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Mad As Hell

Mad As Hell

Some CIOs believe open source could liberate businesses from their dependence on the dysfunctional software-making machine. Linux now boasts important implementations at companies including Shell Oil, hotel franchiser Cendant, networking giant Cisco and retailer Burlington Coat Factory, while the Apache program is by many accounts the most widely used Web server software today. The prevalence of these open-source packages will only continue to grow, with big IT vendors such as IBM providing hardware with Linux and Apache bundled in.

Raymond Dury, co-CIO of Ameritrade Holding, says open-source software, because of its community-style development method, has flexibility that commercial software lacks. The packaged software market doesn't offer the solutions he needs to support his company's thousands of daily online transactions. To enable customers to make trades faster, hold more trades in their portfolio and get real-time quotes, for example, Ameritrade's Web site needs enormously robust software code - code that can support tens of thousands of simultaneous connections with sub-second responses.

Instead of buying software and additional hardware to extend the speed and computing power of his Web site, Dury is looking to configure his own software using open-source code to support all of those transactions.

He also wants to replace three separate software components that communicate back and forth when a customer wants to execute a trade with one piece of proprietary software built using open-source code to consolidate these functions. "We have separate pieces of software communicating with each other, trying to do one process," Dury says. "Instead we could use a piece of open source to consolidate these separate functions under one piece of software."

Dury has long been a fan of open source. He used it to develop a secure e-mail application while serving as the vice president of operations at Netdox, a Deloitte and Touche venture in 1997. "Those folks [involved in the open-source movement] are very knowledgeable, very good at what they do, and they're producing really great code," says Dury.

Open source would give CIOs the flexibility to build exactly what they need, he says. However, many are sceptical about using it because the technology is immature, and it's hard to find programmers who know how to write the code and maintain it. When you buy software from a vendor, you can always turn to its help desk, however incompetent. With open source, you're on your own.

Dury acknowledges that open source requires seasoned in-house IT staffs - who know how to build and integrate their own systems - and that not all companies can afford to hire this kind of talent. But he likes open source for the same reason that Crowell and Seyk like the renewable options to perpetual licensing agreements. "If you increase competition [in the market] because there's quality in open-source software and because it's low cost, some folks will move toward it," Dury says. "As a result, vendors are probably going to have to increase their quality and reduce their costs."

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