Three former BEA Systems executives who left the company earlier this year have founded a startup to support open source server software.

Byron Sebastian, Will Pugh and Cornelius Willis have all surfaced at SourceLabs which has just received US$3.5 million in venture funding.

The startup will focus on two major areas: certifying and testing open source software and selling support and maintenance subscriptions similar to those offered by Red Hat, said Willis, vice president, sales and marketing with SourceLabs.

The company plans to support server software beyond the software included in the typical Linux distribution, he said. "There are 20,000 open source projects out across the Internet. To date, customers have really only heavily invested in Linux," he said. "We're going to provide these tested and certified stacks and systems and sell support contracts for them."

These support contracts will first be sold in 2005, he added.

The company was founded in April, three months after SourceLabs Chief Executive Officer Byron Sebastian left BEA. Sebastian began interviewing open source customers and trying to understand why open source software wasn't more widely used, Willis said. "It became clear that there was no source for dependable open source systems. There were rock solid components, but nobody was integrating them into a system," he said.

Though SourceLabs is not saying what specific software it will support, the company will focus on software such as the MySQL database and Apache Web server, Willis said. The Linux operating system could eventually be part of the software that SourceLabs supports, as could Windows.

SourceLabs could find itself competing with companies with large support organizations and open-source specialists that focus on particular applications, said Bob Bickel, vice president of business strategy with JBoss, the developer of the JBoss application server.

"With a number of growing open source projects, there's a need for more integrated stacks," Bickel said. "However, companies like Hewlett-Packard and Novell are going after broadly integrated stacks and companies like JBoss and MySQL are going after focused integrated stacks. They're going to have to find the middle ground between those two end points," he said.

SourceLabs hopes to eventually have partnerships with some of these companies, Willis said. "If our business unfolds the way we hope it will, we think we would be a great partner for the global systems integrators," he said.