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Open source's speed, Firefox's security wows Fidelity

Find out how open source software, particularly Firefox, bowled over a major corporation, Fidelity Investments, and why Gartner believes that 80% of Global 2000 IT organizations will follow Fidelity's example.

Paul Gillin

Open source software got an enterprise shot in the arm recently when Fidelity Investments Inc. created a policy and governance structure that gives open source and proprietary products equal consideration in buying decisions.

Fidelity has more than a dozen open source packages in production and is willing to evaluate open source options in almost any application, according to Charles Pickelhaupt, a vice president in Fidelity's Center for Applied Technology. A new review board has been set up to weigh licensing options, which are one of Fidelity's biggest open source concerns.

Open source's most attractive attribute is speed, Fidelity executives said in a recent presentation. Essentially, open source has become a third option in the famous build-or-buy decisions. Reusable software has become an ''anchor'' of Fidelity's development strategy.

The Mozilla Firefox browser was an eye-opener, added Mike Askew, who also works in the technology center. A head-to-head comparison of Firefox and Internet Explorer showed that both had about the same level of security vulnerability, but ''the time needed to fix vulnerabilities in Firefox was much less,'' Askew said. That experience led Fidelity to look at open source more intently.

Fidelity isn't alone. Gartner open source analyst Nick Gall predicts that Global 2000 IT organizations will use open-source products in 80% of their infrastructure-focused software investments and 25% of business software investments by 2010. The majority of those deployments will be in new projects rather than legacy replacements, Gall said.

For now, Fidelity may be ahead of the pack. The mutual fund giant first deployed an open source tool -- the tcl scripting language -- in 1995. Today, it uses Apache and a host of Apache-related tools to run the Websites, which generate about 30 million daily page views.

For more information:

Firefox secrets revealed

More Firefox secrets revealed

The new open source evaluation process works like this: A user who identifies an open source option must present it to an open source review board. The board's principal function is to evaluate the license, Pickelhaupt said. ''In litigation, people go after the people with the most money, and Fidelity might be a big target,'' he said. The review board gives thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the legal issues. From there, it's the user's option whether to adopt the open source alternative.

Licensing issues are huge. Because the General Public License, which covers most open source software, has strict limits on how users must give back to the community, Fidelity wants to limit exposure. The review board not only evaluates licenses but also sets policies for how Fidelity should work with the community to distribute enhancements it makes to the software.

Community involvement is important, the Fidelity executives said. If software shows promise to become a core piece of Fidelity's infrastructure, the company's developers will work proactively with the open source community to distribute enhancements and keep the program vital. ''We want to make sure the product has a support base and a long life,'' Pickelhaupt said.

Some aspects of open source development continue to be challenging. With updates to some programs coming as frequently as once a day, Fidelity has had to adapt its internal release schedule to keep current. The company maintains its own repository of approved source code and periodically resynchronizes its own software versions with those out in the field.

The executives praised the work of the group that oversees the Eclipse tools framework for its enterprise-friendly approach to software releases. Enterprises like working with predictable enhancement schedules, they said.

While open source has become a core component of Fidelity's server infrastructure, the company is less receptive to adopting desktop packages like Open Office. Askew recalled the pain caused by Microsoft's past revisions to its own Office file formats and said Open Office still doesn't offer enough compelling benefits to justify a migration like that.

But working with the open source community has generally been a better experience than working with commercial developers. ''You're talking to people who are engaged with the project and have an influence over it,'' said Askew. ''There's a much closer connection to them'' than to a large software firm.

Gartner's Gall sees the Fidelity experience as being emblematic of the trend in enterprise software. He sees open source comprising 11% of the software market in 2010, up from 3% today. With the overall market continuing to grow, that translates to 700% growth in open source revenues during that time.

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