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At ApacheCon, Microsoft jumps on open source bandwagon

Microsoft will make its pitch to the open source community with an appearance at the ApacheCon user conference.

At this week's ApacheCon, the semi-annual confab for the hugely popular open source Web server, the spotlight will be on the richest and most powerful proprietary software company in the world: Microsoft.

The $60 billion software company that once scoffed at open source is a sponsor of the New Orleans gathering and Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy, will be a keynote speaker on Friday, the closing day of the weeklong event.

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Jim Jagielski, the chairman of the Forest Hill, Md.-based Apache Software Foundation (ASF) and a founder of the original, eight-member Apache Group, said Microsoft approached the foundation last summer, proposed a sponsorship and asked for an opportunity to tell Apache developers and users why the company has come to recognize that open source software has merit.

"This is a huge change from the largest commercial software company in existence," Jagielski said. "ASF is very happy that they trust us enough to be among the first open source communities they are working with."

Microsoft's quick approval of a major financial commitment to the conference is "quite significant" and reflects increasing collaboration between the two, with Microsoft most recently seeking ASF's help to improve Apache Web server performance on its Vista operating system, he said.

The conference
Expected the conference to draw 400 attendees, began Monday with two days of training followed by three days of keynotes, workshops and "camp" sessions that give participants an opportunity to learn more about Apache's Hadoop distributed file system and OfBiz automation software.

The role of Microsoft at ApacheCon signals its growing collaboration with Apache.

Bringing together Apache users and developers over the past 11 years, ApacheCon is a way to build the community, brainstorm, solve problems, learn about new Apache projects (currently totaling about 65) and in turn shorten the development cycle for improvements, Jagielski said. An all-volunteer nonprofit organization, ASF depends on a large, "passionately" dedicated community to run the projects that keep Apache ahead of the pack in incorporating new technologies such as service-oriented architecture and the enterprise service bus, he said.

The community advantage
ASF's strong user community also helps it be more nimble than an inertia-bound company, Jagielski said. And because Apache developers are actively using the code themselves, the quality is much better than if it were "just their day job," he said.

Created by Jagielski and seven others in 1995, the Apache Web server has grown alongside the Web itself and has at least 78% of the market, according to independent estimates, he said. Migration from Sun and Windows Web servers adds to inherent growth from expansion of the Web itself as sites become bigger and new categories such as social networking are added, he said.

Apache boosts Linux
According to Jagielski, Apache growth, in turn, boosts Linux because the two are "a marriage made in heaven," and because a Web server on the edge of the network is a great way to tiptoe into use of open source.

"We have been lucky enough to be that first open source test for a number of companies," he said. "And we've opened up the floodgates" for adoption of open source operating systems, which require a more fundamental change than switching to a different Web server, Jagielski said. Apache does run on any operating system, however, from Linux to Sun Solaris to Windows, Macintosh and embedded personal devices, he said.

Improvements, hot tools
Over the years, Apache has added improvements such as the ability to change content on the fly and store dynamic content locally, easing administration and improving performance, respectively, he said. Apache also has boosted security through Secure Sockets Layer encryption and authorization and authentication policies that simplify and safeguard the task of retrieving data securely irrespective of location, he said.

The hottest new Apache-based tools today are those that monitor and manage Web servers, letting sys admins know how much disk space, memory, bandwidth and other resources they are using so the servers can be adjusted on the fly, Jagielski said. In addition to tools from companies like San Francisco-based Hyperic Inc.and San Mateo, Calif.-based SpringSource Inc., an Apache project is developing an open source monitoring tool called Lokahi based on technology that Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck & Co. Inc. donated to the foundation, he said.

The failure to adequately monitor and manage Web sites is one of the top scalability mistakes, Jagielski added. Trying to configure a Web server without quantifying the workload or estimating changes in activity levels can lead to big problems, he said. Asking a server to do too many things at once also can cause difficulties, he said.

"Administrators need to be proactive at monitoring the log files and making small, fine adjustments instead of forgetting about the server until it crashes," Jagielski said.

Future improvements
The biggest future improvement in the Apache platform is a new asynchronous architecture now in development that is expected to boost load limits and scalability by harnessing the idle time between workloads to increase capacity, he said. The architecture is pretty unique and will need to be bulletproof and backward-compatible without sacrificing the gains from the enhancements, he said. Part of Apache's Web server project, the research has been underway for a few months and should be ready for release by the middle of next year, he said.

Altruistic motives
Unlike many other open source companies, the foundation gives away all its software for free, which has created an ecosystem of other firms which earn money by supporting or certifying the software or making it easier to run, Jagielski said. The only reason Apache became a corporation was to simplify the task of accepting sponsors and shows; Apache has no paid employees, he said.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that idealism is at the heart at the Apache project, now 13 years old.

"We believe that open source software can really change the world," Jagielski said. "If it can increase the productivity of farms or help people trade goods in Third World countries so the people aren't starving, open source software is improving their quality of life. And that feels pretty good."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Pam Derringer, News Writer. And check out Enterprise Linux Log.

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