April 22, 2007

Linux goes to Wall Street, puts on a show

Author: Lisa Hoover

The 5th annual Linux on Wall Street conference takes place in New York City on Monday, April 23. Organizers say the slated presentations will reinforce what bank, investment firms, and other financial institutions and others in the financial market have already learned: that Wall Street is ready for open source solutions.

Online registration is closed, however onsite registration at the Roosevelt Hotel is still available for $395. Entrance to the exhibit hall is free, and registration is not required.

Linux on Wall Street routinely draws 800 to 1,000 attendees each year and organizer Russell Flagg says that is a testimony to just how much value the Wall Street community sees in using open source alternatives to expensive and often limiting proprietary business solutions.

"We don't just focus on Linux exclusively, though," says Flagg. "We've expanded over the years to include open source on the whole. Wall Street has already made huge investements in other operating systems and legacy systems and [this conference] helps find alternative solutions that that are less expensive, more robust, and more agile. There is a continued search on the part of Wall Street to find other systems as capable as what they already have."

Flagg says the idea for the event took shape after he and fellow organizer Pete Harris spoke to representatives from IBM, Red Hat, Intel and other companies that understand how open source products can impact the business world. "We found an untapped niche in the financial market" and the conference was born.

Presenters and speakers were carefully selected to help attendees sort through mountains of information and take useful information back to their companies. "We have a very free-form conference," says Flagg. "We let speakers decide for themselves what they think is appropriate information rather than go through PR channels" to shape the presentations and offer actionable information.

"Seventy percent of our conference-goers are the 'suits' -- decision makers and business people. The other thirty percent are developers focused on technology. So, primarily, our speakers are the Wall Street guys who are being collegiate and sharing information with their colleagues on Wall Street. After all, Wall Street listens to Wall Street."

Conference planners haven't forgotten about who makes open source deployments work behind the scenes, though, and invite IT managers to attend the event as well. "IT managers are given mandates to lower costs and reduce budgets so open source is a great option. It's a tough world out there for them -- they must do more with less and still maintain capabilities in a 24/7 world. It's a balancing act."

Panels and speakers

Raven Zachary, Open Source Research Director for The 451 Group, will share his views on Wall Street's adoption of open source during a panel titled "Selling Open Source To The CIO." Zachary and fellow panel members from Oracle, Intel, and Jefferies & Company will participate in a moderated discussion of how the CIOs in the financial market perceive Linux and how to overcome their objections, something Zachary says is important for vendors in the space to remain competitive.

"The Financial Services firms are leading the enterprise adoption of open source technology, including Linux," says Zachary. "By watching the consumption patterns of these firms, open source vendors can gain a good understanding of the types of products and services that are commercially viable.

"We're seeing an increased effort by Financial Services services to recruit open source project developers. Bringing expertise in-house is a growing trend. The challenge is that the demand for open source talent is growing at a greater rate than the expansion of this talent pool. Developers contributing to popular open source projects are in high demand and are in a great position to obtain employment."

Zachary says that despite the fact that Wall Street has already invested millions in proprietary hardware and software, they can easily see the value in exploring other alternatives. "Open source adoption with Financial Services is not just about cost. Standards are a big part of this value. Standards provide greater longevity, ease of future migration, and talent acquisition, to name just a few."

Using free and open source software is not without risks however. Phil Robb, Engineering Section Manager in the Open Source and Linux Organization (OSLO) at Hewlett-Packard will give a presentation titled, "Open Source Governance: Recognizing and Dealing with the Unique Risks Associated with Free Software." Robb will discuss best practices to help companies protect themselves from the possibility of legal and technical pitfalls associated with using open source products.

Doug Small, Director of Marketing for OSLO, says that despite the potential drawbacks of adopting open source, the financial market has demonstrated they are more than ready to incorporate it into their business models.

"Financial services companies have been early adopters of Linux. First we saw Wall Street firms begin using Linux, then banks and mutual funds. [Now] we see insurance companies beginning to Linux more broadly and we are seeing Linux used in progressively more critical deployments.

"We see a growing role for open source software beyond Linux in financial services companies and that's why many companies are expanding the governance policies and procedures around using open source software."

Event organizer Russell Flagg says a lot of ground will be covered during the day-long conference but he believes that, as in past years, attendees will come away with a better understanding of how Linux and open source fits into the Wall Street world. "We don't often hear about the real-world implementations that happen as a result of this conference," he says, "but the success of the conference each year I think is an indication that [open source] applications are definitely being considered."

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