Stretch your IT dollar

Today's tough economy is requiring CIOs, CTOs, and other IT managers to rethink their spending habits. As shrinking budgets force these executives to buy smarter and repurpose whenever possible, financial constraints are also fuelling a resurgence of interest in open-source alternatives.

Many companies that previously lacked the luxury of tinkering with non-mainstream architectures and technologies are now finding they can no longer afford not to. Fortunately, the need for more affordable solutions has coincided nicely with a growing maturation in the open-source market. And although few can argue with the financial advantages of open source, doubts remain as to how closely aligned most open-source solutions are with enterprise business strategies.

In assessing the overall value of any solution, both the functionality of the software and the ease of administration must be taken into account. Open-source solutions often rate high enough on the functionality scale, but they typically fall short in administration efficiency and support.

Consequently, the number of open-source projects and tools truly worthy of consideration for enterprise deployment is limited. One area that has gained enough developer momentum to meet enterprise standards of useability and manageability is application-server middleware. Here, contributions and advances are due primarily to the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) platform and the ability of the open-source development community to capitalise on J2EE's middleware strengths.

Even in the case of J2EE, developing a game plan for integrating open-source solutions must be carefully considered. Your decision must weigh important factors such as certification (J2EE, for example), licensing restrictions on code adaptation, and the momentum of the development group (or the financial viability of the commercial distributor, as is the case for most successful open-source projects).

Even with these considerations in mind, you should not take on an open-source solution for the purposes of most larger projects, such as EAI (enterprise application integration) -- at least, not yet. But if your company has leveragable IT talent and the fortitude to forgo amenities such as a proven track record and enterprise-level support, the cost savings will certainly help stretch the boundaries of your budget.

If you'd like to become more familiar with open-source application server projects, I would recommend Apache Software Foundation and the Tomcat servlet engine (www.apache.org), the Lutris Technologies Inc. J2EE server (www.lutris.com), and the JOnAS EJB (Enterprise Java Beans) server (www.evidian.com) as good starting points.

Is your company currently considering an open-source project for enterprise use? Write to david_beynon@idg.com.au

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