Stephen O'Grady recently interviewed and reviewed Bitrock after I introduced he and Erica Brescia, Bitrock CEO. I thought it appropriate to describe why I think what they build is important and cool from both a technology and business perspective.
Bitrock builds one-click installation technology for software packages that accounts for all the packages's dependencies. The packages can be installed across multiple platforms including multiple Linux systems, Mac OS X, Windows, and Solaris.
The company provides this service to ISVs, so if you're a small ISV using open source assemblies in your solution, Bitrock has the experience and technology to automate this expensive product engineering step for you. This is the first important realization. Too many companies still think that "installation" is "easy" and leave it to juniors, co-op students, and others that haven't the experience to understand how hard it is to get right (and get right for dependencies and updates), and then it's too late and they're eating the re-engineering cost to solve the problems and the customer cost in support calls, image, and good-will. Bitrock solves this problem for their ISV customers.
A number of key ISVs in the open source world use Bitrock services this way, including KnowledgeTree, Jaspersoft, MySQL, and SugarCRM.
Bitrock then launched Bitnami in Fall 2007 as a way to showcase their services and technology by hosting packages for important open source projects that do not necessarily have companies associated with them and that have sometimes complex (dependency) installations. Packages there include Ruby on Rails, Joomla, MediaWiki, Trac, and a wealth of others. [Also note the cool integration to the Ohloh metrics interface for their packages.]
Now I need to digress for a moment on terminology. I keep making references to "packages" instead of "stacks". This is because I don't want readers to rat hole on the idea that Bitrock is "just another stack company" that competes somehow with the likes of SpikeSource, SourceLabs, or OpenLogic. Bitrock solves a different class of problems and doesn't compete with the "stack" companies. (I think most of the "stack" companies miss the boat, but that's another post for another day.)
But one-click multi-platform installers is just where the Bitrock discussion begins. A lot of the value in the business of open source software comes from the subscription network offering made by a vendor. It started as a security and administration discussion with Red Hat Network and Novell/Ximian Red Carpet. MySQL built on the idea with the MySQL Network. These were all ways to expand beyond the idea that Open Source Business Models = Selling Support and Maintenance. This is where a lot of value (and business model innovation) lies, well beyond the reach of the historical closed-source packaged software companies.
Bitrock provides ISVs the underlying tools and infrastructure to build their own network-style products. This is the Network Service (formerly called the Update Server) that Stephen talks about as telemetry in the second half of his review. This is of enormous value to ISVs that want to build out their network product offerings to their customers, such that they don't have to start from scratch. It also supports their business's abilities to better understand their customers and better directly support them. (There are all kinds of ways this can be monetized by an ISV.)
Stephen points out concerns about how an ISV might abuse this ability. He even uses the dreaded "phone home" expression. I think this is less of an issue. While we have certainly bashed on the likes of Microsoft for possible abuses in this space, we haven't laid similar crimes at the feet of Red Hat, Novell, or MySQL. I think what very much matters is how an ISV packages their service, respects and protects their customer relationships, and positions and sets the expectations around their products. This is not a gun (which exists to shoot things regardless of motivation) but a workbench on which you can build things.
The Bitrock Network Service is just the beginning. There are some great things that Bitrock is doing to release their installer build tools, as well as even more brilliant ways that the Network Service can work for enterprise customers (and further supporting the ISV). I realize this sounds a little too exuberant even for me. ("It's a floor wax! It's a dessert topping! It does Julienne fries!") What is exciting for me is that it's a coherent collection of technologies with a consistent set of supporting business models.
Disclaimer: I've been watching what Bitrock has been doing for the past year under non-disclosure. They are not a client of mine, but I jumped at the recent opportunity to sit on the Bitrock advisory board.
The main development hub for Bitrock is located in Sevilla, Spain, not far from this bridge.