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Five Main Advantages of Open Source for Enterprise Solutions

Nothing will slow the progress and increased adoption of open software. What was traditionally viewed as developer and infrastructure tools has quickly infiltrated the enterprise environment.

The public sector was one of the first to initiate the trend. For example 400,000 workstations in the French administration have already migrated to Open Office. Other players of the public sector have also started to switch to open source technologies: in the United States (City of Largo in Florida, University of Nebraska, Colorado Department of Human Services, City of Chicago, etc.), in France (National Gendarmerie, Ministry of Finance, National Assembly, etc.), and the rest of the world (Cities of Munich and Amsterdam, Swedish National Police, libraries in Romania, schools in Macedonia, Russia and Venezuela; etc.). Even if, according to a study by the University of Maastricht, contributions and innovations are mainly European (70 percent of open source developers are based in Europe), the U.S. has the highest usage rate within enterprises and government agencies. However, according to Markess International, investment in open source from the IT budgets of the public sector is expected to go up from 7 percent in 2006, to 11 percent in 2007, to 14 percent in 2009.

Open Source on Every Floor!
We already know that open source software is widely present within companies’ infrastructures: security (firewall, IPS-IDS, sniffer, proxy, antivirus, anti-spam, etc.), operating systems (workstations, network, scientific computers, etc.), databases, and Web browsers.

Today, however, open source technology can also be found in the lower layers of companies’ or government agencies’ information systems. They are also deployed in the higher layers (business applications) as well as the middleware layers (non-visible to the user) like Talend Open Studio, Talend's flagship data integration product.

For instance, some common business applications include the OpenBravo or Compiere ERPs, the SQL Ledger accounting system, CRM systems such as SugarCRM or Concursive (formerly CentricCRM), BI suites like JasperSoft's or SpagoBI. In summary, five open source segments are particularly appreciated in the business world: enterprise applications (office automation, management, CRM, content management, business intelligence); development tools (applications, collaboration, project management); Web servers and application software (middleware, Enterprise Server Bus, integration, portals); and databases and operating systems.

Offerings Are Maturing
The growing presence of open source software in the information system illustrates the greater maturity of the offerings. Some years ago, open source vendors were “preaching to the choir” by offering their solutions to users who already supported the open software movement. The contrast today, however, is that adopting organizations select open source solutions because of the competitive advantage they deliver.

Every day, new companies – including some of the largest in the world – announce their decision to develop a solution under an open source license. For government organizations that generally have stricter budgets and resources, cost and administration considerations have traditionally played a large role in IT decision making. Private businesses are not far behind. Recently, the International Oracle Users Group conducted a survey that shows that 37 percent of companies using an Oracle database are also using an open source database.

Today, open source is a solid alternative to the proprietary solutions, not just offered up by a few individual vendors. A Business Week article from October 2005 postulated about “the emergence of a real ecosystem whose ambition is to create software capable of competing tomorrow with Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and SAP.” Since that article ran, venture capital firms have invested over $400 million in close to 50 open source companies. And the recent acquisitions in the space only prove further the relevance of the model.

Five Main Advantages of Open Source for Enterprise Solutions
With the success and growing adoption of open source clearly established, we turn our focus to the unmistakable advantages, which include quality, reliability, transparency, cost, and interoperability – as well as a few others.

Advantage #1: Quality and Reliability
A long-standing pillar of the open source community is the emphasis on reliability of the code and the ability of the community to constantly fine-tune the applications. While proprietary vendors seek ongoing customer loyalty, open source providers generally agree they seek customer satisfaction.

The business model of for-profit open source companies relies on revenue from service, consulting, and training – even in the cases where vendors have chosen the dual licensing model in order to offer both high value-added commercial solutions and free community versions. From a technical point of view, the community pushes the developers to provide high-level guidelines so that the readings and external contributions are done smoothly.

Product quality is in a sense “guaranteed” by the number of developers and the numerous tests run by the community. Meanwhile the initiating vendor continues to dedicate a host of resources to product development in order to realistically set the bar for features and performance. The vendors overall commitment provides the users with the certainty that the product is sustainable, the roadmap is consistent, and the bugs will be corrected. Quality is further guaranteed by the numerous exchanges between the company, the vendor, and the community via forums, blogs, or wikis.

Advantage #2: Transparency
Open source code provides open access to anyone. Not only does this make the customization easier, it also reinforces the companies’ independence toward the proprietary world. As outlined earlier, by publishing core code and the basic modules under open source licenses, vendors offer the developer community the opportunity to improve their products and make these improvements available to everybody. Given open access to the code, companies can easily and quickly adapt solutions to their needs, eliminating the necessity for expensive outsourced customization projects. Thanks to the community environment of editors, companies benefit from the integration jobs developed by other companies or individuals.

Advantage #3: Cost Savings
Numerous debates have highlighted the differences between open source and free software. Even in instances where open source software offers a free access license, it is not a clear indication that the project has no costs associated with it. As in any ROI or TCO analysis, the license cost is only one element of a whole: deployment, training, materials, integration should also be considered. Although the cost savings have attracted most companies to use these technologies, it is not the main argument in favor of open source. As we have just discussed, open source is also a choice of architecture, transparency, and reliability. However, if we look at the license cost of traditional proprietary offerings in the data integration field – a field that I know well – the final savings can reach tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This does not even take into account the complexity of these price systems (number of processors, number of different source and target systems), which maintain a voluntary vagueness, strengthening the feeling for the user of being chained.

See Next Page for Advantages #4 and #5

Advantage #4 : Interoperability
For years, interoperability has been one of the main challenges that faced software users. Proprietary solutions, which have been developed by isolated teams to answer specific needs, have not been designed to share, dialog, and collaborate. As a result, companies spend a lot of time and money in making proprietary solutions communicate. In the rare instances where interoperability occurs, standards play a large role. Vendors need to alter their line of thinking and shift from locking-in users with proprietary specificities to opening up their solutions to facilitate integration into information systems.

This need for interoperability was the founding principle of the Open Solutions Alliance, a consortium of vendors of open source solutions, whose goal is to promote interoperability as a way to deploy more broadly open solutions in enterprises.

Advantage #5: A Massive Adoption by Students
Open source solutions are available more and more in engineering schools and universities. In addition to the volunteer and budgetary aspects, which are widely viewed as key development factors of open source, relationships with other university associations strengthens the student’s commitment to this type of technology. This reflects a new reality: Engineers around the world dream of software independence, and curriculums include many technical classes that are based on expert usage of IT tools promoting open source offerings. Students appreciate the fact that they are able to see “under the hood,” further argument in support of free technologies.

Many other advantages are offered to open source users. The community spirit is revered. We have already outlined the exchanges on technical issues (support) between vendors and the community. These exchanges facilitate the dialog about the global quality of solutions. Another valuable community tool is the direct exchange between users. Professionals from various sectors, countries, and cultural backgrounds are able to discuss and share their points of view, something proprietary editors rarely have the resources to monitor within their customer base.

Another advantage often cited is the reduction of the strain on resources. Indeed, open source solutions do not generally need high-performance systems to deliver great performance, but they can contribute to leveraging existing systems. This is in addition to the already analyzed economical advantages.

And the Drawbacks?
The main drawbacks that are commonly linked with open source solutions are slowly disappearing. Traditional arguments include its integration in critical environments, the lack of specialized resources and questions regarding the total cost of ownership. The main argument in the past has been the sustainability of open source. Today, however, the natural evolution of successful open solutions, the technical support benefits from well-established structures in addition to successful service providers that have set a precedent for reliability and longevity have changed these perceptions. Besides, as we have seen, open source editors are receiving increasing support from private investors and venture capital.

The Future
The future looks bright. Open source software will continue to improve as the community keeps growing. Open source is entrenched in companies, government agencies, non-profit organizations – with even more widespread adoption on the horizon. In less than five years, many open source companies have moved from marginal positions to being some of the most established players alongside prestigious companies and institutions.

© 2008 SYS-CON Media Inc.