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HP considers open-source services

The company might sell services designed to ease customer participation in the open-source programming community.

Hewlett-Packard is considering selling services designed to ease customer participation in the open-source programming community, the company's new open-source boss said.

"Across HP, there are thousands of people who contribute to open source. We have a number of processes and tools we've developed to allow different folks in HP to interact with the open-source community that protects our intellectual property and is done in a community-friendly way," said Christine Martino, who became vice president of in November. "We needed to get some pretty crack procedures together. The team doing that has developed some interesting tools."

Christine Martino
Christine Martino,
HP VP, open source

It's those tools and procedures HP is considering offering, perhaps as a product and perhaps as a , Martino said. "We're exploring different business models for the tools we have," she said. "We've looked at (if we) should do it as a service."

HP isn't the first to see potential profits in providing an entree to the open-source realm, a programming environment that features different rules, personalities and consequences than what many companies are accustomed to. License provisions often prohibit proprietary software from being incorporated in open-source projects or vice versa, and contributing software to open-source projects can have patent and copyright repercussions for companies.

For example, and both sell software to scrub software to make sure proprietary and open-source software doesn't inappropriately intermingle. And is working with Lloyd's of London to provide insurance against open-source software risks.

But HP's possible services are a new direction for a major computing company. Most conventional open-source services today from companies such as IBM are geared for more such as selecting, installing, configuring and running computing equipment.

HP sees managed services, in which it runs computing operations for customers, as a big part of the company's effort to expand at the expense of rivals such as IBM and Dell.

Martino declined to say who is involved in the effort, but she did offer some details. "Companies in the financial services industry are interested in this," she said. "They have a desire to use open source and are open to contributing to open source and need have some control points around that."

New open-source exec
Martino quietly took over as the effective head of HP's open-source effort in November. She reports to Martin Fink, who's still officially in charge of the group but who spends most of his time dealing with duties he added in May .

"I think he thought there would be about six weeks getting his feet wet, then he could comfortably manage both. It didn't really work out that way," Martino said. "He wanted a vice president of open source and Linux."

Before her current job, Martino ran HP's business selling carrier-grade servers, often running Linux, to telecommunications companies. Such servers are typically variants of mainstream servers that include modifications such as direct-current power supplies and the ability to withstand greater environmental insults such as heat, cold, shocks and smoke.

There, she was involved in HP's effort to equip such servers with an HP-created variant of the version of Linux. Some companies, such as sell carrier-grade Linux, but HP fared better with its own product.

"We've been most successfully rolling our own," a product called Debian TE (telecommunications extensions), Martino said.

"We don't have our own (Linux) distribution," she hastened to add. "It's kind of a gap-filling strategy. We provide features and support...Everything we do submit back to open source."

In her job, Martino hopes to improve sales of blade servers using Linux. At IBM, Linux is used more often on blade servers than it is compared with the server market overall, but Windows is disproportionately popular on HP's blade servers, Martino said.

"That's an area we're focusing on. I think we're missing an opportunity to take more share there," she said. "There's more we can do with Linux on blades. I think things need to be done around channel enablement and positioning."

One area HP isn't pushing actively is Linux on desktop computers, Martino added. "It's something we're watching closely to see when and where the uptake is...I see that as much more an emerging area," she said. If it does take off, HP's personal systems group can "turn on a dime" to take advantage of it, she said.

JBoss partnership
HP also announced Tuesday it expanded its partnership with JBoss, which makes an open-source application server product of the same name for running Java software on servers.

In 2004, HP began a reseller agreement to sell JBoss' core software. At the time, it also began a similar partnership with the open-source MySQL database software, the Sendmail e-mail server software, and Symas' OpenLDAP directory server software.

Now HP expanded the JBoss deal so it also includes a fuller suite of JBoss software, the JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite (JEMS). The partnership extends both to Linux and HP's version of Unix, called HP-UX.

HP also sells consulting services relating to the software to help customers design and install JEMS systems and migrate to them from other technology, HP said. The JEMS services are expected to be available in late February.

Novell includes JBoss software in its Suse Linux Enterprise Server product, but the top seller of Linux, Red Hat, has chosen a different application server product, called Jonas, overseen by a consortium called .

HP has a "strong partnership with Red Hat," Martino said, adding, "We will explore how to do things higher up the stack with them" as Red Hat seeks to sell higher-level software in addition to the core operating system product, Martino said. For example, regarding Red Hat's directory server software, she said, "They're interested in us doing more."

However, Red Hat's priorities don't always align with HP's, as in the case of ObjectWeb's Jonas application server. "I haven't heard a lot of demand for that at all," Martino said. "JBoss is the name we hear most frequently."