Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004

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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004

Contents
1. INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................................3 2. OVERVIEW.........................................................................................................................................3 2.1 Support Anxiety - the highest barrier to open source deployment? - Sebastian Rahtz, OSS Watch.................................................................................................. ......................3 3. CONFERENCE TOPICS....................................................................................................................4 3.1 Do It Yourself................................................................................................ ...................4 3.1.1 Bodington VLE at Oxford - Adam Marshall, University of Oxford..............................4 3.1.2 Deploying Open Source Solutions in an eProduction System - Joel Greenberg, The Open University........................................................................................ .........................5 3.2 Join a Consortium........................................................................................................ ....6 3.2.1 JA-SIG & uPortal, The Hull Experience - Ian Dolphin, Head of e-Strategy U. Hull JASIG Board......................................................................................................... .............6 3.3 Get Consultancy Support................................................................................................ .6 3.3.1 Getting Consultancy Support - Michael Sekler, OS Consult................................... ...6 3.3.2 Consultancy Supported Open Source Software - John Merrells, Parthenon Computing Ltd.................................................................................................................. ..7 3.4 Vendor Support............................................................................................................. ...7 3.4.1 Open Source and Linux within the Novell Value Proposition - Simon Lidget, Novell UK Limited.................................................................................................. .......................7 3.4.2 Java Education and Learning Community (JELC) - John Heath, Sun Microsystems 7 4. REFERENCES.....................................................................................................................................8

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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004

1. Introduction
The ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment and Development’ conference June 2004 at The Diskus Conference Centre in central London was the second conference of the JISC funded OSS Watch Open Source Advisory Service [1]. More than 70 people attended this event, which was focused on four support models for open source deployments: • • • • Do It Yourself Join A Consortium Get Consultancy Support Vendor Support

The day began with an overview presentation from Sebastian Rahtz, Manager of OSS Watch, setting the scene for the day.

2. Overview
2.1 Support Anxiety - the highest barrier to open source deployment? Sebastian Rahtz, OSS Watch The main issue that tends to be raised as a concern with OSS is the lack of support. This view is highlighted by Ray Lane, a former Oracle executive in a keynote speech at the Open Source Business Conference 2004 [2]. The article suggests that OSS applications are not appropriate for mission critical services. Roy Lane cites six problems with OSS: • • • • • • Informal support Velocity of change No roadmap Functional gaps Licensing caveats ISV endorsements

The main purpose of Sebastian’s talk is to prove this is not the case by turning the six problems into assets by: • • • • • make a virtue of velocity of change – you don’t have to buy, install and learn the new version of the software every six months. celebrate no roadmap – the community can influence the development of the software. plug functional gaps – if the software doesn’t do everything you need you can add the functionality yourself. make light of licensing caveats stand aloof from ISV endorsements

Sebastian suggests that all of the above relate to support issues. Some possible solutions to the support concerns: • • • • Do it yourself Join a consortium Employ a specialist consultant Stick with you existing vendors
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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004 These form the general themes for the day.

3. Conference Topics
3.1 Do It Yourself
3.1.1 Bodington VLE at Oxford - Adam Marshall, University of Oxford The University of Oxford Computer Services has decided to implement the Bodington Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) [3] as developed by Jon Maber at Leeds University. It was felt that the support for commercial VLE’s was too expensive. It was acknowledged that support for Bodington can be somewhat cumbersome and it dependent to some degree on on Jon Maber. On the plus side, there has been a great deal of testing of Bodington from the open source community and more bug reporting occurs than tends to be the case with commercial products. Some of the perceived benefits of using the Bodington OSS VLE were: • • • • • Faster development cycles The application is more robust due to greater use The funding stays within the HE sector In-house staff gain development skills The University gains publicity and prestige (assuming the application has a good reputation)

Some future benefits are: • • • The product can be adapted to meet future needs such as the requirements of the JISC e-Learning Framework [4] The institution benefits from knowledge retention – such as the requirements of the JISC e-Learning Framework The product is more likely to integrate with other systems such as uPortal [5], phpBB [6] and SAKAI [7]

Some of the requirements that Bodington met were: • • • • • • Look and feel can be adapted to house styles Structural versatility Meets SENDA accessibility guidelines E-Learning standards compliance (e.g. IMS) Anonymous access The VLE resources are ‘real URLs’ that can be accessed through a web browser

A major perceived benefit of implementing Bodington was the cost. A ‘major player’ system would cost about £20,000+ per year, plus 8 Sun SPARCs, Solaris, and Oracle. Bodington requires 1 PC, Linux, and Postgres. Both solutions require 0.5 staff developer and 1 systems admin with the money saved paying for Java developers who can generate revenue. The developers have brought further funding in via various JISC middleware and e-learning tool projects. The main ‘good things’ that have come out of going the OSS route:
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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004 • • • • •

Rapid bug fixing Quick response to user requests ‘Free’ enhancements - other developers may have plugged your requirements gap. Many developers improve the broth! Good community working atmosphere

Some ‘bad things’: • • • Jon Maber totally indispensable Coding is more fun than documenting – lack of good documentation New features more fun than bug fixes – can be slow to get bugs fixed

3.1.2 Deploying Open Source Solutions in an eProduction System - Joel Greenberg, The Open University The Open University have increasing exploited online learning and teaching with many courses now being presented totally online. Over 90% of their students have access to networked PCs and 48% of courses require online access. The Open University employ a ‘managed production environment’ using a number of authoring packages such as MS Word to author XML and output to a number of media including web pages, PDF and PDA format pages. The Open University policy when developing their system was to choose the best components available for specific tasks whether open source or not. They did place an emphasis on interoperability and compliance with open standards and acknowledged they had some issues with trusting closed source solutions. They presented a case study of the way they used various components based on their ‘TeachandLearn.net’ site [8]. This system uses a number of components including MS Word for authoring, an in-house developed workflow system called ‘Tracker’ and the open source Apache Cocoon system [9] to render the XML to HTML. Some issues highlighted from the questions following the presentations were: • • There were found to be some scalability problems with Apache Cocoon. There can be a danger of getting caught between a vendor and the underlying software e.g. Apache may recommend an upgrade for security reasons but the vendor may only support their product on a previous version of Apache. Concerns were raised about the dependency of Bodington on Jon Maber.

There were many references made to the ‘Open Source Software Use Within UK Government’ Policy Document [10]. The key policy decisions outlined in this document are: • • • UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis. UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments. UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.

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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004 • • UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software it procures wherever this achieves best value for money. UK Government will explore further the possibilities of using OSS as the default exploitation route for Government funded R&D software.

3.2 Join a Consortium
3.2.1 JA-SIG & uPortal, The Hull Experience - Ian Dolphin, Head of eStrategy U. Hull JASIG Board Ian gave a brief overview of the Mellon funded uPortal system. He found that there was some resistance at Hull to using OSS mainly due to a lack of familiarity and general management distrust of ‘free’ software. It was felt that clear and articulated criteria had to be used to evaluate the software and overcome the resistance. The final stage of the evaluation involved a full installation of the software as part of an extended review. The staff skills required for this process were development, support, and DBA which amounted to 1.7 FTE. Their experiences so far: • • • • Flexibility – the uPortal product was found be both flexible and adaptable. Support comes mainly from the uPortal community email lists. The cost of implementation was as anticipated. Participation in community – Hull has contributed to the uPortal accessibility work, quickstart document and RSS channel.

Issues arising from the questions were: • • • There were no problems adapting software developed in the US to UK needs. A significant factor in the choice of uPortal was the well respected members of the consortium. This enables Hull to be associated with some of the big American Universities such as Yale. The development of uPortal can be a bit ‘random’. There is no development roadmap and is dependent on developers having the time and inclination. However commercial milestones are frequently not met so perhaps OSS development has more realistic milestones.

3.3 Get Consultancy Support
3.3.1 Getting Consultancy Support - Michael Sekler, OS Consult. Michael outlined the services that the OS Consult independent consultancy provide, these being software development, outsourcing, support and training. They work closely with the makers of Apache Lenya, an open source content management system based on Apache Cocoon. Michael listed some of the support goals and long term goals that may apply to OSS. OS Consult offer the following types of service on the full range of operating systems and a wide range open source software options: • • Consulting, design, development, installation, Outsourcing
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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004 • • • Per incident support Longer term support contracts Training suited to your requirements

3.3.2 Consultancy Supported Open Source Software - John Merrells, Parthenon Computing Ltd. John stated that he believed that 99% of the OSS on Soundforge was ‘rubbish’. Only 1% is of good quality due to having teams of more than seven people and frequently some sort of commercial backing. He then outlined the professional consultancy support as provided by Parthenon: • • • • Expertise - consultants are often the founders and term contributors to open source projects. Flexibility - as much or as little consultancy resource when needed. Team - a team with mixed roles is better than a multi-talented individual. Vaule - expertise, flexibility and a strong team represent good value

Parthenon offer the full range of OSS support covering architecture and design, configuration and deployment, development, maintenance and general support. They have particular expertise in XML processing, databases, identity and security. They currently support a number of profile projects including the Xerces XML parser, the Pathon Xpath processor and the Berkeley XML database.

3.4 Vendor Support
3.4.1 Open Source and Linux within the Novell Value Proposition - Simon Lidget, Novell UK Limited Simon gave a rather complicated presentation that essentially outlined how Novell can support the implementation of OSS within higher education by providing commercial support. He described the Novell view of the academic landscape and outlined how the academic challenges of balancing the requirements of business agility such as pursuing new opportunities with the need to ensure secure information and transactions. Simon then described a number of the product packages Novell offer to achieve the above at various levels of scale and cost. Novell deploy their solutions using the Linux platform which they believe is very stable and secure. Simon emphaised that Novell have made a long term commitment to open source and that they are migrating the full range of their own systems to OSS right through from their back end servers through to desktop machines and software such as OpenOffice. 3.4.2 Java Education and Learning Community (JELC) - John Heath, Sun Microsystems Sun have set up the ‘Java Education and Learning Community’ to be a “place to find, develop and share Java-related open source educational tools, open learning standards implementations, and open course learning materials”. The JELC community consists of a wide range of people including teachers, programmers, students and researchers.
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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004 The community focuses on open source java based project implementations covering e-learning, interoperability and digital libraries. Open standards and specifications form the basis of the software projects including IMS [11], SIF [12], SCORM [13] and METS [14]. Two core aims of JELC are: • • Giving global visibility to best-of-breed open, standards-based education projects Establishing a common set of interoperable tools with less risk and cost for Ministries of Education

The JELC projects cover the following areas: • • • • • • • • • Open desktop tools eLearning framework Library and archive tools Management tools Tools for teaching Academic research tools Learning resources Student projects Public policy

JELC also have a community portal running discussion forums and mailing lists, hold a number of events and publish a number of white papers and newsletters. John described the main advantages of participating in JELC as: • • • An open reference architecture for the creation and delivery of learning content A wide range of Java-based open source tools and applications for education Access to global educational experts sharing best practices and lessons learned through forums and projects

There are a number of ways to participate in JELC including joining an existing project or starting a new community project. You can also link your site with the JELC portal or build on existing open source java-based framework components.

4. References
[1] OSS Watch Open Source Advisory Service < http://www.oss-watch.ac.uk/ > [2] ZDNet article ‘Six barriers to open source adoption’ by Dan Farber <

http://techupdate.zdnet.com/techupdate/stories/main/Six_barriers_to_open_source_adoptio n.html >

[3] Bodington Open Source Project < http://www.bodington.org/ > [4] JISC e-Learning Framework < http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=elearning_framework > [5] uPortal by JA-SIG < http://www.uportal.org/ > [6] phpBB open source bulletin board < http://www.phpbb.com/ > [7] SAKAI - Open source Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE) software < http://www.sakaiproject.org/ >
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Report on the ‘Support Models for Open Source Deployment’ Conference, 3rd June 2004 [8] TeachandLearn.net < http://www.teachandlearn.net/ > [9] The Apache Cocoon Project < http://cocoon.apache.org/ > [10] ‘Open Source Software Use Within UK Government’ Policy Document. July 2002. < http://www.ogc.gov.uk/index.asp?id=2190 > [11] IMS Global Learning Consortium < http://www.imsglobal.org/ > [12] Schools Interoperability Framework < http://www.sifinfo.org/ > [13] Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) < http://www.adlnet.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=scormabt > [14] Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard < http://www.loc.gov/standards/mets/ >

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