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Security Journal: Article

Qualys Starts an Open Source WAF Project

IronBee open sourced, community under constuction

On Monday at the 2011 RSA Conference, Qualys announced that they were creating an open source Web Application Firewall (WAF) project. Companies create open source projects for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include attempts to commoditize a market, build a community, or dump a failing project. One way to understand which kind of open source announcement Qualys is making is to find out how they are investing in the project. If they are not allocating any resources to the new project, you can be sure this is the later kind of announcement, otherwise known as a “dump-and-run.” However, if a company has real people whose principal job is to work on this project in the open, then this project is for real. Communities do not build themselves any more, so trying to ascertain the level of “open source marketing” efforts can also shed light.

Several questions were sent to Qualys about this project, and here are the responses they sent. The responses were penned by Ivan Ristic, director of engineering at Qualys.

Q: Where did the name come from?

A: We spent a lot of time in looking for a good name for the project. Today, just having a reasonably unique name is difficult enough, but we also wanted something to represent the spirit of the project. We believe that the association with bees describes our intentions well, which is to build a community focused on mitigating application security issues.

Q: Why is Qualys doing this now?

A: Initially, the motivation came from our own need. We were looking to complement our current services with a real-time access control. There is an opportunity to integrate scanning with real-time mechanisms, combining the best of both world. Scanning is a pro-active activity that can be very deep and complements real-time monitoring which is continuous.

Q: Most companies open source a project when they want to a) commoditize a market or b) abandon a product but make the code available. Which one is it?

A: I don't believe it's either of those. We simply looked for the best possible approach to developing a complex product that needs to run in some very diverse environments. Only the involvement of a large community can deal with that diversity of environments. And only a liberal open source license can remove the barriers to wide adoption (including adoption in commercial environments, for example cloud and infrastructure providers).

Having said that, commoditization is likely to come as a byproduct of the approach. However, that will only change the playing field, moving it into a different direction. Because of the Apache 2 open source license, a high quality product such as IronBee will help everyone, not only Qualys.

Q: The INSTALL file says its not ready for users yet. When will it be?

A: We announced IronBee as early as practically possible, in the spirit of open source development. We with to involve others sooner rather than later. The first production ready release will be ready by the end of the year. Practically speaking, we expect to have a working product earlier than that.

Q: How many employees from Qualys will be working on this? Will they be full-time on this project?

A: The IronBee team currently consists of 3 employees, and we have 2 further positions open. With small distractions (on other projects, for example our SSL research), they will all work full time on IronBee.

Q: Will Qualys provide a community manager?

A: Yes, and we already have one -- Will Metcalf, a long-time open source contributor, is the community manager.

Q: How much will Qualys invest in "community development"? in USD.

A: I don't want to discuss the actual amount, but the size of the development team is a good starting point to estimate the size of the investment.

Based on these answers, it is safe to say that this is a real, serious project. Use of the Apache license shows that Qualys is serious about open-ness. The only concern is that the project is not fully functional at the moment, so open source developers should take a wait and see approach as to when this get to “release status”.

More Stories By Bill Roth

Bill Roth is a Silicon Valley veteran with over 20 years in the industry. He has played numerous product marketing, product management and engineering roles at companies like BEA, Sun, Morgan Stanley, and EBay Enterprise. He was recently named one of the World's 30 Most Influential Cloud Bloggers.