The (Open) Source of the Problem
Vendors that are unaware of the strengths and drawbacks of open source are at substantial risk, according to a report released today by The 451 Group. Almost all pieces of enterprise software will, ultimately, contain open source elements. The report, "Cashing in on Open Source Software," reviews the decisions that enterprises and vendors should make when evaluating whether to infuse their tech stacks with an open source approach. It also contends that licensing models increasingly will include hybrids of open and proprietary approaches, and presents market analysis on opportunities for companies building, investing, or employing open source in the technology they deliver, including IBM, Microsoft, MySQL, Novell, SugarCRM, and Sun Microsystems.
The cost cutting that open source enables makes the technology hard to ignore. "If they're running as an open source product, they're giving it away for the most part," says Martin Schneider, enterprise software analyst at The 451 Group. "You have to think about how do you react." One way to combat the competition is more product and marketing development. Another is incorporating open source components when developing and upgrading one's software to cut its own costs, "so I'm not taking as big a hit when I do lose a little bit of business to open source components," Schneider says. "You have to really think about those two angles...and that's when it comes down to case-by-case situations given [factors like] what verticals you play in."
Schneider contends that open source is "a fraction of the cost of usual proprietary deployments," but says that, "if you have the moxie you can go and take that and rather than pay somebody to make any kind of changes to it, you can do that yourself." Organizations also can make derivative versions of a system and conduct test trials. However, if a company deploys an open source project, "but the community never really gets critical mass around it...that's [an] issue," Schneider says. Another problem may arise from licensing agreements. "A lot of times two different open source licenses won't work together or a proprietary license won't let you integrate an open source product with it."
The report presents four hurdles to the adoption of open source software that software vendors, enterprise IT managers, and investors face:
There is always the possibility that an organization will evaluate a product that has promise, but the support does not live up to expectations. "Open source people aren't really required to do the types of upgrades and patch-management type [of activities] that proprietary software [vendors] are expected to do," Schneider says. To sidestep this, he suggests that companies do as much testing as possible, and buy a project that has quality code and a growing and enthusiastic support and development environment around it.
Availability of commercial-grade support.
Companies must weigh their options of, "Do I get free software with a pretty cheap support situation, or do I go with something that's based on open source, but that's got a more marquee name behind it from a support perspective?" Schneider says.
Deliberately spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
"When you're deploying open source you really have to cut through and ask 'How much of this [is] the proprietary software company painting a negative image of open source?' because it is a major disruptive force to their business," Schneider says. "Just because something happens to be open source doesn't mean it's any better or any worse."
Confusion stemming from different licenses.
If licenses aren't compatible with each other, componentizing open-source functionality becomes increasingly difficult. "Just because it's free doesn't mean you can always just deploy it any way you want. The community as a whole is moving towards a more streamlined licensing situation that will allow for higher interoperability and then basically just less headaches when it comes to deploying a hybrid situation where it's proprietary/open source or varied open source projects."
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