Open Source software in the Enterprise is finding deeper roots and a multitude of use cases.
The money that your organization allocates for software purchases and licenses represents a significant fraction of your operating budget, so it makes sense to periodically review what applications you’re using the most and which are seldom run by employees. And the type of software matters a great deal too.
In some businesses, the misconception is that the only legitimate software you should be running must come from vendors you pay or license from.
It might initially make sense for risk-averse enterprises to avoid working with open-source software, viewing it as less worthy or something too unpredictable to rely on. But the open-source community is robust. Plenty of individuals and organizations develop and use open-source tools that you may find more beneficial to something you buy off the shelf through traditional sales channels.
At the very least, you don’t want to run the risk of falling behind competitors who find it most suitable to incorporate open-source software in their operations.
Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, told CIO that open-source software “was seen as a lower-cost alternative around commoditization, but open-source is now seen as very innovative, and CIOs don’t want to be seen to fall behind on innovation.” CIO reported that there had been increases year-on-year for four years now with companies installing Linux. This open-source operating system is taking off for use in cloud computing.
Tim Jones, CTO of Moneysupermarket.com, explained his organization’s position for working with OSS. “open-source tends to allow you to focus on narrow best-in-class solutions rather than broad and expensive commercial propositions.” That’s a tempting proposition for organizations that have put up with software tools that didn’t meet their core needs or delivered less value because they are trying to please everyone instead of aiming for a more precise use case.
Open Source Software in the Enterprise: Applications and Use Cases
SAAS as a Way to Test Using Open Source Applications
For many organizations, it makes sense to try open-source software and see how workers can use it for greater efficiency or to collaborate more effectively, testing the waters with Software as a Service.
As Andreessen Horowitz pointed out, back in 2014, Peter Levine said there would never be another company like Red Hat. He predicted that rather than seeing more companies operate a business to commercialize support and other services for open-source software, there would be a trend to move to open-source as a service. “And today SaaS has emerged as the dominant business model.”
Many companies prefer using SaaS for convenience, especially if they have multiple offices across a wide territory and don’t want to maintain multiple servers in locations. For example, they don’t have to worry about outfitting workers with top-of-the-line laptops since the computation is done on the cloud provider’s servers.
And using OSS means your own IT department doesn’t have to be so concerned with updating applications or patching them promptly for security issues. In fact, the SaaS provider will have its own IT workers monitoring the servers full-time. Relying on SaaS for open-source computing also means you don’t have to plan so precisely for updating your own servers since that’s part of the cloud package.
Determining if an Open Source Application Might Be Right
Identifying an application available via cloud computing as Software as a Service is a good way to start the evaluation process.
“An excellent indicator of an open-source product’s success is the number and caliber of providers who offer it as a service,” noted Forbes. “A product’s universal availability via multiple SaaS and public cloud providers should instill CIOs with confidence that it is here to stay, has more paid support options, and is a safe bet.”
So there is strength in numbers and a case to be made for using software that many others are already demonstrating success with.
Open-sourcing Internal Work
Your enterprise may work with open-source software and then make changes to it that will benefit other businesses.
While outright altruism is not a major motivator for action in the boardroom, you have to consider that once you put your software out in the world for others to try, use and improve, you stand to benefit yourself when you get to use a new and improved version.
That’s what happened with Wal-Mart. The retailer had acquired OneOps, a tool for managing applications hosted on a cloud computing platform. Wal-Mart’s CTO Jeremy King said, “Making OneOps available to the open-source community, we’re enabling any organization to achieve the same cloud portability and developer benefits that Wal-Mart has enjoyed.” He added that “Wal-Mart is a cloud user, not a cloud provider. So it makes sense for Wal-Mart to release OneOps as an open-source project so that the community can improve or build ways for it to adapt to existing technology.”
Google is a model for corporations working in open-source software for their own benefit and others. Forbes pointed out that Google puts programmers behind open-source applications, including Envoy, Istio, Kubernetes, and TensorFlow. It also has deployed more than 1,000 interns to contribute code to open-source efforts.
Open Source as a Wisdom of the Crowds Software Model
CIOs and other concerned stakeholders will want to develop criteria to help them judge whether to start using a particular open-source software offering.
Typo3 noted that a typical misunderstanding abounds in enterprises, that open-source software is more liable to fail than conventional applications. But that’s not accurate. While all complex software will have its share of bugs, open-source efforts can bring more users to the table who will help to improve it. “OSS is more reliable in that it gets reviewed by many developers, users, and testers. This means bugs are more likely to be found, and that bug fixes and security updates are fast in coming.”
The free time, knowledge, and expertise provided by end-users in the open-source community make for ongoing improvement that everyone benefits from. However, a drawback is that while OSS community developers can be quite responsive to requests fixes, they have no legal requirement to help.
But if you have concerns, you can always review the timeline of a particular application to see how robust the current user base is and how engaged developers are in updating and improving it. Then, you can always move on to another title. Of course, enterprises can also hire developers to modify open-source code to better meet their needs, with the value being spread to others once it’s been shared.
Open source software is becoming a much bigger business, as evidenced by mergers and acquisitions. According to Forbes, Microsoft purchased GitHub for $7.5B, and IBM paid $34B for Red Hat.
Deploying Open Source Software in the Enterprise
Whether you want to try using open-source software as a pilot program to test with a key group of workers on a special project or are ready to dive in and harness a range of OS tools, it will be prudent to keep your expectations in check during rollout. Many organizations get their feet wet by evaluating Software as a Service to see if it does better or better than their current application.