Open Enterprise Interview: Anthony Gold, president, Open Solutions Alliance
Published 06:47, 09 February 09
A few weeks ago I wrote a post with the melodramatic headline “Is the Open Standards Alliance Betraying Open Source?”, in which I fretted that the new president of the Open Solutions Alliance, Anthony Gold, might go too far in his attempts to achieve interoperability with proprietary vendors.
Now, once upon a time, this impugning of an organisation and its new boss would have called forth thunder and lightning from the victim of my comments, with serried ranks of PRs assaulting me verbally, if not physically, until I retracted the post, or at least offered some profuse apology.
It's a measure of the new appreciation of the importance of engaging with criticism that is to be found in some quarters, at least, that, instead, Anthony kindly offered to explore my concerns further with me.
Given that he has just taken up his new position of head of the OSA, I took the opportunity to interview him more broadly: about his background and job at Unisys (he's currently VP & GM Open Source Business, there), his involvement with the OSA, and his plans for its future – including that vexed issue of how he might work with proprietary companies.
GM: Could you please give a little background about your career before and after joining Unisys?
AG: I’ve always had a passion for engineering and software development. I began at Unisys (Burroughs) designing mainframes and went on to have the fortunate opportunity to design the world’s first “LinTel/WinTel mainframe” in the ES7000 (which is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for hosting the largest number of concurrent gamers at the Dreamhack gaming conference in Sweden.
While running engineering for Unisys, I had some great mentors and business experiences that helped me focus my career on not just great technology, but leveraging that technology to build solutions to compelling business problems.
I spent the next several years in the systems integration business helping drive solutions in many different vertical industries. During that time, I had the opportunity to become a driver/thought leader in the SOA, Web 2.0, and mass collaboration space and have helped numerous companies leverage those “concepts” to improve their business.
After starting the open source business at Unisys in 2005, I spent the next few years growing that practice (engineering, marketing, sales, business development, support, etc.) and focusing our efforts at bringing open source into mission-critical environments.
Given my passions around engineering and my affinity for business, I think this background brings the right balance to my position at the OSA.
GM: When did you first come across open source – and what did you think of it?
AG: When we first started system test of the first ES7000 (way back in the ‘90s), we had our own proprietary boot OS’s that we’d use to test out the system. But, since we had Intel processors in the ES7000 and not the (then) proprietary Unisys processors, we decided to “play” with Linux and see what it could do.
Long story short, Linux was so easy to use (boot, configure, tune, etc.) that we really got bitten by the bug. So, we looked long and hard at how Unisys could work with Linux in a meaningful way.
Right away, we noticed that there were many things that were “missing” if we wanted to run this in a real “mission critical” environment, since all our systems had to be 5 nine’s (given our enterprise-class client base).
So, we took to writing a few components like multi-path I/O and dynamic partitioning, which we contributed back to the community. Of course, during that time we developed some close engineering ties with the folks at Red Hat and SUSE.
We then went on to our first LinuxWorld conference (I think it was 2003) where we demonstrated a 32x ES7000 running Linux in a two-partition environment (as two 16x machines).
We fired up a kernel compile and the system automatically sucked in unused processors from the idle partition to speed up the compile. It was a fantastic demonstration of real dynamic partition of processors at a time when you could only do that in a proprietary environment.
From that point, I knew that Unisys could really do well to put a business together helping companies leverage open source (not just Linux) to help them dramatically increase their agility and lower their costs.
GM: Unisys used to be a major supporter of Microsoft, particularly Windows NT; where does your company see open source fitting in with Windows these days? Do you think open source will become dominant on servers?
AG: I absolutely think open source will become dominant on servers. We see it going on all over the place, and it’s very exciting.
At the same time, we also know that most (if not all) of our clients have hybrid environments with lots of old legacy stuff, some Windows stuff, and just starting down the open source path.
The path of “throw everything away and start from scratch” just won’t work for these folks, and they are looking for an evolutionary approach to get from Point A to Point B.
So, as an enterprise systems integrator, we work with all the technologies to leverage what is right for each client’s particular environment.
We have several strategic partners including Microsoft, Red Hat, and many others. Of course, we aren’t beholden to any one partner – our job is to be that “trusted advisor” for our clients to build the best solution for them.
GM: How did you end up as president of the OSA: did you volunteer – or were you volunteered by Unisys?
AG: Unisys has been a member of the OSA from the beginning, and I’ve been an OSA board member since we joined. I see a tremendous opportunity for the OSA in addressing interoperability requirements both among open source solutions and between open source and proprietary solutions.
I also believe the OSA is at an important juncture – both as an organisation and as a participant in a rapidly changing marketplace where open source software is increasingly adopted and where it is most often deployed in environments amongst proprietary solutions.
Furthermore, the economics of our market are more unpredictable than ever. So, I put my hand up and offered to lead the OSA forward. Of course, all board and officer positions are voted on by the membership, so I was voted in.
GM: What do you see as the role of the OSA? What do you think the OSA has achieved so far?
AG: The OSA is a young organisation and I’m very happy with what we’ve been able to achieve in such a short amount of time. Our Common Customer View (CCV) project is the best example of our interoperability work and continues to see updates and improvements. We’ve also had a variety of customers adopt it.
I’m also happy with the awareness we’ve raised about how a collaborative effort can improve interoperability and bring attention to the real issues customers are facing today.
Of course, there is progress to be made. In 2009, we will grow the organisation, both in membership and in its impact on interoperability best practices.
GM: You've said you want to take the OSA to the "next level" by addressing interoperability between proprietary and closed-source software. Could you please say exactly how you intend to achieve that in practical terms? For example, do you contemplate licensing deals with proprietary vendors, or is it a matter of working towards common standards? If the latter, would they be completely open?
AG: Indeed, I’m looking very forward to taking OSA to the next level by extending the success we’ve had driving interoperability among open solutions to interoperability among the solutions customer demand, regardless of the nature of their licensing terms. And, these conversations are in the works.
I don’t anticipate working on licensing deals. The OSA doesn’t represent any one commercial entity, so we would not enter into such deals as an organisation.
Rather, I’m looking to work towards common interoperability practices and standards that allow solutions to easily be deployed together. If these efforts result in standards, I would expect them to be open so that they could benefit everyone in the industry; however, the conversations aren’t at that point yet.
Our goal is to be a resource and enabler for customers that need to integrate their existing and future IT investments. It has become clear that those investments will consist of both open source and proprietary solutions. Allowing these systems to talk with one another (ideally through open standards) is our main priority.
GM: To make that interoperability work happen, would you like to see proprietary vendors joining the OSA? What conditions, if any, would they have to fulfill in order to become members?
AG: The OSA has no restrictions on what kind of company or organization is allowed to join. Any new member is reviewed by the board and pays annual dues to participate in our activities. As such, I welcome any company – open source or proprietary – to join the organisation and address customers’ interoperability requirements in a year where collaboration will be the only way to deliver value above and beyond what any one company can do on its own.
But, as I’ve stated before, I have zero interest in working with any proprietary vendor that is not interested in helping drive and interoperate with open source in a meaningful way. So, while the names of certain vendors may evoke an initial “these guys have no interest in open source” reaction, some of them have some deep open source practices going on, that in fact, are pretty darn good. Those are the groups I am interested in working with.
GM: Aside from the work on interoperability, what other new areas would you like to see the OSA working on under your presidency?
AG: Our member companies do a tremendous amount of work in a number of vertical industries. This year, the OSA will focus on developing initiatives in verticals like financial services, higher education, and government. These sectors can benefit from open solutions interoperability, so we intend to collaborate and deliver best practices and solutions that meet the needs of these markets.
GM: Any other thoughts on how open source will evolve over the next few years?
AG: Open source software has changed the rules and the economics of the IT market over the last 20 years. It puts the right kind of pressure on companies to make software better and to be innovative with their business models. This all serves the customer better.
In particular, I think the open source model of “mass collaboration” is changing the rules of everything. By allowing meritocracy to rule, everyone benefits. And, not just in software, but all around us from online encyclopedias to disease research and thousands of other “segments”.
GM: Any other comments?
AG: Thank you, Glyn, for the opportunity to do this. I read your blog regularly and find your commentary on open source hard-hitting and accurate. I’m glad to be a part of the conversation.