Open source in Singapore

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) Technology Group has positioned Linux as a medium term technology bet, which means one to three years to mass adoption.

An alliance dedicated to accelerating the growth and adoption of commercially supported open source systems in Singapore, the Singapore Open Source Alliance (SOSA), has also been formed. SOSA is a consortium of leading global and local IT vendors, with founding members like Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat, Resolvo Systems and Sun Microsystems.

The line-up indicates that the global IT industry — with one notable exception — acknowledges that commercially supported open source systems are ready for enterprise adoption and are able to coexist with many proprietary systems in the market today.

The preliminary work plans of SOSA include maintaining an updated list of locally supported open source software and a hardware compatibility matrix, inviting CIOs for regular discussions to provide industry feedback on macro policies, and to highlight applications of open source systems.

“The alliance can help to reach out to educate the users as it is not from a single company but collectively from a group of leading IT vendors,” said John Phipps, Government Programs executive, IBM Corp.

Yeo Siang Tiong, strategic business development manager of Hewlett-Packard Co., agreed. He described the formation of SOSA as a “definitive step” forward for open source deployment in Singapore.

Across the globe, the pace of open source adoption has been picking up. Open source tools such as Linux and the Apache Web Server are already being considered the old guard, used in various ways in most enterprise data centres. Today, momentum is building around infrastructure applications such as the JBoss application server, databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL, and security tools such as OpenSSL and Snort.

Content management and collaboration tools are also getting a second look. CRM and ERP are emerging as open source alternatives, as is code for IP PBXs and other network gear.

Analysts say a growing number of enterprise users are turning to maturing open source tools. Gartner predicts that by 2008 open source software will compete with proprietary products in all software markets. By 2010, the Global 2000 will consider open source for 80 per cent of their infrastructure investments and for a quarter of their business software needs.

The appeal of innovative, broadly tested, community-supported, low-cost software that provides the added incentive of sidestepping vendor lock-in is enticing more companies to take a look at what’s available beyond Linux.

“The barriers are falling away,” says Mark Driver, a vice president and research analyst at Gartner Inc. “Companies who would not have considered open source software in the past because they were worried about nightmare scenarios, now are saying, ‘If we were successful with Linux, maybe we can be successful with databases, with content management.’”

At the same time, analysts stress that users have to keep their eyes open, making sure support is available, the software has been tested and certified and the long-term plans of the project are sound. In addition, while the software is inexpensive, users have to assess costs associated with service and support, training and overcoming hurdles in integrating the tools with legacy infrastructure. In Singapore, obstacles to the adoption of open source are being addressed on several fronts.

“The adoption of open source software relies on software vendors, either to provide open source versions of their products under the General Public Licence that can run on any operating system (OS); or to provide commercial versions of their software that can run on Linux,” said Rick Sewell, business manager, Open Source & Linux Organisation, HP Asia Pacific and Japan.

Sewell sees the emergence of independent software vendors (ISVs) developing commercial applications that run on Linux and utilizing open source components such as Apache Web Server or MySQL relational database, and these will bring about customer cost savings because of the lower costs of the Linux OS running on open technology.

Moves are also being made to help ISVs port existing applications over to open source platforms like Linux. Oracle’s Leap (Linux Enterprise Applications Porting) centre, for example, provides porting, tuning and testing services, partner solutions certification and training. Based in Singapore, it is the first Oracle-Red Hat-HP Linux solution centre in the world and serves independent software vendors and systems integrators across South Asia.

Also addressing the issue of training is Novell, which recently introduced Linux training programs in academic institutions here.

“Now that Linux is running more mission-critical applications, Novell recognizes the need to develop an IT workforce with a solid foundation of Linux skills. As a result, we have broadened our training services to incorporate Linux into our Novell Academic Training Partner program to provide a much-needed supply of Linux-certified IT professionals,” said Paul Kangro, solutions manager, Asia Pacific, Novell.

With Singapore Polytechnic being the first academic institution in Singapore to offer comprehensive Linux training taught by Novell-certified instructors, more open source professionals can be expected in the near future. The first batch of Linux-trained students from the Novell program is expected to graduate in 2006.

With alliances, collaborations and structures are in place to kick start the adoption of open source systems in Singapore; the missing factor in the equation is the users. While open source software offers the potential of lower costs, it will only be successful if the applications solve real business problems, said Sewell.

At the recent LinuxWorld in Singapore, the Ministry of Defence, National Library Board and Schenker stepped forward to discuss open source implementations within their organizations.

“We moved from an entirely proprietary environment to a best of breed combination of open source and proprietary software on commodity hardware,” said Wolfgang Herrmann, chief information officer, Schenker Asia Pacific. This resulted in faster response time and quicker turnaround time for Schenker’s supply chain customers. “By eliminating dependency on proprietary hardware, it resulted in cost savings,” he added.

“The value proposition of open source is not about cost but on the hardware and application independence,” said Steve McWhirter, vice president, Asia Pacific, Red Hat Inc.

Analysts and users alike recommend that organizations create an internal open source advisory group before jumping into mission-critical open source projects.

More can also be done by the vendor community. “The industry players have to create more activities to educate and communicate business value to the commercial market space,” said Yap Boon Leong, director, business development, Resolvo Systems Pte Ltd.

In his view, it is also best to start adoption of open source technologies in schools. It is always easier to expose people early to the values and merits of open source software so that the perceived fear of using them can be mitigated, he said.

Hemant Shah, executive, Strategic Growth Business & Linux, IBM Asean, suggested that tertiary institutions of education, and perhaps junior colleges, begin open source projects within the student community.

A virtual academic network, supported by the open source community, can help nurture open source projects and familiarize students with the ways of an open source community, he said.

“As open source is a ‘community of interested programmers’, it is good to provide encouragement to programmers to hone their skills and seek approbation in the open source community at large,” said Shah of IBM. This, in turn, will lead to increased economic activity on the open source front. Community-driven support and innovation will make the open source movement an industry-changing force in the years ahead, analysts say.

“We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what community development can bring to the table,” says Michael Goulde, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

In turn, commercial vendors will be pressured to rise to higher standards and play by new rules. Gartner’s Driver stressed that the open source movement will not destroy industry giants such as IBM and Microsoft. “It will place increased pressure on traditional vendors to more aggressively innovate, improve quality and drive higher value in their own products as they endeavor to counter this growing competitive threat,” he wrote.

Equally important in the open source effort is to gain visible support and affirmation that the government considers open source a viable and necessary presence in the IT economy, said Shah.

Yap agreed. “The government also has to play a role by keeping an open mind to exploring such technology and the key benefits that comes with it,” he said.

– Additional reporting by Jennifer Mears and Ann Bednarz

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