[This is one of four pieces of Sun news from last week; I actually got to make the announcements at OSCON but was too busy to blog]. A couple of years ago, Sun’s software group launched the OpenSSO project, the open-source version of our big comprehensive suite of identity-management tools. Now, that project is a supported Sun product: OpenSSO Express. I don’t understand the software deeply enough to say anything authoritative about it, but the pricing-and-support model is interesting.
What It Is · The products that have gone into OpenSSO are big and complex and enterprisey; that’s because the whole cluster of problems around identity (both tech and biz) is big and complex and enterprisey. I’d be willing to bet that anything else competitive in this space will end up being just as scary and hairy.
As an Open-Source project, it’s been a success: 700 members, fifteen external committers, several production deployments (mostly in Europe). The commercial offering that birthed OpenSSO has over two thousand installations.
History and Process · Historically, this has been a classic “Enterprise Software” sales cycle, featuring a big fat up-front licensing charge. It’s been one of Sun’s most successful software product families over the years.
These days, it’s all Open Source (CDDL license). Go and get it, download it, recompile it, change it, put it into production, do whatever you want. But what a lot of people want is handholding and support and legal indemnification. Combining the Enterprise-Software history with the Open-Source future is tricky; here’s how we’ve done it. First of all, the release schedule looks like this:
There are three kinds of builds: First, the usual nightlies and milestones that any OSS project produces. Then there are “Express Builds”, which release every three months or so and are described thus: “A community build that has undergone extensive automated testing and moderate manual testing by Sun Quality Assurance Engineering Team.”
Finally, there are the “Commercial Builds”, releasing every year or fifteen months, described thus: “A community build that has undergone extensive manual and automated testing by Sun Quality Assurance Engineering Team.”
The Business Side · So, what’s changed on the business side, now that this OSS project is also a product? The answer is, hardly anything at all. There’s still an up-front licensing charge, and then the usual menu of support arrangements, all including legal indemnification, and the usual steady flow of patches and fixes.
What I found interesting was this: you can run either the Express or Commercial binaries, but we’ll only support the current and N-1 versions. The choice is pretty clear; the Express versions are going to have the new features and enhancements quicker, but you’re going to have to upgrade a couple times a year to stay supported. On the other hand, with the Commercial releases, you can stand pat for the best part of three years at a time.
My personal bet is that the Commercial releases will be most-used, but the product guys tell me that customers are rolling out both flavors right now.
Anyhow, we’re all trying to figure out this how-to-commercialize-OSS as we go along, and I think this attempt to use entirely traditional pricing and support arrangements is interesting, whatever the outcome.