Oakwood manages apartment complexes around the country, and it also provides corporate housing -- a complete turnkey home that includes furnishings, pots and pans, home electronics, and "pretty much anything that you might want," according to Nathanson. But Oakwood had no software that was able to connect all the different facets of the business. It needed to have an integration point for all the services it provides, as well as internal and external applications and vendor management.
"The challenge for us, as well as every other modern business, is to apply some sort of security policy and organizational framework around user communities," Nathanson says. "We have not just customers, but customer partners. We have vendors and vendor partners. We have employees, and some of them are at vendor sites, and we have contractors in various business capacities."
The solution for Oakwood was a portal that would allow the company to put all the applications into a single security and user interface context.
Oakwood set up a pilot project to test Microsoft's Sharepoint collaboration software. "Management is heavily a Microsoft shop," Nathanson says, and they were unaware of the high quality of open source software and the support available. But when the Sharepoint pilot took five months to come to fruition, Nathanson stepped in with the Liferay portal, an open source Java program that is database and operating system agnostic. "We delivered in three months a proof of concept that met their expectations, at a much lower price."
Since adopting Liferay and rolling out new collaboration features, Oakwood has seen an increase in new contracts with corporations looking for temporary housing for traveling executives and managers, says Nathanson.
Yet, even with the practical success of open source, Oakwood remains a Microsoft shop. Nathanson has no plans to increase the company's use of open source, and in fact is currently transitioning all of Oakwood's servers to Windows Server 2003, even though Liferay is running on SUSE servers.
"As the enterprise architect, I'm trying to promote and use the best tool for the job," Nathanson says. "Frankly, in some areas open source isn't as good as commercial for vertical applications and things that require specific knowledge of a particular type of business activity. The open source idea is that if everybody's solving the same problem over and over, let's get a common solution out there -- and I'm not so sure that some of these areas are broad enough."