NEW YORK—What happens when you mix Web services, service-oriented architecture and open source?
Responding to that question was the task of a panel of heavy hitters at the Web Services/SOA on Wall Street conference on Feb. 27.
Hiram Chirino, co-founder and director of architecture at LogicBlaze Inc., of Marina del Ray, Calif., said the convergence of Web services, SOA and open source is exactly what his company is all about.
In fact, LogicBlaze is in the process of building out a new suite offering of SOA infrastructure software that the company will deliver within a couple of months.
"We're going to move out a stack of our software and recommend that customers use that" for SOA deployments, Chirino said.
And noting the IT expression of having "one throat to choke" over responsibility systems, he said: "We'll have one throat to choke, and it will all be based on Apache-licensed software."
Meanwhile, "I think the jury's still out," said Frank Martinez, chief executive and chief technology officer at Blue Titan Software Inc., of San Francisco, Calif.
"The good news is this is forcing commercial software companies to analyze their business models… That's nothing but goodness for consumers."
Hub Vandervoort, chief technology officer at Sonic Software Corp., Bedford, Mass., agreed that the "jury is still out… I've seen evidence that could support open-source models to be more expensive."
Indeed, Vandervoort said he believes that "when you buy a software license you are paying for past innovation; when you buy open source, you're investing in future innovation."
Moreover, Vandervoort said, "SOA as a concept will challenge the whole concept of one throat to choke. SOA means federation and is built from federated components that are boundless."
Han Zaunere, president of New York PHP, an organization for the Apache, MySQL and PHP community in New York, said, "The idea of having one throat to choke is a long-standing one. There's always going to be a company out there that IT folks depend on. It's whether that company is closed or open that's the critical difference."
Yet, Vandervoort asks a question many organizations continue to ask themselves.
"Are you prepared to bet your business entirely on open source?" he asked.
"It depends on where," he said. "In less mission-critical areas that have been commoditized, yes," Vandervoort said.
"But if it's for innovation you need today, you'll probably reach for a vendor. For future innovation, you might rely on an open-source offering."
Blue Titan's Martinez said customers should take note of who works on the open-source components they use.
"When you look at open-source prospects, who's actually going to work on them?" he asked. "Are these people considered innovators? If they are, then use them."
Martinez said companies like SpikeSource Inc. and SourceLabs Inc. act like an "Underwriters Laboratory for open source."
However, "I wouldn't look for any of these companies to provide everything end-to-end."
Miko Matsumura, vice president of marketing and vice president of technology standards at Infravio Inc., Cupertino, Calif., said Infravio has open-sourced its software broker or intermediary as part of the Apache Synapse open-source Web service mediation framework.
"We're using open source as a traditional software company, and that is driving business our way," Matsumura said.
However, the panel seemed to split along the lines of companies that primarily license software versus those that focus on or dabble in open source.
Discussing whether brilliant young developers with new ideas would funnel them into open-source projects or try to turn them into commercial entities, Vandervoort said he believes more people would opt for the commercial world.
"Like Tim Berners-Lee?" asked Steve Ross-Talbot, CTO of Hattrick Software and chair of the Worldwide Web Consortium, who was in the audience.
"I don't think in the world of entrepreneurs and capitalists that will be a model we'll see a lot of," Vandervoort said.
"In the long run, as far as looking at what you get, I think open source is more valuable," said Zaunere.
"If I download [licensed] software and in two years it's obsolete, I have no return on that. When you buy open-source support, the software is secondary."
Chirino said he believes open-source software allows users to scale their systems more easily and cheaply because they can simply add more servers without having to worry about licensing costs.
"There's a lot of variety in how you implement Web services using open-source software," Chirino said.
"You don't have to develop the middleware to do a lot of the hard work. I think open source continues to evolve and get better and better. Open source is going to continue to commoditize the lower level base."
Meanwhile, regarding open-source components for SOA, Martinez asked, "What elements are well-served? Very few are well catered for in an enterprise context. What are the SLAs [service level agreements]? What are the guarantees? Who do you call? Fortunately, some vendors are stepping forward to do this and some are offering hybrid models."
Matsumura said the BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) engine is an open-source component people use a lot.
Matsumura also mentioned the Drools open source business rules engine, the Eclipse SOA Tools Project and the Eclipse Web Tools Project as "a pretty robust set of infrastructure" for developers to tap to build SOAs.
Zaunere said his interest in open source "is really about transparency. If something doesn't work the way you need it to work, the ability to go in [and access the source code] is what drives open source."
Indeed, a lot of the components in Web services stacks are open source, such as the Web server, application server and languages such as Python, PHP and Perl, he said.
"The perspective we see is more about transparency and control," Matsumura said.
"An open-source implementation, if standard, can replace a commercial implementation. You get transparency by being able to see the source."