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Software Appliances: Delivering Open Source

Appliances. The very word is emblematic of stability and strength. Think of the appliances in your kitchen. Unless you’re particularly unlucky, 99.9% of the time your refrigerator, stove and dishwasher just work. You don’t have to give it a second thought.

When we talk about software appliances, we’re talking about a similar stability. A software appliance is a software application combined with just enough operating system to run well on a server or a virtual machine. Like your kitchen appliances, software appliances, require a minimal attention to things like installation configuration or maintenance.

Linux-based software appliances have been proving to be especially dependable, but with an integrated software appliance, the operating system doesn’t really matter. It’s about the end solution that is being delivered.

By using Linux and other open source components we can integrate the components together without the issue of license contention, and deliver a very cost-effective solution to the marketplace.

For example, at Ingres we offer the Icebreaker BI Appliance; it includes a database appliance running on Linux and business intelligence tools from JasperSoft, another commercial open source company.

An appliance is more than a bundle of different programs; it’s a tightly woven software stack that comes with one license, one contract, one number to call for support.

With the Icebreaker BI Appliance, the customer is not really aware of the operating system or database underneath, but simply knows that they have a robust, enterprise solution that is capable of supporting their BI workload. It’s an appliance that they don’t have to give a second thought to.

Behind the scenes, though, Ingres put it all together using the flexibility of Linux. The open source aspect made it easy for us to work with the product, tune it for our needs and deliver a solution much faster than if it involved proprietary components. When we had an issue, we looked at the code and resolved the problem.

Appliances are a good match for customers who need a dedicated solution. Startup and install time is kept to a minimum along with license and maintenance costs. If the customer is running on a non-Linux platform, they can deploy the appliance in a virtual machine setting – sharing information with other non-Linux machines across the network.

Customers are looking for different ways to reduce costs in today’s market. Two different methods have become popular – appliance and “software as a service” or SAAS – and open source solutions are being deployed in both models. In order to understand which model is most cost effective, you need to understand what the customer is looking to achieve. SAAS models allow customers to reduce overall hardware and maintenance costs while hosting their application and data offsite. But software appliances allow customers to reduce maintenance and startup costs while still maintaining their data behind their firewalls. Software appliances are a great way to give access to information in a cost-effective manner and still keep your data local.

Early adopters of appliances are reporting 70–80% savings in the setup, configuration, and deployment of their solutions. It’s still early to measure lifecycle costs, but we anticipate significant savings for our customers from the integrated maintenance that is included with the Icebreaker product.

At Ingres, we see appliances as an important part of our product offering going forward. The appliances are attractive to software integrators who can build their own applications on top of it, getting the same benefits of reliability and cost effectiveness. Appliances offer the added benefit of speeding the time-to-market for such custom applications.

We are beginning to see a number of open source players using the appliance model to deliver their solutions. It’s a cost-effective means to deliver a solution to the marketplace as well as a great platform for multiple open source companies to collaborate together to add value to the marketplace. At Ingres we have worked with a number of ISVs and system integrators in delivering appliances and see it as an important part of our business going forward.

© 2008 SYS-CON Media Inc.