Professional SupportBy David Strom Print
Open-source software offers a number of advantages, including cost savings and the availability of a professional support organization.
One big advantage of OSS is having a professional support organization behind the project. Many OSS projects are managed by vendors that provide support and discussion forums and keep up-to-date code versions on their Websites. An example is the VMware-managed OSS SpringSource project, which provides Web-based centralized and automated object management.
NPC International, the largest franchisee of Pizza Hut restaurants, began migrating to OSS several years ago when it converted its system from dBase to PostgreSQL. Last year, the company moved from a pure JBoss implementation for the back office applications—such as workflow, payroll and expense reporting—to SpringSource’s tcServer.
“We were running JBoss for quite awhile and didn’t like how it scaled,” says Jon Brisbin, a Webmaster for the Overland Park, Kan.-based company. “We wanted something more lightweight and easier to configure, since we were going to be running multiple instances across our virtual server infrastructure.
“We found tcServer a much cleaner environment that’s easier to understand because of how it’s constructed. It also gives me peace of mind knowing that VMware is behind the project. What’s more, the VMware staff people are very visible on the support forums.”
This hybrid model of having a large community of contributors along with the freedom to choose whether or not to purchase a support contract is what many OSS users find attractive. This lets IT managers balance their staff time with the costs of a support contract, some of which can be fairly pricey. But it still may be worth it to purchase a support contract, especially for the first couple of years and for particular products that are mission-critical or complex.
That’s what the City of Ventura does with a wide range of OSS products. “We use a significant amount of open source here,” says IT Manager Emerson, “including Linux, Nagios, Open Office, project.net, MySQL, Apache, Zimbra and Alfresco.”
Sometimes, OSS can tie an enterprise IT staff closer to the software’s own development engineers. Take Brandon Jackson, director of finance and analytics for Stonegate Senior Living in Lewisville, Texas, which runs a number of nursing homes and assisted living residential facilities in the Midwest. The organization uses a variety of OSS, and Jackson’s main focus is the Pentaho OSS business intelligence project.
“We purchased a support contract because business intelligence projects are custom by nature, advanced features are not easy to use, and we knew there were a lot of places where we could get stuck,” he says. “But I have experienced more personal and better support with Pentaho than I would have with some commercial packages.
“I do have to be patient, though—sometimes waiting for 24 to 48 hours to get my problems resolved by using support tickets. The relationship-building with Pentaho is preferable to paid support from a call center, where the worker, although competent, is completely unfamiliar with our setup.”
A lot depends on the size of the user community and how active members are in posting answers on support forums. “There’s a distinction between OSS and community-supported products that have multiple sources, authors, contributors and organizations supporting them,” says Bob Matsuoka, a princi-pal of MokaMedia Partners, an OSS consultancy in New York.
“There must be at least a thousand developers who have contributed to Wordpress and its plug-ins, with revisions going out constantly. Other projects are much smaller—more like a person’s hobby. With some of the larger community-supported products, such as the Web content-management system Drupal, you get so much more information.”
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