For years, carmakers have been able to take a standard car chassis and customise it with various vehicle bodies to create different car models without completely retooling for each one.

Now open-source application infrastructure vendor Gluecode Software hopes to do the same thing with enterprise servers, having just launched Gluecode Enterprise Server 3.5. It's designed to provide an open-source business automation server application that can, said the company, be custom-configured to meet customer requirements. Pricing starts at $4,000 per month per deployment, regardless of the number of servers or users.

The Gluecode Enterprise Server combines business process management, security management and an enterprise portal in an integrated suite that uses open-source applications, from the non-profit-making Apache Software Foundation, as its starting point. Gluecode takes Apache open-source applications and "glues" its own code on top of them depending on customer requirements, according to the company.

Gluecode CEO Winston Damarillo said his company's strategy follows an industry trend toward rapid software standardisation on languages and protocols that make it easier for applications to work together. Gluecode takes the base Apache applications, creates connecting code to customise it for users and sells it in a package that includes support and a software warranty. "It's a hybrid model," he said.

Apache open-source projects include the popular Apache Web server, the Jetspeed Enterprise Information Portal, the component-based Web development framework Cocoon and the Java-based build tool Ant. There are also open-source Apache projects under way for Web services, component programming and enterprise mail and news servers.

Mike Hogarth, an assistant professor at the UCL School of Medicine and a lead informaticist with the US Center for Biophotonics at the school, has been using Gluecode's Advanced Server application in a test environment to replace a custom portal application created by the school in 1997. The old application had become a "maintenance nightmare," he said, and instead of reworking it, Hogarth decided to try Gluecode. "It was built exactly the way I would want to build my next one," he said.
Proprietary portals including IBM WebSphere and Oracle Portal would have had feature overkill and been too pricey for his 4,500 users, he said.

Zach Roth, a business manager at AT&T said he is evaluating Gluecode's portal and business process management engine in his department to automate some first-tier internal support and to possibly replace an existing change management system. By using an open-source application that comes with vendor support, Roth said, his department's IT staff won't have to tackle new applications.

"We don't have to necessarily grow the skill sets internally," he said. "Open-source hasn't been well received throughout the enterprise traditionally. Those battles are still being fought.
"Out of the box, [most open-source applications] are not going to meet your needs 100 per cent," Roth said. Under Gluecode's model, "the vendor can be held accountable for non-believers."
Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, said his group encourages companies like Gluecode to take open-source applications and use them to create their own products. "We're very supportive of it," he said. "That's totally fine. That's our basic philosophy."

Analysts offered varying opinions on Gluecode's model.

Nathaniel Palmer, an analyst at The Delphi Group, called the company's strategy "a disruptive trend. Right now, the rate of adoption is fairly low, but the impact of the ripples, I think, is fairly significant."
Palmer said he doesn't know whether the idea will be embraced by IT departments. But "we do see the recognition that this is something that's fundamentally changing software," he added. "What is going to move open-source to the next level [in corporate IT] is having the value of something that's been tested and delivered with some level of warranty and commercial assurances."

But Robert Lerner, an analyst at Current Analysis, said he isn't so sure. Something as complicated and expensive as a full-fledged corporate portal may not be workable using a customised open-source application because companies want vendors that will be available when they need them. "I think this product will appeal probably to smaller customers who can't afford the major vendors," Lerner said. "It may be able to carve out a niche for itself, and I'm all in favour of open-source portals. The problem is there's no real record of success for open-source in the portal market. Small vendors are at a major disadvantage."

"I don't see them changing the market dynamics, at least not anytime soon," Lerner said.
Another company with a similar business model is JBoss in Atlanta, USA, which offers an open-source application server that it customises for users and offers with support and services.