June 23, 2008

Software configuration management built on OSS gives Virtusa a competitive advantage

Author: Tina Gasperson

Virtusa, an IT services company founded in 1996, was using proprietary version control and collaboration systems to develop software for its clients until Sri Lankan founder Kris Canekeratne decided that a custom solution built on open source components was a better fit for internal use. As a result, the company ended up saving millions of dollars on licensing fees and acquisition costs.

Virtusa developers were already familiar with the power and flexibility of open source software, having participated in the GPL-licensed Sahana project for disaster management. Developers built Sahana in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. It includes registries for organizations, shelters, and missing persons, as well as modules for aid requests and volunteer coordination. The community surrounding Sahana was even more passionate, dedicated, and efficient than most, given the nature of the project, and Virtusa's developers found that dedication contagious.

Based on its experience with open source, which included using open source components in creating client specifications, and the rising costs of licensing and acquisition in light of the company's growth, Virtusa decided to bring the benefits of open source inside the company. It launched its Keystone initiative in 2006. Keystone is a software configuration management system that was built using a combination of open source components such as GForge, Subversion, and Tortoise, all on top of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and tweaked to fit Virtusa's specific requirements. Virtusa uses Keystone internally to perform issue tracking, source code management, and document management.

Santanu Paul, senior vice president and head of global delivery operations for Virtusa, says the Keystone project has served as a great example to potential clients of the benefits of using open source tools and applications, and also stands as a testament to the company's open source knowledge. But the benefits of using open source internally go beyond just showcasing Virtusa's talents. Canekeratne and Paul estimate the company has saved $3 million so far, and stands to save at least $2 million more over the next couple of years.

Open source software has proven superior in flexibility, Paul says. "We realized we would have better control over our [infrastructure] and that gives us a competitive advantage."

The biggest challenge of bringing open source inside the company was the migration from proprietary applications. "You build up a huge amount of knowledge and documentation. During the migration we had to spend quite a bit of effort and time" in training staff members on the new system and building a new knowledge base, Paul says.

When considering the use of open source tools and applications, choosing the right one based on the kind of license you're comfortable with is important, Paul says. "Depending on how you plan to deploy components built on open source, you could get into trouble. Also, pick projects that are bite-sized to start with. Make sure your applications development team has done a lot of open source work. And set a budget for training."


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