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Guide highlights enterprise-ready open source apps

Today there are more than 140,000 open source projects available for download. Do you know which ones are enterprise-ready and which are just some hobbyist's labor of love?

There are currently more than 140,000 active open source projects available for download. Some are just concepts, while others are enterprise-ready applications like Linux.

Repositories like host these applications and support them with a community of users. But this approach is geared toward developers, and navigating the forums can be intimidating. For IT managers, picking and choosing which application will work best in the data center can be a daunting task, to say the least.

It's still a proprietary Windows world...

Where would Windows Vista or XP fall on the OS list?

Bruno von Rotz: Both are very mature and functional and would match up similarly with the leading Linux distributions. I would say the leading proprietary commercial products would also make best marks in the OS and infrastructure category. This would go for Microsoft Office as well, which I would compare to OpenOffice. OpenOffice is ready to be used in the enterprise as well and, likewise, I would expect that application to trend upwards as well.

The Linux distros are the obvious contenders in the OS/infrastructure category, but could you name some diamonds in the rough that IT managers should know about?

von Rotz: Ubuntu is a good play and is probably not that well known in the enterprise world. That OS gets more mature with every version, however, and it is certainly something I recommend IT managers observe.

Besides the operating system, there are a couple of infrastructure elements to watch, especially in the ID management space. Today, with open source, there are lots of alternatives to IBM Tivoli and HP OpenView. Nagios and Hyperic are good alternatives there.

As open source projects like Linux begin to drive into the mission-critical operations of the data center, several tools have emerged that rank an application's maturity so IT pros don't have to.

Open source Avon calling

One resource comes from Boston-based consultancy firm Optaros Inc., whose employee base derives heavily from Cambridge Technology Partners (now owned by Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc.).

In 2006, the firm undertook an initiative to catalog enterprise-ready open source applications and list them in a tome targeted at IT managers, not developers. In the spirit of open source, the catalog is available for free at the Optaros Web site.

The catalog, called the Open Source Catalogue 2007, recently dropped after a year of customer interviews, case studies and culling of Optaros' employee knowledge base.

Bruno von Rotz, vice president for research and strategy, was the catalog's principal author. Throughout 2006, von Rotz and his staff identified 262 leading open source projects and graded them on functionality, community backing and project maturity using input from customers who had deployed the applications in enterprise environments.

Each entry was graded using a score of 1 to 4 on community strength, enterprise readiness and functionality. Entries were also shown to be trending up, down or holding steady in terms of popularity.

Noteworthy entries, which scored high on the list, include commercial Linux distributions, SUSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux; as well as Hyperic HQ, a Java-based systems management application.

"At the end of the day, the selection and evaluation will always be somewhat subjective, even when the analysis and the decisions were made as objectively as possible," von Rotz wrote in the catalog's introduction. "We are convinced that it is the experience and the implementation knowledge of our consultants and the pragmatic approach in compiling the data that will make the catalog a useful tool when thinking about alternatives to existing technologies or starting a new implementation project."

For von Rotz, there was no catalyst that spurred writing the catalog. He said many mainstream applications used in the enterprise saw their start as open source projects. The catalog is meant to identify tomorrow's Red Hat Enterprise Linux and let the IT manager know about it today.

The ratings game

Every project listed in the catalog, from Linux to Samba to WINE, was graded on community support, licensing and maturity. However, von Bruno said the catalog is not intended to replace detailed evaluations or proofs of concept, but simply to provide help in making a first selection.

A more detailed look at enterprise-ready open source is arguably the Business Readiness Rating (BRR), a standard model for rating open source software that is sponsored by Carnegie Mellon West Center for Open Source Investigation, O'Reilly CodeZoo, SpikeSource and Intel. This system, founded in 2005 and finalized in mid-2006, allows users to rate open source applications using a series of seven weighted categories including functionality, reliability, scalability, architecture and code quantity, support and services, licensing, project management, documentation and community.

BRR founding member Michael Goulde said every developer and adopter of open source software will approach each project or product differently -- as it suits the needs of their business. This is why each of the seven broad categories can be individually weighted by the user on a scale from one to 100.

Wiki ratings

Going forward, maintaining a static catalog could prove difficult as Ajax and wikis take over the Net, so von Rotz said he has plans to transform the guide – a .pdf document – into something more malleable.

More on open source apps:
Open source rating system streamlined and ready for primetime

Open source IT management ready for primetime, says Hyperic CEO

There are tentative plans to make the guide into a wiki and grant editing access to users, à la Wikipedia. "This is not easily done, and we'd need some kind of filtering method," von Rotz said. "We're considering some kind of collaborative rating method, but it will take some time to achieve that."

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