Open source in the enterprise

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Bernard Golden is a renowned expert on open source software and author of the excellent Open Source in the Enterprise recently published by O'Reilly. We caught up with him at the HP financial services industry Open Source Advisory Council to ask him how Open Source is changing the way Enterprises use software.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you wrote the report "Open Source in the Enterprise"?

I have been consulting in open source and enterprises for about six or seven years. I know folks at O'Reilly, and when they decided they wanted to examine the enterprise open source phenomenon, they asked me if I'd participate. I was delighted, especially because O'Reilly has some very innovative data mining techniques that would allow us to examine real data about enterprise adoption beyond the usual anecdotes.

Why are enterprises adopting more and more open source software?

In the report, we identified six drivers for enterprise open source adoption:

  • agility and scale
  • quality and security
  • breaking vendor lock-in
  • cost
  • sovereignty
  • innovation

Depending upon the enterprise, one or more of these drivers might motivate their use of open source. Often, the initial interest is from a cost perspective, but as the organisations gets more acquainted with open source, the other drivers come to be seen as important.

How do you measure the use of open source adoption in enterprises?

Rather than conduct surveys, which are usually suspect in their methodology or sample set, we looked at open source recruitment postings in Fortune 1000 companies, reasoning that for a company to get to the point that they want to hire a skill, it's likely that they are using the product.

We found that about .2% of all F1000 job postings were for open source-skilled positions (our definition was that two open source products needed to be called out in the posting for it to meet the threshold of being open source-oriented). Given that total IT employment in F1000 companies is about 2.4%, this means that around 10% of all IT jobs are open source-oriented.

How important do you think being able to inspect an application's source code really is? Is it a red herring or do you have an example of where this has been critical in an enterprise's use of open source software?

Certainly a number of US Government security agencies have used the transparency of open source code as a reason to use the products; they are able to examine the code and satisfy themselves that it is not compromised with respect to security.

Beyond those situations, IT organisations find the ability to study the code relevant when integrating with an open source product, so as to understand its behavior better and thereby create a better end product.

What value do the communities around open source projects have to enterprises?

Community is absolutely critical; absent community, open source is little better than source code availability through escrow. The Open Source Maturity Model, which I created to enable formal assessment of the maturity of open source products, measures the maturity of a number of product elements like support, documentation, and professional services, all of which increase in maturity as the product community grows and matures.

Will open source ever shake its 'beard and sandles' reputation? Or do you think its slightly alternative image is a strength rather than a weakness?

Its outer image served to attract adherents early in the open source movement. Most technologies, to achieve mainstream adoption, have to be seen as mainly being used by mainstream organisations. I feel that as more 'typical' IT organisations adopt open source as a key part of their strategy, open source will come to be seen as a mainstream choice. I'm sure, however, that there will always be tie-dyed t-shirts in the back room of the open source ballroom!

In the report you identify six core drivers for open source adoption by enterprises. Which is the most important and why?

As I mentioned earlier, the importance of the drivers varies according to the goals of an IT organisation. Cost is an easy driver to initially identify, so many people consider that the primary motivator for open source use; however, as companies become more familiar with open source and integrate it more deeply into their strategies, they find other open source drivers extremely relevant to their situations.

Why should ISVs consider using open source software as their development platform?

For ISVs, there are three primary reasons:

  • Cost – with constant pressure on margins, using open source in place of licensed third party software components or self-developed components can reduce COGS significantly;
  • Time to market – leveraging existing open source rather than developing all necessary product components internally can shorten the time it takes to deliver a product to customers; and
  • Competitive secrecy – licensing a third-party component can signal market intentions to another company and thereby offer them an opportunity to respond competitively; using open source that is available anonymously allows a company to develop a product without offering information to other interested parties about what it is doing.

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