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Commercial open source is essential to enterprise IT

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In the ideal world, open source software would be free of charges and its communities would operate on a Service Level Agreement (SLA) scale.

There would be virtually no expenses to acquire, use and maintain the software in enterprise IT production environments.

Reality is that open source software needs to adapt the rules of engagement of enterprise IT, since it should be managed like any other software.

There are some key requirements for using open source in enterprise IT.

  1. Robust technical support & warranties – Service Level Agreements are mandatory in enterprises. For production environments it is essential that there’s a trusted vendor behind each software that secures technical support regardless if proprietary or open source. This also includes long-time support for previous releases of a technology and continuous, guaranteed patches to fix security flaws.
  2. Indemnification – There must be a legal entity that provides indemnification coverage for open source software in order to help protect enterprises against the intellectual property risks.
  3. Increased quality – Enterprise customers typically request additional certifications (e.g. proven interoperability with proprietary vendors), more complete documentation or sophisticated tests to ensure robustness in the most challenging production environments.
  4. Additional enterprise features – Many customers request specific enterprise features (e.g. high availability, clustering) that are not available in community open source. Those customers don’t have the time or budget to custom-build extensions, and are willing to buy extra functionality from a vendor along with additional services (see #1). Business models of commercial open source vendors support this approach.
  5. Enterprise compliant licenses – Community open source is licensed under very specific terms. Some open source licenses (e.g. the GPL) may conflict with enterprise policies and in consequence may prevent organisations selecting the corresponding open source product. .

Commercial open source meets these enterprise requirements. Vendors offer enterprise scale support through subscriptions and also cover indemnification. Community open source typically goes through additional test cycles, is properly documented and some vendors provide specific certifications for, as an example, running their software on SAP. Most vendors ship their enterprise editions with additional enterprise features and enterprise compliant licenses.

Many enterprise customers explicitly request and also appreciate this approach. A new report from IDC has predicted open source revenues will rise to $8.1 billion by 2013, thanks to the economy and a growth in acceptance of the technology. That’s why we continue to see more vendors taking control of leading open source projects.

It is important to emphasize that communities are and will continue to be absolutely critical to driving the innovation and success of open source software. There’s no doubt. But it is also important to point out that today’s complexity of enterprise IT has challenges to address that go beyond what communities have to offer. Commercial open source addresses those needs and is gaining the trust of CIOs. This is why commercial open source is essential to enterprise IT and should continue to exist alongside it in a symbiotic relationship.

Alex Wied is senior manager at Accenture and head of its Innovation Centre for Open Source

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