The Mother Of All Sources

HP and technical book publisher O'Reilly and Associates have created a new way to shopfor Open Source software developers. Their new joint project, called sourceXchange, is away to connect the people who need the code with the people who write the code.SourceXchange "acts as an E-bay for software development," according to WayneCaccamo, Director of Open Source Solutions for HP. Occassionaly, project managers usingLinux within HP found they needed to hire a contractor for some additional developmentwork.

Good developers were hard to find and had to go through the HP contracting process.What was needed was a way to reach the developers and insure the developers' solutionwould really address the problem. All in a timely, cost-effective fashion, of course. So,an "E-services approach" was eventually applied to solve the problem. "Wesaw sourceXchange as a proof point for e-services," says Caccamo. If you don't knowit by now, E-services is HP's new strategy emphasizing providing any and all computingfunctions via the Web. Creating discrete, modular, efficient services would encouragetheir use by a wide variety of Internet portals and, more importantly, users.

The best way to make sourceXchange successful was to party with an independentthird-party. They approached O'Reilly and Associates, a leader in the Open Source movementby virtue of it's line of books which have, in many cases, become the de factodocumentation for many UNIX sys admins. HP connected with Brian Behlendorf, a recognizedleader in the Open Source movement because of his work with the Apache SoftwareFoundation. With Behlendorf's experience in the Open Source community and HP's willingnessto fund and operate the project sourceXchange became a reality.

"The way it works is quite simple," says Caccamo. Need some software? Get anidea, figure out what you'll pay, create a Request For Proposal (RFP) and post it thesourceXchange Web site. Then sit back and wait for potential developers to review the RFPand respond with comments and/or bid proposals. SourceXchange acts as a trusted thirdparty to insure the process goes smoothly. The only requirement imposed by sourceXchangeis that the software must be Open Source. According to Behlendorf, "we're not goingto be religious" about which particular Open Source license (GNU, BSD, XConsortium,Apache, etc.) is used.


SourceXchange adds value in several ways. First, it brings the developers and users ofsoftware -- called sponsors -- together. "What we're basically building is amarketplace," says Behlendorf. Often times corporate sponsors are very new to theOpen Source concept. They have no experience or contacts with the Open Source community.They have money and are willing to pay for what they want, they just don't have access tothe developers that can make it happen. One important side benefit of the marketplaceapproach is demand aggregation. If a particular project would be too expensive for asingle sponsor, multiple sponsors can get together and fund the project, dividing the costand making it feasible.

Not surprisingly, Behlendorf sees a huge demand for projects in the Open Source arena.By providing a place for developers and sponsors to get together, sourceXchange introducesdemand to supply. Secondly, sourceXchange provides project management through peer review.The peer review process provides a mechanism to help insure that a particular proposalreally addresses the demands of a project. SourceXchange provides "a third partydeveloper recognized by O'Reilly and the community and approved by the sponsor," saysBehlendorf.

This peer reviewer helps define the RFP, helps select the developer and provides"mentoring" to the developer. For instance, given a particular RFP, the peerreviewer might suggest a development language such as Java vs. C to a developer. Or thepeer reviewer might suggest another method or process to the sponsor which will change theRFP or speed the development process.

Importantly, the peer reviewer acts as a mediator in the event of a dispute. Forinstance, if the sponsor says the product does not meet the agreed upon specifications andthe developer disagrees, the peer reviewer "acts as a tie-breaker", decidingwho's right.

Third, sourceXchange will provide a public performance history. Long term, "bothdevelopers and sponsors will develop a track record," says Behlendorf. This willallow users of sourceXchange to make informed decisions about with whom they will work.This provides a service to the developer by seeing if a potential sponsor is flexible inhis requirements and pays his bills. Sponsors will see if developers perform as promisedand return value for money. This eliminates some of the uncertainty in the process.


What does sourceXchange get in return for these services? SourceXchange gets apercentage of the agreed upon development fee. This is paid by the sponsor. The fee coversthe cost of operations and the services of the peer reviewer.

What's the percentage? "It's all being negotiated," answers Caccamo. Heexpects it will be in the 20% to 30% range. According to Behlendorf, commercialoutsourcers take anywhere from 50% to 75% over the actual contractors fees.

Money is not the point according to Caccamo. "We saw this as an opportunity tomake a visionary contribution to the Open Source movement.," he says. HP certainlyseems to support sourceXchange. They have provided the hardware to run the project andwere the first sponsors of RFPs on the site.

People certainly seem to agree that the sourceXchange concept is a good one. Eventhrough the project just came out of beta at the time of writing, there are (according tothe site) 2,356 users and 352 active developers registered with the site. RFPs worth over$60,000 are already posted. Given time, sourceXchange just may be the visionarycontribution HP would like it to be.