Tech trends | A path to savings

Contractors are helping agencies cut costs with open-source software

Operating systems

Linux, the free Unix-type operating system
Ubuntu, a community-developed, Linux-based
operating system for laptops and desktop PCs
and servers (


OW2 Consortium, an open-source
software community that develops
open-source distributed middleware
(, a free, open source Java-based
application server.


MySQL, Sun Microsystems' open-source
database offering (
SAP DB, a free enterprise open source
database (

With more than 40 servers
spread out at six sites and running
multiple operating systems,
the network infrastructure at Hill
Air Force Base was in dire need of consolidation.
In about 11 months, the base moved
from several hardware platforms ?
some of which were proprietary
? to standard x86
systems, said Paul Smith,
head of Red Hat Inc.'s government
division. Moving
to standard hardware
made it possible for the
base to use open-source software across
its technology infrastructure. The project
is an example of how open source
can be a part of larger efforts to reduce
information technology costs.

"Saving money wasn't really about
Red Hat," Smith said. The benefits to
the air base were substantial. Red Hat
helped the organization transition to
blades, achieve a smaller footprint,
reduce its real estate costs and consolidate
into a single facility, he said. By
moving to a standard platform, IT officials
at the base were able to realize savings
by being able to choose among several

In addition to using open-source software
and standard hardware, another
strategy agencies are using to save
money is consolidating servers with virtualization,
Smith said.

"What we've done, and mostly with
other open-source components, is bundle
the virtualization into the operating
platform," Smith said. "When you talk
about Red Hat and Linux, you have a
global file system that enables storage
consolidation. You've got the virtualization
engine that is actually built into the

Rather than bolting a virtualization
product onto a traditional operating
system, the open-source systems have
that capability already integrated.


When agencies turn to open source, it is
usually for several reasons, said Bill Vass,
president of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s federal
practice. Agencies like the security
features, speed of procurement and price
of open-source software.

The cost savings start during the
development and testing phase when
working with open source. Agencies are
able to start that process without buying
a support contract. With proprietary
products, it is illegal to use them during
development and testing without paying
for support.

From that point, the amount of savings
depends on where open source is
installed on a network. In the
desktop/database realm, users can get
about 90 percent of the functionality for
10 percent of the cost of proprietary
products, Vass said. With middleware, a
50 percent savings is possible. And with
operating systems, a 20 percent savings
with open source is possible compared
with proprietary products.

"It is a lot of money when you look
over all those budgets," Vass said. "When
you add to it that you can procure and
deploy it faster ? so you're not paying
systems integrators to sit around while
you're waiting to go through procurement
? that's even greater savings."

Vass recommends agencies start with
operating systems when moving to open
source. Capable and powerful open-source
operating systems are available
and, with the right support model in
place, will cost agencies less than other
operating systems.

The second area to look at is virtualization.
Agencies often see virtualization
as a way to save money, and open-source
virtualization products cost less than
proprietary ones, Vass said. Agencies are
able to install a virtualization layer that
is open source and not affect any of the
applications. Avoiding application conversions
means huge savings. Popular
open-source virtualization products
include Sun xVM and Xen.

Another area to focus in on is open storage, Vass said. "Instead
of buying big, expensive,
proprietary storage platforms,
you can get low-cost
hardware and operate the
same kind of features on an
open-source platform at a
much lower cost."

For example, it's possible
to get 20T of open storage
for the same price as 2T of
proprietary storage. A combination
of open systems
hardware running open-source
software is needed
for those savings. The setup
can be designed to act like
proprietary systems.

Agencies are able to make that switch
without having to change anything in
their infrastructure as far as applications

For open-source middleware, agencies
need to evaluate where it makes
sense to install it. If their applications
are already following open standards,
it is easy to move to an open-source
middleware product.

Databases are another area in which
agencies can look for savings. An
open-source offering such as MySQL
from Sun is less expensive than proprietary
databases, Vass said. MySQL
is installed in large IT infrastructures
at places such as Google, Yahoo and
Facebook, he said.


Meanwhile, other open-source applications
are available to help agencies
improve their bottom lines. For example,
Snort is an open-source network
system for preventing and detecting

The technology is widely deployed
across military and civilian government
agencies, said Mike
Guiterman, director of
open-source products at
Sourcefire Inc., a company
founded by the original
developer of Snort.

"With open source, there
really are no barriers to getting
it into your organization,"
Guiterman said.

"From a pure open-source
perspective, there are zero
license and support costs.
The other thing agencies
like is the open, transparent
code enables those users to
verify that the product
they're using is actually
delivering the protection it promises."

Having open code also lets customers
customize the software to fit
their specific needs.

"The open-source community's ability
to rapidly innovate and listen to the
voice of the user is key," Guiterman
said. "The interaction with the developers
means projects can go ahead
and innovate or morph into what the
customer needs quickly."

Doug Beizer ( is a
staff writer at Washington Technology.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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