The Immortality of Open Source Projects

Open source, like rock and roll, will never die.

Think of Sun Microsystems, and what comes to your mind?

For me? Purple workstations--my first exposure to Sun equipment.

For others, it might be Solaris. Or Java. There's a host of things Sun was well-known for before it was acquired by Oracle last year and systematically dismantled to fit within the Oracle ecosystem.

But I'll bet middleware was not one of the things you initially recalled. But it's some of Sun-now-Oracle's cast-off middleware that may prove to be a huge business for a burgeoning new community, led by some former Sun employees.

The company is ForgeRock, which made a small splash in the open source scene when it started up this February in Norway, led by Lasse Andresen, former Central & Northern Europe CTO at Sun. The ForgeRock team was later joined by Simon Phipps, former Sun Open Source Officer, member of the Open Source Initiative's Board of Directors, and (now) Chief Strategy Officer at ForgeRock.

Yeah, that Simon Phipps.

According to Phipps, Andresen saw the writing on the wall for Sun's middleware, such as the Open Web Single Sign-On (SSO) Project, also known as OpenSSO. Sun started OpenSSO Enterprise in 2008, with OpenSSO Express available for users as a community version. Andresen believed that projects like this would not long be for this world within an Oracle environment. He also believed that such a move would be a waste, as there was room for much growth in this and other Sun middleware offerings.

It turns out Andresen was prescient. ForgeRock got started on February 1 and by February 24, OpenSSO Express was pulled from Oracle's download site, with little to no explanation. ForgeRock, which has already started a downstream repository for OpenSSO, was left with little choice but to fork the code into a new project, OpenAM and become the new upstream project.

The SSO project is only one of ForgeRock's triple-threat approach to access management, euphemistically called the I3 Open Platform (Interaction, Identity, and Integration).

In the interaction channel, ForgeRock's OpenPortal continues Sun's earlier alliance with Liferay's Portal Server as a downstream developer and supporter of the Liferay Portal code.

In the identity product line, ForgeRock has OpenAM, as well as OpenFM, OpenAMP, and OpenIDM.

For integration, ForgeRock rolls out OpenESB, an enterprise service bus that can tie all of these asset management tools together into one coherent platform.

ForgeRock's toolset enables it to fill a highly specialized and, according to Phipps, a highly in-demand niche: high-performance, customized access management solutions for customers who need more than just the plain vanilla access management provided by large integrated stacks.

"To borrow a phrase from [former SUN CEO] Scott McNealy, for some customers IT is a cost center, and for other customers, IT is a competitive weapon," Phipps said. "Our customers are the ones using IT as the weapon to get an advantage over their competitors."

Thus far, ForgeRock has has little trouble finding customers. In fact, when companies evaluating former Sun products find out the product is no longer offered by Oracle, they are more than happy to see ForgeRock ready to provide service and support.

For Phipps, this is more than a tale of one company making good on another's actions. To him, the success of all of the open source projects within ForgeRock's purview represent the first working example of how open source in a commercial environment can work.

Even if a company kills or lets an open source project languish, there's always another commercial entity who can pick the work up and carry on.

Phipps plans to highlight this very aspect of the open source ecosystem next month at OSCON, where he will give a talk entitled "From 'Titanic' to 'Awesome'--Open Source Continuity In Practice." The session, scheduled for July 21, will detail the secret origins of ForgeRock and how it was the community response to Oracle's quiet dismissal of several Sun open source projects.

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