The predicament for modern ERPs: to customize or to standardize?

I’m writing this note in response to Dwight Fischer’s post on ERP trends for Education. Dwight is CIO at Dalhousie University, and IT leader among his Canadian peers. There have been conversations, also largely led by ERP vendors such as Ellucian and Oracle, about the cloudification of ERP systems (or so-called Student Information Systems). Software vendors are interested in selling subscriptions (i.e. recurring revenues), while they can provide economies of scale on the hosting side, as well as more OpEx and less CapEx for universities.

Although this sounds like the future is happening before our eyes, one of the major obstacle has been the wide variety of modules installed by universities and colleges. No one seems to agree on the same bundle of modules, and if we add the custom modifications to the picture, the standardization of ERPs across institutions (a pre-condition to cloudification) remains only a dream at this point. Dwight advocates that encouraging standardization is the natural course of action for CIOs.

I wanted to make two simple points:

  1. the value of ERPs comes precisely from customization
  2. customization is affordable (and desirable) when industry best practices are followed

I’m drawing from the savoir-faire of the Free/Open Source Software community, widely used across industries (80% of the software is open source), and in particular from the ERP practice at Savoir-faire Linux. In the last four years, we helped more than 50 customers digitized their practices, while leveraging Odoo, the Open ERP.

odoo_ca_white

I’m also sharing what I learned from my own experience at the Ontario Ministry of Education, helping school boards share their IT services. Over several years, IT teams across organizations learned to collaborate in progressively sophisticated ways. Today, they accomplish more together than they could ever have done in silos.

Here is my response to Dwight:

Thanks for the post Dwight. Great summary of the disruption happening in the ERP industry. One idea I would challenge though is that standardization is a good thing for ERPs. Since the role of ERPs is to digitize (and enforce) business processes, standardization may only work for an organization with standard processes, but is there any? For the regular guy or gal, it may mean some gymnastics to fit what the software thinks he or she should be doing in an utopian organization, thus a lack of adoption at best, and a lack of productivity at worse. It sounds counter-intuitive to me, since adoption of IT technologies (and responding to user needs in particular) is the top factor explaining the software crisis we’re experiencing since the 60’s. Projects go over budget, over time, or don’t deliver on expectations (in some cases it’s all the above). Can we meet user needs with a standard/generic ERP?

Most of the customers we’re helping with their digitization actually find more value in custom-fitting the software to their needs, and not the other way around. Although buyers think about software first, they quickly find out the whole purpose of the ERP implementation is about increasing productivity in their organization. We identify and we avoid processes that are not mature, to focus on those processes that are mature and time-consuming. The business case is easy to make when we can show that FTE time can be spared in some area, so that it can be focused where it should be: serving students better (possibly more interaction and customer service). In the end, the ERP pays for itself rather quickly. It does so when it supports people in their tasks, vs asking them to work differently.

I would agree that making modifications on school ERPs has led to complexity and exponential costs. Primarily that is because IT teams have been working in silos. The industry practice is to collaborate on software development, thus outsourcing and lowering the maintenance cost. The Linux operating system is a good example. You find it in Android phones, data centres, Samsung TVs, networking gear (Cisco, GE, Brocade, etc), planes, cars, public clouds (e.g. 25% of the Microsoft Azure workloads), now Blackberry… In the end, the cost of maintenance is very low for a single organization, and near zero for a university and college (most work being handled by Intel, Microsoft, Google, and companies like Savoir-faire Linux). Companies compete on areas of differentiation and core competencies, while cooperating on the non-essential. The same can apply to ERPs in education. Why keeping these customizations secret, when someone else is out there to help you pick up the tab? It is only a matter of collaboration and managing code repositories effectively. This is what the Odoo Communication Association members, for example, are aiming to do. There is no secret. Collaboration is key!

When it comes to ERP implementation, you can have your custom cake, you can eat it too with your friends, and you can still pay for it.

Historic Agreement between Red Hat and Microsoft

Red-Hat and Microsoft logosAfter months of negotiation, the Red Hat Microsoft cloud partnership was announced on November 4th. This agreement of historic proportions heralds radical changes in the global computing ecosystem. It will have significant impacts on many organizations in Quebec and elsewhere in the world.

This partnership deals with two important elements:

Public cloud with Azure

Microsoft’s Azure Cloud hosting platform will receive over the coming months Red Hat certifications authorizing the provision of supported versions of the open source global leader’s products (Certified Cloud and Service Provider). All of Red Hat environments will be ported to Azure — Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, Red Hat JBoss Web Server, Red Hat Gluster Storage, OpenShift, and so on. In practical terms, thanks to the Red Hat Cloud Access program, Red Hat users will have the option of using and/or migrating their subscriptions to Microsoft’s public Cloud hosting platform.

.NET Software Framework

The .NET framework whose code has been opened by Microsoft a few months ago will be accessible through the Red Hat offer — in particular, through Red Hat OpenShift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Hybrid Cloud For Heterogeneous Environments

During the formalization of this partnership, both American companies have stated that they want to promote Red Hat Enterprise Linux as “the preferred choice for enterprise Linux workloads on Microsoft Azure”. More generally, both organizations announced that they will work together to develop an hybrid open source cloud computing offer. In respect to users and client companies the objective is clear: to enable Windows and Linux private infrastructures to migrate smoothly on Microsoft’s public cloud.

This historic announcement adds to important underlying trends in the industry. Four weeks ago, Apple announced that it was dropping esXi VMware virtualization and moving from there to KVM and an OpenStack environment. Apple also announced earlier this year it had moved to the open source Mesos platform its smartphone intelligent assistant service.

Microsoft, Apple but also Cisco, EMC, and Oracle — companies that have not always supported open source, if the did not fight it — are gradually embracing open technologies. Here is another proof that open source is becoming the standard for information technology and innovation. This is probably a major generational change. It remains to be seen how long this will take large and medium size companies — especially in Quebec — to follow this evolution and take advantage of its benefits. Time will tell.

OpenStack In Canada: A Talk On Private Clouds This Week In Toronto

OpenStack LogoWith 20 million lines of open code, 23,756 individual contributors, and about 500 companies involved in 162 countries — including global companies such as Google — OpenStack is the de facto reference for private clouds. Paypal has announced this year a massive migration from VMWare to OpenStack, following the likes of Walmart (100,000 cores of OpenStack virtual machines announced in February), eBay, AT&T, American Express, Sony, Time Warner Cable, BMW, Disney Studio, BestBuy, Comcast, and many others including the Seneca Academic Cloud. Earlier this month, sources said that Apple would join the movement with a massive KVM/OpenStack deployment project.

Why is all this happening?

Four years ago, after reading several market studies focusing on cloud computing solutions — open source or not — I chose OpenStack for my R&D. A that time, many technologies with different levels of maturity were competing: Eucalyptus (IaaS), CloudStack, oVirt and ProxMox — the latter being more virtualization plus-plus than cloud. OpenStack was the new kid on the block and the most immature. Why did I choose it then?

Two elements were key to my decision:

  1. My knowledge of the open source ecosystem (I did a PhD thesis on the topic and I’ve been working for the last 11 years in this industry), and
  2. A thorough analysis of the cloud computing market.

Open Source is the best way to build business standards

For many years, companies have formed consortia as a way to solve complex technical issues. These organizations were complicated, highly political, and it seemed that only big companies would benefit in the end. At the same time, small businesses and start-ups have chosen to build new technologies faster, with the agility granted by open sourcing the code. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Spotify are only some of the most famous. Year after year, open source has become the most accepted way for organizations to collaborate in solving problems.

OpenStack CloudsHow do we recognize before anyone else a successful open source project? That’s the million dollar question! For my part, two elements are important and I found them in the OpenStack community: a strong engineering team with “a dream”, and a business story.

OpenStack has never been a student project built in a garage but, from the beginning, it was an ambitious business initiative lead by engineers from NASA and Rackspace in partnership with established open source companies. Since day one and the first line of code, the men and women engaged in this project aimed at creating “The” cloud computing solution, the “Linux of the Cloud”… a dream! NASA co-founded this project because they needed Infrastructure as a Service for its large scale needs. Rackspace did it because Amazon Web Services was going to push them out of the market with a new generation of cloud solutions (the business story). After several months of R&D and deployment of this new technology, my gut feeling was confirmed when I saw a guy from my technical team wearing an OpenStack T-shirt. The dream was shared and going strong…

The Cloud computing market needs a standard

OpenStack_StandardRapidly, the OpenStack community grew with the addition of major players like Dell, Cisco, IBM, Red Hat, and others. Why? Cloud computing actors use to commit themselves: “Cloud solutions will help you to perform”. The reality is not that simple, since public clouds can’t satisfy everyone’s needs — particularly when security and privacy are major concerns only addressed with a true private cloud solution.
That’s where OpenStack comes in.

You can summarize OpenStack in a single acronym — IaaS — which includes the same disruptive approach as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its standard API. To make an analogy with the smartphone industry, OpenStack is the Android of cloud computing, and AWS, its iOS.

  • Both Amazon and Apple develop their global solutions on private technology with a high level of services.
  • Both are industry leaders.
  • Facing them, Android and OpenStack are open technologies designed to run on any hardware platform, whilst offering standard APIs to facilitate their operations.
  • In these two market, the “open source” outsiders have earned the most important part of the market with the same open strategy.

OpenStack KeyThat is the key behind the success of OpenStack:

  • A standard and shareable IaaS solution
  • in a highly competitive business ecosystem
  • with an open source Apache license which allows to run the software inside any proprietary solution or existing infrastructure.

No other project in the IT industry have had the same impact as OpenStack, which is leveraging the best recent development practices (continuous integration, DevOps…), while being carried by all the market actors including hardware, services and software companies. Only an open source project can achieve that.

Keep it simple, be safe

To conclude this post, OpenStack is now the de facto cloud computing standard. Obviously, there are various ways to use it depending on your business case. Hosting services and big private cloud providers are the most intensive users of OpenStack and they leverage the full power of all its components. In many cases, however, organizations will only need a simple version of it and, as I use to say, “With OpenStack, keep it simple, be safe.”

LDAPCon 2015: Identity Management with LDAP from Windows to Linux via the Cloud

For the first time, Savoir-faire Linux will be this year a sponsor of LDAPCon 2015, which will be held on November 11th to 13rh at the Edinburgh University, in Scotland. It is in fact the fifth International Conference on LDAP, Directory Services and Identity Management:

LDAPCon2015

Today, LDAP means:

  • A third-generation protocol that was revised in 2006.
  • An open and interoperable ecosystem of commercial servers (Novell, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, etc.) and open source servers (Apache Directory Server, OpenLDAP, 389 DS, OpenDJ, etc.).
  • Many free software and open source spin-offs (Apache Directory Studio, Fusion Directory, LDAP Toolbox, LemonLDAP::NG, LDAP Synchronization Connector, phpLDAPadmin, etc.)
  • An authentication standard supported by a phenomenal number of free and non-free software, from heavy clients to web apps.

“LDAP is the key to interoperability of identification”

According to Jonathan Le Lous, « Identity management has always been the key, the central node of communication in information systems, and it remains a critical issue for all customers and organizations we work with today. » In fact, from tech companies to banks through transportation groups or any other industry, IT infrastructures are increasingly and massively dependent on Linux and cloud computing environments. « The essential question is: how I, who basically manage Windows users, how can I allow them to communicate openly and safely in Linux, Mac OS and cloud computing environments? LDAP plays a vital role in making communication between these environments possible. »

Clement OudotClément Oudot, a Security and Infrastructure expert and a contributor of the LemonLDAP::NG project, will be delegated by Savoir-faire Linux at LDAPCon 2015. He will monitor the conference program for us and he himself will host a presentation of the protocol OpenID Connect.

“This event is very important for the LDAP community, which meets every two years to present its new software and make live this standard”, he says. “The subjects are quite varied, from the introduction to new protocols to feedback sessions on critical architectures. I for my part look forward to attending Howard Chu‘s conference who will discuss the latest advances OpenLDAP.”

Savoir-faire Linux and Microsoft Canada announce a close partnership in the open source field

Logo MicrosoftLogo Savoir-faire Linux
 

Montreal, October 5th, 2015 – Becoming the first “Microsoft Open Source Partner” in Canada, Savoir-faire Linux, a leader in Free software and open source technologies, is strengthening its ties with Microsoft Canada to best meet the needs of organizations. Both companies have concluded this week in Toronto, a close partnership in this field.

The Microsoft Open Source Partner program is a new global program at Microsoft and we are very excited to have Savoir-faire Linux as our first partner in Canada”, said Keith Loo, Open Source Lead at Microsoft Canada. “Open Source Software is a critical part of Microsoft’s business, and it is important that we partner with and learn from partners such as Savoir-faire Linux. This program will ensure that we can continue improving and supporting our customers’ cross-platform needs, and with this partnership we can bring the best of both OSS and cloud.”

The work done by our experts in software engineering is remarkable and I am delighted to be involved in this new partnership,” said Cyrille Beraud, president of Savoir-faire Linux. “The Azure cloud platform has become essential and free software developers communities can no longer ignore it. We want to send a very strong message to our clients — if we are sometimes competitors on the market, we are partners when the time comes to serve our customers and to provide together the best services and the most appropriate solutions to their needs.

The new partnership will allow Savoir-faire Linux, which acquired the Silver Microsoft Cloud Platform competency to provide its customers with highly skilled and certified experts that can work on Microsft’s Azure cloud computing platform and perfectly integrate open source components. It will allow Microsoft to strengthen its strong strategy towards open source developers communities and enable customers to benefit from a rigorous integration of the best existing free software in the market.

There are several cloud offers such as Azure and OpenStack for private deployment or OVH for the pure data center field,” says Jonathan Le Lous, Vice-President, Business Development – Cloud and Infrastructure, at Savoir-faire Linux. “We believe these offerings complement and hybridize. Each one is relevant to actual needs and constraints. So I’m excited to work with Microsoft for a greater use of innovative and flexible open technologies in the business community – both in existing Microsoft environments and on the Azure cloud platform.

This is a new era at Microsoft,” concluded Adi Morun, Azure Product Manager at Microsoft Canada. “We are truly committed in creating the most Complete and Open Cloud! You can see it in so many of our recent investments, our partnerships and our offerings. In fact more than 20% of our virtual machines in Azure run on Linux. This partnership is extremely exciting as we continue to embrace the fantastic Open Source community in Canada!

MONitoring as a Service for OpenStack

In early May, we announced the publication of a blueprint proposing the integration of a monitoring service to the OpenStack cloud platform. Called Monitoring as a Service (MONaaS), this project was presented for the first time on May 21 at the Solutions Libres & Open Source Fair in Paris, France, by Thibault Cohen and myself.

Here is the slide deck and we will be presenting it again tomorrow (June 4) at the third meeting of the OpenStack Montreal community.

MONaaS-presentation-titre

Today, in fact, there is no supervision solution in OpenStack except through the Ceilometer project. This OpenStack component is designed to collect measures of the various components of the platform – originally for billing purposes. It meets the  operators’ needs of measuring the cloud infrastructure, but it is not a monitoring solution for users of the infrastructure and their applications.

Since ceilometer does not allow monitoring at the application level, we propose to add a component of Monitoring as a Service (MONaaS) to OpenStack.

  • It would be a RESTful, fault-tolerant, self-supervised and highly available service.
  • This service would allow users to create different audit operations that would be processed out on a regular basis by the monitoring service.
  • An optional agent collecting application data that would otherwise not be visible from the hypervisor would be installed in the instances.
  • The monitoring service could also carry out availability checks by directly testing services on their TCP / UDP standards ports (SMTP, HTTP, etc…) and even perform web scenarios.

Of course, this contribution is fully open and we are currently discussing with the technical community to better integrate our project in the OpenStack ecosystem. Pending integration of Monitoring as a Service in Openstack, Savoir-faire Linux released a Nagios plugin that allows metrics monitoring in Ceilometer.

This post has been prepared and co-written by Alexandre Viau and Thibault Cohen

Video of the presentation (UPDATED)