Today, after the giant strides taken by open source technologies, you can no longer remain untouched by their magic. Start-ups like AskMeBazaar.com bank on the power of open source for their survival. When asked whether the company uses open source technologies, Ekta Mittal, head, product and technology, AskMeBazaar.com, emphatically states, Yes, pretty much! We are firm believers in open source technology. Almost over 80 per cent of the technologies that we use in our environment are open source. We are currently working on building an e-commerce platform, in which we are using a lot of open source technologies, including the search platform, the caching technologies, the database, the login mechanism and supporting tools.
AskMeBazaar is built on the LAMP stack. The tech head elaborates: The two search platforms we use are Solr and Elastic Search, which are being extensively used these days by most of the companies. Redis is used for caching and Pentaho for reporting. And for detailed analytics and the loyalty programme that we are building, its MongoDB. We also work with partners like Unbxd, which is built on Elastic Search. Another partner is Vinculum, on which our seller panel is built. The entire e-commerce platform that we have on AskMeBazaar.com is based on OpenCart. So, open source is pretty much everywhere in AskMeBazaar.com.
And heres why AskMeBazaar.com uses open source tech…
Apart from factors like having a passion for open source and believing in the philosophy behind it, Mittal uses open source technology at AskMeBazaar.com for certain other reasons too. She says, There are three key advantages that we get with open source technologies. The first and most important is that one gets control over the code of the software. Community support is another major reason why open source technology is my first choice. Most of the companies, including LinkedIn, Facebook, et al, have started contributing widely to open source technologies. Fluentd, which is a log aggregator, comes from the house of Facebook. I completely believe in the community culture and I want to build a similar culture at AskMeBazaar.com. Third, as the CTO, I have to look at the cost benefits and, with open source, this is one big advantage that any company gets.
Mittal is not the only one in the company who thinks open source is the best fit. The entire management team backs her on this. She says, As a company, we are pretty open to open source technologies. When we decide on what technology to use, we evaluate all our options and depending upon what is best with respect to security, we deploy that technology. For example, in the case of analytics tools, we use both Google Analytics and its open source alternative, Piwik. The latter gives us the liberty to store all the information and Big Data, over which we build a lot of loyalty programmes and event analytics. On the other hand, we use Google Analytics for complete end-to-end analysis of the data. So, I would say we use both technologies, proprietary and open source, depending upon the need.
Community support is bankable…
While some feel that the open source community support is not something that they can vouch for, Mittal believes that it is pretty bankable. She explains, If you take Pentaho as an example, it has both an enterprise edition, which is proprietary software, as well as a community edition. So, when you go for the community edition, you can ask for anything including extra bug fixes, various kinds of features from forums like Stack Overflows, etc. They maintain their own JIRAs, where you can request for new updates and also add on to them. These things are super beneficial when you are going with an open source model. Another example that I can cite is that of MongoDB. There are multiple support forums available for it, whereas if you go for an Oracle server or an SQL server, there is minimal support and you have to take help from the proprietary software companies for any kind of development issue.
Mittal adds, There have been many cases when the community came to our rescue. Like in the case of Solr, when we were building our entire search over it, we got help from people who have worked on it. There is immediate support available on forums like Stack Overflows, etc. And since there are a lot of people who have already worked on such projects, the support is faster. In case of Unbxd, we do a lot of work with them. Although their source code is closed, they are based on Elastic Search, which is open. So there is a lot of exchange that happens between us. This kind of community support really helps a lot.
There are drawbacks too…
As they say, nothing is perfect and open source technologies are no exception. Mittal has faced some issues as well when she adopted open source technologies. She says, One of the major factors that one needs to take care of while using any technology, whether open source or proprietary, is that the security standards are maintained and there is no leakage. This goes for open source technologies too. So while you are using OpenCart or Drupal, you need to do a security review before you take up anything for your project. If you have to deal with data security, then security hardening becomes even more important. This is where proprietary technologies find a place, because they are backed by a company that takes care of these aspects.
Mittal does her homework before she actually gets on to any technology. She says, We conduct a lot of security checks before taking up any technology. An example that I can quote is that of OpenCart, where we check for SQL injections, DDoS attack protection, server side validation, et al. OpenCart is a CMS based platform, so a lot of front-end JQuery injection and validations have to be taken care of while implementing it. Also, we ensure that data does not go out of our system because of any leakage. We do the necessary security hardening wherever required, before we deploy any technology.
Open source: The first love
When it comes to making a tech choice, open source technology is Mittals first love. She says, Before we make a choice, we look for open source solutions and evaluate them first. Open source is our priority. In start-ups like ours, open source is actually solving about 80-90 per cent of the software problems. Control over costs really matters for a start-up, which is what we are, currently. We always look for open source. Some open source software is actually much better than the enterprise editions available.
When we have to make a choice, we definitely look at all the possible available options. That is very important to make an informed choice. Like in the case of the reporting tool that we chose, Pentaho, we did evaluate the advantages of the community edition versus the enterprise edition. If we get better support from the enterprise edition, we will choose that over the community edition, and vice versa, she adds.
When asked if finding talent in open source software is a challenge, Mittal explains her recruitment strategy. She says, I wont deny that we face difficulty in getting talent when we look for in-depth knowledge of open source subjects. But we dont look for technical brilliance all the time. We look for people who are deeply interested in, passionate and knowledgeable about the basic structure of technologies. If they have the right adaptive attitude and knowledge of basic structures, they can move to any technology, whether it is open or closed source.
The author is senior assistant editor at EFY.