Open source apps stack risk user lock-in, experts contend

Vendors are scrambling to offer open source application stacks as an alternative to integrated sets of proprietary applications that have long locked users into the technology of a single supplier.

Some vendors and analysts, however, are quick to criticize the emerging stacks, arguing they could lock in users the same way integrated stacks of one vendor’s applications have in the past. “Stacks are rigid and deterministic,” said Winston Damarillo, CEO of Simula Labs Inc., an open source software provider in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Simula Labs last month announced its Community-oriented Real-Time Network (Core), which the company described as a flexible framework for building, running and managing open-source software. Simula Labs also announced that open source software providers Covalent Technologies Inc., LogicBlaze Inc., Megere Inc., WebTide and Chariot Solutions have agreed to support Core.

The Core offering allows users to customize open source stacks, offering more flexibility than the pre-certified stacks, Damarillo said.

Davis Tharayil, CIO at Home Insurance Co. in New York, is in the process of testing another alternative to a pre-certified open source application stack: a custom server appliance from Raleigh, N.C.-based rPath Inc. that’s designed to integrate Ingres Corp.’s open source database with a stripped-down version of Linux.

Home Insurance was looking for a lower-cost alternative to Oracle databases running on Solaris-based servers.

Tharayil said that the insurer did not consider emerging pre-certified open source application stacks in its search for a plug-and-play product. “A full stack just wasn’t necessary,” Tharayil said. “I’ve been in the business for 35 years. Every time something new comes along, they say it’s a silver bullet. I still haven’t found one.”

Dennis Callaghan, an analyst at The 451 Group in New York, said the rPath model is impressive, though he noted that the company has “a pretty small niche and customer base at this point.”

James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk, a Denver-based consulting firm, said the tidiness of open-source stacks will likely continue to appeal to some customers despite their rigidity. He suggested that the true standards-based component modularity promised by service-oriented architectures will likely make the current stacks less relevant.

Application stacks have a long history among mostly large vendors of proprietary software, such as Microsoft Corp., IBM and Oracle Corp. Such vendors contend that their integrated software products can boost interoperability and cut costs, though suppliers of best-of-breed software often note that such products also lead to vendor lock-in.

To date, the task of integrating open source software is mostly the responsibility of corporate users or their highly paid consultants. Such projects could easily wipe out the savings from using free software.


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