Open-source group: 'Talk among yourselves' and learn

Open-source software is everywhere, but how does a large company -- from its executive team down to its IT staff -- figure out what applications are right for its users while not endangering its core business?

At least one group, the Business Readiness Rating (BRR) program, says that the best way to do that is with a little social networking help from your friends, colleagues and even your competitors.

Created last August, the BRR Monday announced its latest move -- an effort to invite IT people from about 40 select large companies to participate in what is essentially a high-tech coffee klatch where open-source experiences and expertise can be shared. The goal is to help corporate users gain confidence and credibility with non-proprietary software in their operations.

The new "corporate use" branch of the BRR project was announced at the Linux/Open-Source on Wall Street Show and Conference in the Roosevelt Hotel here with plans to create a targeted online community and periodic get-togethers where open-source applications can be discussed.

The idea, said Murugan Pal, co-founder of the BRR and founder and chief technology officer of open-source infrastructure vendor SpikeSource, is that by talking with peers at other companies, IT people can gain critical information that they could not easily find on even the best open-source products among the more than 100,000 open-source projects that are available.

"Here you are using open-source as an enabler to solve your business problems," he said.

Since the participants will be an invited group, the discussions that take place inside the BRR community can remain closed for security and confidentiality while still allowing participants to get the feedback that they need on open-source projects they are considering for deployment, Pal said. "The goal of the community is that the information will not go out," he said. "There is enough work that can be leveraged out of this community" without harming participating companies.

There are already code collaboration initiatives that are working well for developers in the open-source community, Pal said. "This is information collaboration for enterprises," he said.

One of the ideas behind the BRR's ratings is that corporate users can consult the reviews for information from peers, rather than having to ask vendors, he said. Another key is to give corporate IT people some comfort in selecting open-source applications for their businesses, he said.

"We have been talking with CIOs for almost four years," Pal said. "They've been saying that they don't have places to get information on open-source. It's not about competition in this case. It's about leveraging a common knowledge."

Other targeted offshoot review groups could be created as needed, he said, since the software needs of the financial industry differ from the needs of telecommunications companies, manufacturing companies and others.

"You're looking for that level of information that you can use to make a valid business decision," said George Pace, a systems architect at Prudential Financial, a division of The Prudential Insurance Company of America. "It's like having a customer-reference account for open-source." Pace is on the BRR steering committee.

The ultimate goal of BRR is to give companies a trusted, unbiased source for determining whether the open-source software they are considering is mature enough to adopt, according to the group. It will help adopters assess which open-source software is best suited to their needs and enable them to share findings with the community. It promotes use and adoption of open-source software and may assist developers in creating and delivering software geared to enterprise use.

The BRR program, which is being proposed as a new standard model for rating open-source software by enterprise adopters and developers, is a community initiative sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon West Center for Open Source Investigation, O'Reilly Code Zoo, SpikeSource and Intel, which is a prime financial contributor to the project.

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