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\'Open source, more than Linux, the real winner for business\'

By   |  April 1, 2005

CSC, formerly Computer Sciences Corporation, late last year released a report based on 18 months of research into open source software. Gavin Dudley spoke to Bill Koff while he was in South Africa about the report.

CSC, formerly Computer Sciences Corporation, is a fortune 500 company supplying high level IT services to companies and government agencies in 76 locations on 6 continents . The organisation employs nearly 80 000 people and reported revenues of US$13.9 billion last year. In November CSC Leading Edge Forum completed 18 months of research into OSS. The report Open Source: Open for Business (7.8 MB) explores the usage and potential of open source both within the company and amongst its heavyweight client base.

What prompted you to do a report on open source technology?
We wanted to understand what the market, the analysts and vendors were saying, and what we and our clients were thinking and doing about OSS in the enterprise. For our research we have the advantage of reaching 90 000 people, our staff, customers and partners, to collect data.

There was some internal resistance over this topic at the time, 18 months ago. They believed that OSS was on the weird fringe and questioned the relevance for our clients. But our findings proved that OSS is widely in use both within our own organisation and amongst our customers.

What did you find? Can you give us some highlights from your report?
First we were surprised by how much CSC was involved with OSS, and because we are an outsource company, this was then a reflection of what our clients were doing with OSS. It turned out that OSS was being used very broadly, and that we were managing it for our customers, but that no-one was actually conscious of it being there. For example, web servers were using Apache and programmers were using material from Sourceforge.

Then we explored whether OSS could perform in a mission critical environment. You might consider Google to be a mission critical environment, but we do a lot of work in the aerospace and defence industry, and here entire engineering design environments are looking to move to using 99 percent OSS. This has a lot to do with their heritage in Unix and the fact that many of their core applications have already been ported to Linux.

Thirdly we felt that too much emphasis was placed on Linux, but that the true leverage for OSS in the enterprise would come from some key applications.

The JBOSS integration platform is extremely robust and is already used by many of our customers. Likewise the MySQL database is 80-90 percent as good as Oracle or DB2 and can give the major vendors a run for their money, and significantly reduce licensing costs in the enterprise. OpenOffice does 80 percent of what the proprietary suites can do. The vast majority of users don\’t use most of the other features because they only use these applications to perform routine tasks.

So OSS is the big leverage in the enterprise, but not necessarily Linux.

Each of these issues is covered in great detail in our report.

How do South African companies compare with your multinationsl customers?
Large companies in South Africa are no different in terms of OSS usage to anywhere else in the world.

Although, I was watching TV last night and was pleasantly surprised by a vibrant TV program about OSS. That Shuttleworth guy, I think.

For me to randomly see something like that in South Africa to me means that things are bubbling here.

Software security must be a huge issue for your high profile customers. Does Linux not have some advantages here?
We have 2500 employees worldwide who work only in security so, yes, it is a big issue for us.

We found that OSS generally was no more, and no less secure than any other enterprise software out there. So we would expect to expend the same amount of effort maintaining these systems as any of the other vendors.

Only Linux evangelists say Linux is more secure. (laughs)

We see two reasons why OSS may appear more secure. Obviously OSS has a smaller market share and so present a smaller target. But I also believe there is an honour code amongst hackers, and from a social values perspective there is more desire to attack proprietary corporate systems, such as Sun and IBM.

If hackers chose to target Linux I have no doubt they would do as well as they have done against the others. We believe Linux is no more or less secure than, for example, the Windows environment.

So what advantages are there for CSC or its customers in using FOSS?
We found that OSS was a realistic and viable option in many areas of the enterprise, and we have recommended to companies that they should think about investing in OSS as much as they consider any proprietary platforms, such as IBM, HP or Microsoft.

We think the OSS stack is equal in most respects, and a viable alternative.

Your report delves into the legal technicalities of the SCO litigation. Could your high-level customers be exposed to legal risks by using OSS?
Because of the enormous media fuss about the SCO debacle we thought we must address this in our report.

Basically Linux distributors, be it IBM or Redhat themselves, have fully indemnified all their customers from any legal action by SCO.

Even then, we believe the absolute worst case legal scenario, for ourselves and out clients, would be per-seat licensing costs, which would then be paid by the distributors themselves.

So this becomes a non-issue.

What is a much bigger issue, however, are corporates who are re-distributing OSS products to their subsidiaries or member companies.

Sometimes companies are not aware of what their organisation is doing with OSS. Programmers are grabbing code from SourceForge to build in-house software. For example, financial institutions will then distribute these products to their member banks. And now licensing issue suddenly come in.

What are you do to relax? What music do you listen to?
I like ancient history, anything between 3000BC to 1000AD, and I swim 2 miles a day.

I have lost touch with the music scene although I once played the electric bassoon in college, and our band released some independent stuff.

And what are you reading?
(laughs) Well, for starters I have to read all the IT industry media, around 30 magazines, maybe. I travel a lot, so I take a pile of them on the plane and toss them out as I go along!

(points to Tectonic mag) We spoke about all these topics today, but what is this Ubuntu business? I don\’t know what this is.

Perhaps you can read it on the plane?
I’ll definitely do that.


One Response to “\'Open source, more than Linux, the real winner for business\'”

  1. Shaun Dewberry
    April 1st, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    This is a good article, but I can\’t seem to find who is being interviewed in the story. I need to know who is being interviewed to lend some credibility to the words. Or is this not a real interview but some sort of fake out based on another story?

    Bill Koff, of CSC. I negelected to mention that 😉 ButI have added it in now.

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