May 4, 2005

OpenLDAP: The future of business?

Author: Tina Gasperson

Mark Taylor believes that OpenLDAP is the catalyst that will finally make open source fully enterprise-ready. And he's willing to stake his business on it.

Taylor is founder and CEO of Sirius IT. Based in the United Kingdom but focusing on all of Europe, Sirius provides training, deployment, and support for open source technology in the enterprise. Its clients include government entities and large corporations such as Pepsi, Pentax, Toyota, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Taylor launched Sirius in late 1998 with "no money," he says -- no venture capital and not even a bank loan. "I wanted to start a free software company, and free software was increasingly being taken seriously as a business model. We started up with a list of clients you've never heard of, and went from strength to strength. We began landing bigger and bigger companies and went from a one-man band to a few friends to a serious business."

Last year, Sirius grew by more than 300% and brought in more than $1.75 million. It now has 11 staff members and 30 "associates" who do contract work on an as-needed basis.

Sirius has four different functions. For one, it acts as a consultancy, advising private business and the public sector about where they can use open source software. "People are coming to talk to us about open source so that they can reduce the level of risk associated with their current technology choices," Taylor says.

"We also do deployment work, building open source software systems for people. We've built systems for Pepsi in security, intranet systems, and email systems. We've done a complete backend for a client in the building industry who runs open source software exclusively."

Third, the company offers support for open source systems. That arm of the business is relatively new, according to Taylor, and Sirius began offering it because customers demanded it.

Taylor also offers training in Samba and Squid. With Samba, systems running Unix and Unix-like OSs are able to provide services using the Microsoft networking protocol. This capability makes it possible for DOS and Windows machines using native networking clients supplied by Microsoft to access a Unix file system and printers. Squid is a high-performance proxy caching server for Web clients, supporting FTP, gopher, and HTTP data objects.

Taylor's long term plan is to remain a dedicated "pure play" open source software business and to make enterprise-ready software "truly available for every company."

"The key to free software in business is that we're not a product-based company; we're a service company. We see the future as being commodity hardware; we plan to excel in the services side with pure open source expertise. We work with the best people in the United Kingdom," Taylor says.

Through Sirius, Taylor focuses on providing what he calls a "complete enterprise stack," using open source software components, including Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl or Python (LAMP). In the business world, a stack is a collection of disparate programs that work together to accomplish a certain goal. In this case, it is to run all the office functions of an enterprise. The stack includes email, calendaring, shared mailboxes, anti-virus, anti-spam, and intranet. Taylor still sees LAMP as the foundation for much of the currently available and utilized open source technology, but envisions a not-so-distant future where OpenLDAP will be the "axis upon which the whole open source enterprise stack revolves."

OpenLDAP is the open source implementation of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, (LDAP), an protocol that programs can use to look up contact information from a server. Taylor asserts that, since businesses are organized around people and resources, OpenLDAP is valuable because it allows open source technology to access those resources and produce useful information.

With OpenLDAP, Taylor believes there will be even closer integration between the different open source projects related to enterprise groupware and utilities. "They will collaborate to ensure the seamless integration between technologies," Taylor says.

Even so, Taylor says, to most businesses, the technology used in any given solution is mostly irrelevant. "What matters to them is not carrying the cost and resource burden of complying with many proprietary software licenses. And what the majority of them are really worried about is not being locked into a future that they don't control.

"Our business focus is delivering to clients a package that solves those problems."

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