Change is good for BZ Results

Fast-moving technology that works is what BZ Results wants in its IT tools. That's why CTO Rob Lackey's policy is to make sure there is at least one open source bid for each project. "Commercial software can't compete with the open source development effort," Lackey says. He cites the frequent, fast security updates available for Apache servers as an example of how the open source community delivers faster than traditional providers.

Although many commercial application vendors and service providers offer low-cost options, Lackey doesn't trust them. He compares the operational stability and reliability of the open source MySQL database and SugarCRM application to the problems he had using an earlier, proprietary CRM server, which went through seven updates before it functioned correctly.

Likewise, he's dubious about the reliability of SaaS (software as a service), a misgiving he feels the multiday outages that experienced earlier this year confirmed.

BZ delivers online marketing workflow management platforms for auto dealerships to help them serve customers via the Web. As such, Lackey says it's critical for his company to have a strong technology platform. "We have service-level agreements that we must maintain," he explains.

Lackey hastens to add that not every open source technology will meet enterprise requirements. For example, BZ did not use the open source Asterisk telephony system because it couldn't provide the needed uptime guarantees.

Also, although open source advocates often cite community involvement in open source projects as their primary advantage over commercial software, Lackey takes care to evaluate each project on an individual basis. He advises companies to monitor the communities behind open source technologies in order to make sure they're vibrant before relying on them. "Make sure you have a full understanding of the community participation in the project," he says, adding that an active, well-managed community is essential to open source's success.

That's one reason BZ dropped the Apache Tomcat Java servlet engine in favor of Resin. "The Tomcat community wasn't as strong as we needed, and it was slow to release upgrades and maintenance releases," Lackey says.

The active involvement of the SugarCRM development community has proven a real advantage. "There's a strong QA subset to that community -- that level of transparency is telling," Lackey says.

And using open source tools not only provided BZ with a stable platform, but also allowed it to adapt that platform to its strategy.

"When your tool is open source, the only limitation is your development staff," Lackey says. For example, a key advantage of SugarCRM was the portability of its data set. "We need to share with other tools. We're not restricted to whether the Salesforce API is up or down, and we don't have to worry about what platform we have, as we would for Microsoft SQL."

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