FOSS Spells Eco­nomic Suc­cess for Kn­im­bus

Gur­gaon-based Kn­im­bus, a one-of-its-kind niche on­line com­mu­nity for re­searchers across the globe, has suc­cess­fully used FOSS to gen­er­ate a pos­i­tive cash flow, cat­a­pult its busi­ness up the lad­der, and earn a great rep­u­ta­tion across the world.

OpenSource For You - - FOR U & ME - By Priyanka Sarkar The au­thor is a mem­ber of the editorial team. She loves to weave in and out the lit­tle nu­ances of life and scrib­ble her thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ences in her per­sonal blog.

While en­ter­prises are still ap­pre­hen­sive about FOSS as a ro­bust busi­ness model, firms like Kn­im­bus have fig­ured out how to use open source tech­nol­ogy to beef up their busi­ness and reach out to thou­sands of re­searchers through their net­work­ing plat­form. Built like a so­cial net­work­ing site, Kn­im­bus was launched by two en­trepreneurs, Rahul Agar­walla and Tarun Arora, in Septem­ber 2011. It en­ables sci­en­tists to ac­cess in­ter­est­ing con­tent, col­lab­o­rate, share in­no­va­tive dis­cov­er­ies and con­nect with peers. Since its in­cep­tion, the user base of Kn­im­bus has grown ex­po­nen­tially to over 100,000 sci­en­tists and re­searchers. Not many know that the firm has re­ceived sup­port from for­eign in­vestors of In­dian ori­gin to the ex­tent of Rs 30 mil­lion. Backed by a de­vel­op­ment team that com­prises 8-10 pro­fes­sion­als with ex­per­tise in open source tech­nolo­gies, Kn­im­bus has made a mark in this niche net­work­ing do­main.

A sense of con­tent­ment was ev­i­dent in CEO and co-founder Rahul Agar­walla when we caught up with him for a can­did chat. Ex­plain­ing why he chose to adopt the FOSS model for his busi­ness, he quipped, “Our choice of tech­nol­ogy was based on ba­sic con­sid­er­a­tions like re­li­a­bil­ity, se­cu­rity, trans­parency, fast- paced de­vel­op­ment and cost. Open source so­lu­tions are com­mu­nity de­vel­oped and peer re­viewed, which leads to more re­li­a­bil­ity. The In­ter­net ecosys­tem is largely com­posed of open source pro­grams such as DNS, Send­mail and Apache, and lan­guages such as HTML, Perl etc. Open source en­ables the com­mu­nity to ex­am­ine

soft­ware for se­cu­rity flaws. The con­tin­u­ous and broad peer re­views en­abled by pub­licly avail­able source code im­prove se­cu­rity, be­cause de­fects that might oth­er­wise be missed are in­den­ti­fied and elim­i­nated con­tin­u­ously. Open source soft­ware is gen­er­ally free but, more im­por­tantly, the to­tal cost of own­er­ship, in­clud­ing sup­port, is much lower as there is a world of sup­port from the vi­brant com­mu­ni­ties that have evolved around each piece of soft­ware.”

Agar­walla also be­lieves that open source tech­nol­ogy pre­vents the de­pen­dence on ven­dors and pro­vides flex­i­bil­ity with built-in lim­i­ta­tions.

FOSS tools all the way!

Kn­im­bus is built on a J2EE-based plat­form us­ing tech­nolo­gies like Apache SOLR, MySQL and Perl for in­ter­nal stor­age and ex­ter­nal con­nec­tiv­ity. Other tools used are Struts, Maven, Ibatis, JQuery, etc. In ar­eas like fed­er­ated search, where Kn­im­bus out­per­forms any of its com­peti­tors, it is em­pow­ered by open source tech­nolo­gies like SOLR and Perl.

And you say there are stum­bling blocks...

En­ter­prises that adopt open source tech­nol­ogy gen­er­ally come across a num­ber of bot­tle­necks in the whole process. But Rahul Agar­walla has a dif­fer­ent story to tell. He reveals that, ini­tially, the com­pany was us­ing pro­pri­etary so­lu­tions, but within a year, the firm mi­grated Kn­im­bus to Ama­zon EC2 in­fra­struc­ture for au­to­matic hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal scal­ing. “We did not face too much trou­ble in de­ploy­ing the soft­ware tools we were us­ing be­cause we chose sta­ble, re­li­able and pop­u­lar OSS. It is im­por­tant to keep this in mind while select­ing OSS be­cause, oth­er­wise, you can run into the fol­low­ing is­sues: Open source soft­ware may have mul­ti­ple li­cences avail­able. In such cases, the li­cens­ing of the soft­ware be­comes a com­plex process. Lack of proper doc­u­men­ta­tion slows down the learn­ing process for de­vel­op­ers, and makes de­ploy­ment and de­bug­ging chal­leng­ing. The death of fo­rums and the aban­don­ing of fur­ther de­vel­op­ment and upgra­da­tion can leave you in a fix. Solan­dra is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of this.”

Chal­lenges down the road

Agar­walla is quick to ad­mit that there are quite a few chal­lenges that his team will need to work on in the near fu­ture with ref­er­ence to FOSS. “Quick sup­port in case of a prob­lem could be a real chal­lenge, as we de­pend on com­mu­ni­ties and fo­rums. The other is­sue is the need to up­grade to later ver­sions for bug fixes. This can be com­plex, as there is no guar­an­tee of up­date tim­ings or back­ward com­pat­i­bil­ity. How­ever, in the past two years, due to the sta­bil­ity of OSS, we have not faced such is­sues,” says Agar­walla.

And how does Kn­im­bus tackle the is­sue of sup­port for the de­ployed OSS? “We are quite close to the Apache com­mu­nity es­pe­cially in the case of SOLR where many of the com­mit­ters have helped us. In other cases we use the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the soft­ware, com­mu­nity sup­port on fo­rums, and, some­times, tech­ni­cal sup­port from paid pro­fes­sional ex­perts in the niche ar­eas. We un­der­stand that it can­not be a one-way street and thus have given back to the com­mu­nity by way of feed­back or code as well as spo­ken at OS events like Lucene Rev­o­lu­tion.”

Pro­mot­ing open source

Open source pun­dits be­lieve that the ba­sic prin­ci­ple of FOSS is to con­trib­ute and give back to the com­mu­nity. Kn­im­bus plays a key role in pro­mot­ing FOSS at a con­sumer level and in spread­ing the spirit of open source in its own ways. “Our tech­nol­ogy team has used many open source tech­nolo­gies in the past. When we started Kn­im­bus, select­ing open source was a sim­ple choice. As a com­pany, we be­lieve in open­ness and par­tic­i­pa­tion. We are try­ing to pro­mote the same within the re­search and de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity by pro­vid­ing a cloud­based plat­form for dis­cov­er­ing and shar­ing open ac­cess re­search, for free,” says Agar­walla, with a smile.

And are there any mes­sages to com­pa­nies that are look­ing to go the open source route? Agar­walla is quick to re­spond to this, “Yes, it’s very im­por­tant to keep in mind a few point­ers when you plan to con­sider open source as a vi­able busi­ness model. Ac­cord­ing to me, these are: Be­fore us­ing any open source soft­ware, check how ac­tive the com­mu­nity is. En­sure that it is well doc­u­mented and sup­ported by the com­mu­nity, for any bugs. Look for hu­man re­sources that have a good knowl­edge of FOSS, and who are will­ing to work on FOSS cus­tomi­sa­tion and tweak­ing. Last, but not the least, be­fore de­cid­ing on a par­tic­u­lar OSS, one should re­fer to the case stud­ies of other com­pa­nies al­ready us­ing the so­lu­tion.” The open source model has a lot to of­fer to busi­nesses, and it is turn­ing out to be a pre­ferred choice of many en­ter­prises due to its high re­li­a­bil­ity fac­tor. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if busi­nesses, ir­re­spec­tive of their size, re­alise the po­ten­tial that FOSS pro­vides in the years to come.

So, has the Kn­im­bus case con­vinced you to take your en­ter­prise on the ‘open’ road to suc­cess?.

Rahul Agar­walla (L) and Tarun Arora (R), co-founders of Kn­im­bus at their of­fice in Gur­gaon

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.