9 questions to Nick Davis, Linux Honcho from IBM (part 1)

We have had the opportunity to do an e-terview with Nick Davis who IBM's Business Development guy for Open Source and Linux. Read more as we ask him ten questions about IBM's involvement in OSS and much more. The second part will be published tomorrow.

1. Who is Nick Davis?

I perform the role of Linux and Open Source Business Development here in the UK for IBM... There are two other Nick Davis who have an active role in IT as well (see http://linux.sys-con.com/read/32733.htm and http://www.nickdavis.com)

2. Can you give a brief overview of what Open Source means to IBM?

IBM has been involved in Open Source projects for over 7 years - and is now involved in over 150 Open Source projects. So we have a lot of experience. IBM’s involvement started when we first open sourced an IBM software research project on alphaWorks - and soon after that we formalized our involvement through the formation of the Linux Technology Center (now over 600 strong) as an organization for engineers and programmers involved in open source projects.

Apache was the first major Open Source project IBM became involved with as a contributor as well as a consumer of technology, and then came our widely known involvement in Linux.

In 2001, we donated the WebSphere Studio Workbench code to open source as the Eclipse IDE project, and since then we have contributed code, skills and resources to a wide variety of open source projects and software.

Recent initiatives include the Open AJAX initiative to accelerate toolkits for developing rich client graphical web applications, and our investments in the Apache Geronimo J2EE web application server project.

3. With IBM so focused on Open Source, why isn’t there any mention of it on IBM’s frontpage?

Although not explicitly mentioned on the ibm.com homepage the Linux/Open source message is only a click away. Go to any of the product (hardware and software) or services pages and you will see the whole range of Linux/Open source offerings that IBM is capable of supplying.

IBM doesn't have (nor will have) a Linux distribution of its own, instead we support Red Hat and SUSE Linux on a global basis and certify our hardware and software to these.

4. As the Open Source Business Development Guru at IBM UK, how do you view Open Source and Linux in the UK market?

Certain sectors (financial services, retail and telco) have been quick to embrace the Linux product offerings. Open Source offers both potential benefits and potential challenges to those customers which they have needed to consider both before making a decision to implement.

Here’s some of the major potential benefits customers in the UK reported of deploying open source:

1. The cost of acquiring the software has been low or even zero in some cases - but support is usually charged for. However, customers can normally decide whether to pay for support. Typically they would do this for mission critical deployments, but may not in the early evaluation or development phases.

2. The software is easy to get hold of - either downloading from the web, or often available as part of a Linux distribution. This frictionless access makes it easy for developers to try out the software for themselves, without need to get purchasing involved. It also encourages the rapid prototyping and “do-it-yourself” computing popularised by scripting languages and the LAMP stack.

3. Since the software is open source, it can often be obtained from multiple suppliers and often runs on multiple hardware architectures. Combined with the option of buying support – again often from multiple vendors – this all adds up to choice and flexibility for customers .

4. The peer review process of open source development has tended to produce high quality code and robust community support helps turn around bug fixes very quickly.

5. Finally, the community approach allows developers to focus on value add components and deliver real differentiating value to the business.

Many customers are reaping the rewards of Open Source and Linux and you can read many references stories in the IT and major media titles.

5. What are from your perspectives, the main barriers to entry for OS and L?

There’s a number of potential challenges that I have come across that also need to be considered by customers looking at open source software:

1. Is support available – to the quality and service level agreements demanded by mission-critical use? Can the support vendor be depended on?

2. Who integrates the various open source software components together – and integrates open source with the existing IT infrastructure software?

The customer? An integrating consultancy? A big IT vendor? Open source is a collection of communities – some of whom talk with each other and ensure integration, and some of whom don’t.

3. Are ISV applications available which build on the open source platform – and are they tested and supported to work on it?

4. How mature is the open source offering? Does it have the functionality and scalability of competitive commercial offerings? Is there broad community and industry support for this offering? And how are the developers of the open source offering going to make money – is there a sustainable business model behind it – and if not, how long is the offering going to last?

5. How do you choose which open software offering to use? Sometimes there may be too many choices. It may be too early to pick the winner.

6. Rapid prototyping and DIY computing can be very effective at developing applications fast, but how maintainable are those applications, and how robust are they when they start to be changed?