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Open source applications...magnets for open source infrastructure

Open-source applications will drive a hefty load of infrastructure purchases in the future. And proprietary vendors who hide their heads in the sand will find themselves falling behind.

Ian Howells, Alfresco's chief marketing officer, did some analysis of the company's customer and user community, and I found the results interesting. I've been hearing rumblings for some time that Windows increasingly serves as a great evaluation platform for open source, but most companies use Linux when they're serious and want to go into production. Ian's data confirmed this, and more. (Zmanda has published data that corroborates our findings.)

First of all, the Alfresco data shows that Windows is plays a healthy role in the open source ecosystem. (In the graph, Windows = green, and Linux = blue, in case you can't see it well.) We have plenty of companies going into production with open-source Alfresco sitting on top of closed-source Windows. From my work with SugarCRM, JasperSoft and others, I know the same holds true for them. I don't suspect that this is going to change anytime soon.

Windows plays a large role because it's the OS sitting on the most desktops. But when customers are serious about production, the majority favor Linux. Again, I think you'd find very similar results were you to talk with MuleSource, Funambol, SugarCRM, etc.

Second, the data shows an interesting skew toward Red Hat and Ubuntu. (In fact, and not represented here, in the months since Microsoft and Novell consummated their deal, Suse's deployments with Alfresco have been flat, while Red Hat's have doubled. It may just be an Alfresco thing, but I suspect not. I think the reason has much to do with point No. 3 below.)

Regardless, look at all that Ubuntu usage. Fascinating. Here's a new kid on the Linux block that has clearly struck a chord. (Granted, these Ubuntu numbers are for evaluation, not production. In production, the vast majority of our customers use RHEL.)

Third, if you look at the application servers, portals and databases that are being used with an open-source application like Alfresco, you see a surprising affinity for other open-source infrastructure/applications. In databases, MySQL (blue) and Postgres (brown) dwarf all but Oracle (red) in deployments. For application servers, Tomcat (blue) and JBoss (red) consume most deployments, while JBoss Portal and Liferay Portal (not shown) account for 83 percent of portals used with Alfresco (when a portal is used). This would be easily explained away if one could credibly dismiss these users.

But Alfresco's customers significantly skew toward the Global 2000 plus leading government and nonprofit organizations: H&R Block, MIT, Boise Cascade, Activision, Kaplan, European Commission, Raley's, NASA, Electronic Arts, US Federal Aviation Administration, several of the world's top financial services companies, etc.

It's possible that these organizations represent the lunatic fringe of the software-using world but, in fact, many of these would generally be considered late adopters or mainstream adopters.

I believe we're seeing a shift to a new enterprise IT platform that is based on MySQL, JBoss, and Linux (Red Hat and Ubuntu, principally). Part of this is simply a matter of price: why run cost-effective Alfresco or SugarCRM with a pricey database? Part of it has to do with philosophical alignment: if you're going open source with your application, why not have the entire stack open?

But part of it is simply pragmatic: open-source application companies are more likely to provide their software with other software that is as readily available as their own. If proprietary companies made it as easy to distribute and integrate their software as open-source companies do, I suspect we'd see more of it in evaluation and production with open-source applications. Until then, these vendors are ceding a growing market to their open-source peers.

Open-source applications will drive a hefty load of infrastructure purchases in the future. Proprietary vendors who hide their heads in the sand and try to avoid this trend or make it difficult for would-be open-source partners to work with them will find themselves falling behind.

UPDATED: Some interesting commentary on the data has cropped up on the web:

  • Matthew Aslett highlights the trend of taking the Windows training wheels off to go live with Linux. He asks about Ubuntu: today, all of that is evaluation, and none of it paid use (to the best of my knowledge). But I think that will change over time....

  • eWeek points out that the Novell-Microsoft deal isn't doing SUSE any favors. Quite the opposite.

  • Glyn Moody notes that the UK is lagging, whatever Misys' recent decision may suggest to the contrary. Normally, technology that starts in the US heads to the UK next, for linguistic reasons, and then on to Germany. But in Alfresco's case, the UK is getting leapfrogged straight into France, Italy, and Spain.