Open Enterprise Interview: Anthony Gold, president, Open Solutions Alliance

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post with the melodramatic headline “Is the Open Standards Alliance Betraying Open Source?”, in which I fretted that the new president of the Open Solutions Alliance, Anthony Gold, might go too far in his attempts to achieve interoperability with proprietary vendors.

Now, once upon a time, this impugning of an organisation and its new boss would have called forth thunder and lightning from the victim of my comments, with serried ranks of PRs assaulting me verbally, if not physically, until I retracted the post, or at least offered some profuse apology.

It's a measure of the new appreciation of the importance of engaging with criticism that is to be found in some quarters, at least, that, instead, Anthony kindly offered to explore my concerns further with me.

Given that he has just taken up his new position of head of the OSA, I took the opportunity to interview him more broadly: about his background and job at Unisys (he's currently VP & GM Open Source Business, there), his involvement with the OSA, and his plans for its future – including that vexed issue of how he might work with proprietary companies.

GM: Could you please give a little background about your career before and after joining Unisys?

AG: I’ve always had a passion for engineering and software development. I began at Unisys (Burroughs) designing mainframes and went on to have the fortunate opportunity to design the world’s first “LinTel/WinTel mainframe” in the ES7000 (which is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for hosting the largest number of concurrent gamers at the Dreamhack gaming conference in Sweden.

While running engineering for Unisys, I had some great mentors and business experiences that helped me focus my career on not just great technology, but leveraging that technology to build solutions to compelling business problems.

I spent the next several years in the systems integration business helping drive solutions in many different vertical industries. During that time, I had the opportunity to become a driver/thought leader in the SOA, Web 2.0, and mass collaboration space and have helped numerous companies leverage those “concepts” to improve their business.

After starting the open source business at Unisys in 2005, I spent the next few years growing that practice (engineering, marketing, sales, business development, support, etc.) and focusing our efforts at bringing open source into mission-critical environments.

Given my passions around engineering and my affinity for business, I think this background brings the right balance to my position at the OSA.

GM: When did you first come across open source – and what did you think of it?

AG: When we first started system test of the first ES7000 (way back in the ‘90s), we had our own proprietary boot OS’s that we’d use to test out the system. But, since we had Intel processors in the ES7000 and not the (then) proprietary Unisys processors, we decided to “play” with Linux and see what it could do.

Long story short, Linux was so easy to use (boot, configure, tune, etc.) that we really got bitten by the bug. So, we looked long and hard at how Unisys could work with Linux in a meaningful way.

Right away, we noticed that there were many things that were “missing” if we wanted to run this in a real “mission critical” environment, since all our systems had to be 5 nine’s (given our enterprise-class client base).

So, we took to writing a few components like multi-path I/O and dynamic partitioning, which we contributed back to the community. Of course, during that time we developed some close engineering ties with the folks at Red Hat and SUSE.

We then went on to our first LinuxWorld conference (I think it was 2003) where we demonstrated a 32x ES7000 running Linux in a two-partition environment (as two 16x machines).

We fired up a kernel compile and the system automatically sucked in unused processors from the idle partition to speed up the compile. It was a fantastic demonstration of real dynamic partition of processors at a time when you could only do that in a proprietary environment.

From that point, I knew that Unisys could really do well to put a business together helping companies leverage open source (not just Linux) to help them dramatically increase their agility and lower their costs.

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