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Users need to work more closely with the open source community, says Forrester

Arif Mohamed

Businesses that want to make more use of open source technology have been advised to work more closely with the open source community.

With open source technology now viable within the enterprise, users need to appreciate how to engage with the open source community, a report from analyst firm Forrester Research has advised.

Michael Goulde, senior analyst at Forrester and author of the "How firms should work with the open source ecosystem" report, said, "Firms are using open source software because they believe it will help them lower technology costs, escape supplier lock in, and increase flexibility. But working with open source is difficult for firms that are used to buying commercial software, in part because the open source movement has not focused on corporate needs that traditional software suppliers provide through a partner ecosystem."

Goulde said an open source ecosystem is emerging, comprising many new types of organisations, such as communities and consortia, which deliver product development, distribution, services, and marketing - equivalent to what is available with commercial software.

He urged companies that want to implement open source software more widely to assemble a "do-it-yourself ecosystem". This involves working more closely with open source communities such as GNU or PostgreSQL, consortia such as Open Source Development Labs, and open source foundations such as the Apache Software Foundation or the Eclipse Foundation.

"The foundation supplies the servers, storage, source code management, e-mail lists, legal counsel, and other infrastructure that projects need as well as sufficient governance to ensure that projects progress smoothly and without legal hiccups," said Goulde.

So, for example, if the organisation is building a Java application, it can go to Apache Software Foundation or java-source.net as a starting point for projects and repositories, said Goulde.

For integration and development assistance, commonly used open source projects such as the Apache web server, PostgreSQL, and Tomcat are available in integrated packages from open source assemblers such as OpenLogic, SourceLabs, and SpikeSource.

Commercial open source software suppliers can also provide useful assistance, said Goulde. For help with deployment and management, software suppliers and service providers such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Novell have extended their offerings to include deployment of open source applications.

"For enterprise-class support, firms should contract with suppliers like Capgemini, Covalent, HP, IBM, and MySQL," said Goulde.

However, Goulde warned that the open source ecosystem is still immature. "Today, the open source ecosystem is a loose connection of parties with a common interest, but little organisation or order, unlike the world of proprietary software where a supplier in the centre of the ecosystem provides organisation and direction.

"Forrester believes the open source ecosystem will use its strength of co-operation and collaboration to organise as a software innovation network - ecosystems of process consultants, independent software suppliers and lead user companies that develop and market products and services anchored by standards-based software infrastructure platforms," he said.

Pros and cons of working with open source

Advantages

  • Low acquisition and support costs
  • The code is free and there are no complicated licence fees or negotiation
  • Availability of source code for testing and debugging software
  • Use of open standards. This helps enterprises implement standards in a supplier-neutral way
  • Supplier independence in choice of software and hardware. This can help avoid supplier lock in. 

Disadvantages

  • Open source projects tend to be hard to integrate as they are developed for specific purposes and in relative isolation
  • Firms often lack open source knowledge and skills
  • Individual projects do not address how an IT organisation is going to configure and manage its complete software environment
  • Relying on e-mail lists to get support questions answered is not economical in a large organisation
  • Open source licences often conflict with corporate policy and processes
  • Implementing open source products in a corporate environment can be challenging because of differences between the open source and commercial approaches to software creation and delivery.

Source: Michael Goulde, Forrester Research

 


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