Dennis Byron's Open Source Series: Talking to... Apatar

Most of the ebizQ.net Open Source Software (OSS) "Talking with…" Series has involved "established" OSS product and company structures. Of course, "established" in the OSS world is measured as anything more than 12 months. In this article, I talk with Renat Khasanshyn, entrepreneur of a 2006 start-up OSS operation that released its first distro in May 2007. Khasanshyn has been using OSS in another business for the last five years so he brings an interesting user/business perspective that differs from our "Talking with…" interviews of OSS development gurus Jim Jagielski, James Strachan and Max Spevack.

Renat's company is called Apatar. As blogged on in June from Red Herring, Apatar is bringing to market what it calls "Enterprise Data Mashups," which are a combination of data integration connectors and data maps that run on what is as of June 26, 2007 an open sourced framework.



Personally Renat brings an interesting "globalization" angle to OSS because he's a native of Minsk, Belarus now doing business out of both Minsk and Chicopee, MA. The Mass. Technology Leadership Council doesn't hold the eastern European connection against him. Its trustees just nominated him for an award to be given in October 2007 as "Emerging Exec" of the year. The Council trustees includes such industry historical and current-day leaders as Aaron Ain, Dan Bricklin, John Cullinane, Anthony DiBona, Raymond Kurzweil, John Little and Bob Metcalfe, people with an IT entrepreneur track record. If you don't recognize the names, they translate to Kronos; Visicalc (and mentor for Ray Ozzie, new Microsoft chief guru); IDMS; Parametric Technology; inventions too numerous to mention; Mathworks, and the Internet (with 3Com and Palm thrown in there somewhere for good measure).

Renat and the development staff in Minsk used all types of Lamp-stack OSS in building a services business starting in 2002 that develops and maintains web sites and supports product engineering requirements for large customers such as Adobe and many small and medium sized businesses. He estimates they spun more than 20 instances of Mambo and of course they are big PHP fans. Interestingly, he notes that as his services business acquired more established firms as clients, it had to move from an almost pure OSS environment to Java (before it was open sourced) and .Net. Business is business and open choice is what larger clients wanted in order to be interoperable with other infrastructure the clients had.

Of course his observation is very consistent with what we hear from almost all our research's user interviews.

Renat's group realizes OSS needs to be a two-way street if it's going to succeed. He says the Minsk developers working with PHP made contributions back to early PHP framework developments. They found that as their services business expanded, they needed a framework structure to develop websites to scale and re-use their work.

Through most of its history, OSS has been all about infrastructure. That was OK when it was a matter of the Common or Share or DECUS or GNU groups extending the AS/400, MVS, VAX VMS or UNIX. But OSS actually needs a lot more applications than infrastructure to really move into the mainstream. Our research estimates that whereas applications traditionally account for 60%-70% of software spend, just the opposite seems to be happening with OSS. That could be caused by the try-it-you'll-like-it dynamics of OSS but I believe that from a business perspective, the opportunities in the infrastructure sector are shrinking given Red Hat's and Apache's head start and the support of the leading IT suppliers for Apache's many projects? Investors and entrepreneurs therefore need to decide which applications to develop and/or invest in if they believe, as I do, that the historical application/infrastructure split of 65/35 will eventually emerge.

Renat's new venture, Apatar, is based on the premise that open source needs both application and integration functionality. The functionality, delivered primarily as a service (see below), not only provides BI for businesses of all sizes but more traditional data and application integration for small and medium-sized businesses that they could not otherwise afford because of the cost and administrative overhead of freestanding traditional middleware. Apatar lets users link information between files (Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, CSV/TXT files), databases (e.g., MySQL, Microsoft SQL, Oracle), applications (e.g., Salesforce.com, SugarCRM), and Web 2.0 destinations (e.g., Flickr, Amazon). An Apatar feature I plan to spend more time looking at is the product's ability to open up RSS feeds (e.g. from Google News) and the ability to turn around and make a spreadsheet so fed into another RSS feed.

This combined BI/integration functionality for mining small sets of data that otherwise would lie fallow is the Apatar value proposition. OSS is just a means of development and increasing demand. All investors and entrepreneurs should look at OSS as Renat does, as a means to an end and not the end in itself.

The Apatar distribution model is primarily software as a service (SaaS) although it offers a MySQL-like two-tier licensing scheme as well, particularly to support OEMs that would like to embed Apatar into their software or appliances. The client-based code sits on either Windows or Linux desktops.

Back to the subject of OSS, that's Apatar's development model with what I think of as the Compiere twist (see this Talking with Compiere ebizQ.net entry from March). Like Compiere, the core has been released into a community via its web site but Apatar is most interested in getting its community to extend the product as opposed to playing with the core code. The community is already providing connectors and metadata (data maps) that begin to cover many of the permutations that are possible between applications, files, databases and web sites. Connectors (a subset of an Apatar toolset) and metadata (stored in a repository) combine to turn raw data into intelligence. They specify how to plug into a data source, how to plug in to a target, what to get out it out of which tables (e.g., the necessary data is in only four out of a possible 25 tables), which joins to perform, how to normalize field descriptions, and so forth.

However, Renat says he also appreciates the quality assurance work and road-map direction he is already getting from his "forge." Apatar was in a beta period beginning in January 2007.

When I asked Renat about joining one of the emerging OSS applications alliances such as Red Hat Exchange or the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA), he said he is taking a wait and see attitude. He particularly understands the need for the underlying vendor-neutral framework promised with OSA efforts (what I call an open source Fusion or NetWeaver) but feels he needs to see some actual code before committing. That's too bad because I would not want to see the OSA facing a chicken-egg situation; everyone waiting for the other guy to make the first move. On a more controversial issue, relative to upgrading from his current GNU General Public License version two (GPL v2) license to GPL v3, Renat says the situation is similar to deciding whether to upgrade to Vista. His advice: "Wait for the service pack."

In building Apatar, Renat Khasanshyn feels he has the same constraints or options (depending on your point of view) as the large customers in his services business have: he wants open choice. Apatar is a tool set/framework built to run as a Java Virtual Machine and using OSS drivers (particularly to support JDBC). Business is business and although he has put his product into the community, he is not a purist, which I believe will serve him well. They are looking at adding JBoss Hibernate support to the next version.

About the Author

Dennis Byron brings three decades of analyst experience to his role as ebizQ's Community Manager for Improving Business Processes. This community covers Business Process Management (BPM), Process Modeling, Process Analysis, and Business Alert Monitoring (BAM), among other topics.

As Community Manager, Byron will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ community fully informed on the latest news and breakthroughs relevant to enterprise BPM. Byron will be responsible for bringing you breaking news on BPM daily, writing feature articles and sourcing content from other analysts, industry associations and vendors for publication on ebizQ. Finally, each week, Byron will compile the most important news and views in an e-mail newsletter for ebizQ's ever-growing BPM community.

Byron is ideally suited to the job, as he has researched and analyzed all areas of IT and information-systems use for the past 30 years. Byron looks at BPM market dynamics backed up by facts, while taking into account the perspective of the IT and business person. He is a frequent speaker and moderator on business processes, which will also be one of his roles as Community Manager.

Byron was the ERP and Middleware Analyst with the Datapro division of McGraw-Hill and IDC from 1991 to 2006. In these roles, he was the primary analyst for Business Process Management. He has conducted over 500 specific information-systems case studies. He has contributed to Application Development Trends, IT Business Edge, Research 2.0 and other publications.

Byron is also the principal of IT Investment Research, which is aimed at institutional and individual investors in IT, or anyone who enjoys peering under the covers of "the financials," where large companies and emerging IPOs like to bury their most interesting facts. His main area of interest is investment opportunities in enterprise software.

More by Dennis Byron

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