Repositories like SourceForge.net host these applications and support them with a community of users. But this approach is geared toward developers, and navigating the forums can be intimidating. For IT managers, picking and choosing which application will work best in the data center can be a daunting task, to say the least.
As open source projects like Linux begin to drive into the mission-critical operations of the data center, several tools have emerged that rank an application's maturity so IT pros don't have to.
Open source Avon calling
One resource comes from Boston-based consultancy firm Optaros Inc., whose employee base derives heavily from Cambridge Technology Partners (now owned by Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc.).
In 2006, the firm undertook an initiative to catalog enterprise-ready open source applications and list them in a tome targeted at IT managers, not developers. In the spirit of open source, the catalog is available for free at the Optaros Web site.
The catalog, called the Open Source Catalogue 2007, recently dropped after a year of customer interviews, case studies and culling of Optaros' employee knowledge base.
Bruno von Rotz, vice president for research and strategy, was the catalog's principal author. Throughout 2006, von Rotz and his staff identified 262 leading open source projects and graded them on functionality, community backing and project maturity using input from customers who had deployed the applications in enterprise environments.
Each entry was graded using a score of 1 to 4 on community strength, enterprise readiness and functionality. Entries were also shown to be trending up, down or holding steady in terms of popularity.
Noteworthy entries, which scored high on the list, include commercial Linux distributions, SUSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux; as well as Hyperic HQ, a Java-based systems management application.
"At the end of the day, the selection and evaluation will always be somewhat subjective, even when the analysis and the decisions were made as objectively as possible," von Rotz wrote in the catalog's introduction. "We are convinced that it is the experience and the implementation knowledge of our consultants and the pragmatic approach in compiling the data that will make the catalog a useful tool when thinking about alternatives to existing technologies or starting a new implementation project."
For von Rotz, there was no catalyst that spurred writing the catalog. He said many mainstream applications used in the enterprise saw their start as open source projects. The catalog is meant to identify tomorrow's Red Hat Enterprise Linux and let the IT manager know about it today.
The ratings game
Every project listed in the catalog, from Linux to Samba to WINE, was graded on community support, licensing and maturity. However, von Bruno said the catalog is not intended to replace detailed evaluations or proofs of concept, but simply to provide help in making a first selection.
A more detailed look at enterprise-ready open source is arguably the Business Readiness Rating (BRR), a standard model for rating open source software that is sponsored by Carnegie Mellon West Center for Open Source Investigation, O'Reilly CodeZoo, SpikeSource and Intel. This system, founded in 2005 and finalized in mid-2006, allows users to rate open source applications using a series of seven weighted categories including functionality, reliability, scalability, architecture and code quantity, support and services, licensing, project management, documentation and community.
BRR founding member Michael Goulde said every developer and adopter of open source software will approach each project or product differently -- as it suits the needs of their business. This is why each of the seven broad categories can be individually weighted by the user on a scale from one to 100.
Going forward, maintaining a static catalog could prove difficult as Ajax and wikis take over the Net, so von Rotz said he has plans to transform the guide – a .pdf document – into something more malleable.
There are tentative plans to make the guide into a wiki and grant editing access to users, à la Wikipedia. "This is not easily done, and we'd need some kind of filtering method," von Rotz said. "We're considering some kind of collaborative rating method, but it will take some time to achieve that."