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Open-source software has caught the attention of the consulting industry as service providers look to help companies develop strategies for implementing Linux and other open-source packages. Upstart open-source consulting and integration firm Optaros Inc. on Wednesday formally introduced Robert Lefkowitz as its VP of research and executive education programs. This move follows Aztec Software's introduction last week of AztecSource open-source software-integration services.

At Optaros, Lefkowitz's job will be to help educate business customers about the benefits of open-source technology and how they can successfully adopt open-source software. His qualifications for this stem from his role as chief technical architect and VP of data services for IT at AT&T Wireless. Launched late last year by Bob Gett, who served as president of Cambridge Technology Partners North America and founded E-services provider Viant Corp. in the late 1990s, Optaros has accumulated $7 million in Series A venture-capital funding from Charles River Ventures and General Catalyst Partners.

Although open-source software has caught on in a big way with both small and large companies, Gett's premise is that there are still a lot of businesses out there that haven't taken a close look at the benefits of applying open-source technology to create the software needed to solve business problems. Optaros' goal will be to view problem solving through the lens of open source, Gett says, adding, "We can help [companies] make the use of open source a more legitimate, normal process, and help CIOs see where it fits."

"About two years ago, I began to question why I would need IBM WebSphere when I could use JBoss," says fellow Viant alum Dave Gynn, who's also Optaros' application infrastructure practice and research services lead. "Open source was maturing to the point where it became a contender against larger proprietary technologies that were eating up our budgets. For the past two years, open-source software has been a part of every major decision."

The market for open-source services, already tapped by top Linux distributors Red Hat and Novell, not to mention the usual suspects IBM Global Services and HP Services, will thrive in environments where users are trying to integrate open-source apps into proprietary infrastructures, says Shirish Netke, head of Aztec Software's U.S. operations. "Mixed open-source/proprietary stacks introduce interoperability execution complications," Netke adds. Aztec launched in 1995 as a provider of application server software but has since refocused on services.

Executives at Optaros and Aztec agree that open-source implementations are about more than saving money, a position not surprising given the cost their services would add to the budget of any open-source project. "This is not about cheap, unsupported software," Gett says. "Open source is a catalyst that will create a lot more choices for enterprises."

Another benefit of using consultants in an open-source environment is that customers can choose at any time to take over the work themselves. "We're not bringing in a proprietary framework, which is how consulting companies traditionally lock you in," Gynn says. Adds Gett, "The value is not the intellectual property anymore, it's how you use it. That's the open-source play."

Service providers focusing solely on open-source technology aren't entering a virgin market. IBM Global Services covers many of the bases that its upstart competitors do, including open-source software assessment consulting, as well as design and implementation, systems management, and ongoing support services. IBM also offers more specialized open-source services, including those designed around using Linux as part of a larger server-consolidation strategy, migrating network operating systems to Linux, and establishing Linux-based, high-performance server and network clusters.

IBM rival HP Services offers a similar menu of Linux-related services, with an emphasis on managing Red Hat subscriptions and supporting Debian Linux, a vendor-independent version of Linux. IBM and HP, however, are primarily interested in Linux running on top of, and in concert with, their hardware and other technology offerings.

Red Hat itself offers consulting, support, and training services, in concert with partners Dell, Fujitsu, Global Knowledge Network, HP, and IBM.

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