server up for 156 days, and that was the only one that had a problem. His advice: "Don't leave your boxes up too long."

Sean Millichamp, Linux architecture team lead at Secure-24 Inc., a consulting firm and systems integrator in Southfield, Mich., echoed the positive findings about RHEL. "It's a very stable, predictable platform, secure out of the box and feature rich," Millichamp said. The open development process "is important to us because it allows us to ask questions of the people who are writing the software. If there's a feature you want that's not there, we go upstream."

Millichamp recently helped a $6 billion financial company migrate 2,000 servers to 300 running RHEL. The client rewrote 1,200 applications that used to run on AIX, and in the process saved $20 million during three years. The savings are icing on the cake of agility, Millichamp said.

Millichamp and others at the summit in Boston mentioned a couple of robust programs for managing the migration to an open source platform, especially the Red Hat Satellite Server. "Satellite was key in helping us to track what had been patched," he said. "We now patch twice a month across the entire Linux environment."

Conference attendees also touted the automated provisioning capabilities of the Cobbler engine, as well as the Puppet configuration management tool. Puppet offers centralized management, flexible and clear audit trails, rapid tracking of daily changes and the ability to verify system vs. state.

Open source for the cloud

For its part, summit organizer Red Hat announced open source solutions that will help companies build private clouds and enable developers to enrich an open source Platform as a Service.

"The IT community has been told, essentially, to 'change your diet,'" said John Casebolt, president and chief technology officer at Jackpine Technologies Inc., a Department of Defense (DoD) contractor that provides Testing as a Service.

"There's quite an impetus to move toward the cloud," Casebolt said, by using open source solutions that are available through Forge.mil, a federal website for collaborative development that picks up Source Forge, the globally popular community where developers have interacted for years in an open environment.

Several other companies announced open source solutions for the cloud, including Centrify Express 2011, a major new version of its cross-platform Active Directory Bridge single sign-on and authentication solution to enable automated security for Linux cloud servers.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.


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