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In enterprise IT, open source should be managed like any other software

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I read Jeffrey Hammond's excellent observations on Open Source is Infiltrating the Enterprise and it’s consistent with what I see in the market place.

Cost reduction is probably the most compelling argument why organizations should consider open source (knowing that the value of open source can go far beyond lower cost - quality, feature sets, flexibility, control, no vendor lock-in are frequently cited).

The peril of overinflated expectations around costs savings can and should be addressed – like for any other software procurement ­– with a well defined business case and TCO calculation.

In the absence of strategies that transparently articulate the value of open source long term for an enterprise, many organisations pursue open source opportunistically. It’s true that for an individual project the overall costs to build skills and level the path to production may indeed outweigh the saved capital expenses.

Additional costs may arise as a result of missing governance structures. In many organisations, open source is managed in an unplanned fashion.

While this is not necessarily an issue for a single project, it becomes challenging in enterprise IT when suddenly dozens of projects pursue open source in an uncontrolled, unmanaged matter, without consistent policies, procurement processes and ultimately ownership to maintain the various components in production.

The real potential is unveiled once articulated through a strategy (e.g. outsourcing, application portfolio optimisation, legacy migration) that considers the entire enterprise context.).

For example, if an open source substitution is pursued strategically (the low hanging fruit is typically in the periphery of mission critical systems) and promises reduced TCO over the next years by migrating identified commercial software to open source equivalents, the savings can be significant despite an initial upfront investment.

But this decision must be made facts based and needs to consider all aspects that drive both savings and expenses. Open source is no different.

Subscribing to professional support by vendors doesn’t prevent reducing costs either. In fact I always recommend securing SLA level support. Business Models evolved over the past few years and most vendors offer value add enterprise extensions (commercial open source) on top of the community-based product (free open source).

With open source in Enterprise IT, systems become more complex and critical to the business. And it’s those types of systems that require appropriate SLA regardless if open source or not. Which brings me back to the cost aspect. Subscriptions need to match the overall value proposition the same way the product does.

There are many aspects unique to open source, but when it comes to enterprise IT, open source should be treated no different to any other business software.

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