Open source makes good sense in a downturn

CIOs can make considerable savings on IT projects by using open source products rather than commercial software in the face of the economic downturn.

CIOs can make considerable savings on IT projects by using open source products rather than commercial software in the face of the economic downturn.

"In difficult economic conditions the open source message sells well," said Jim Whitehurst, chief executive of Linux distributor Red Hat in an interview with Computer Weekly last week.

If the company's finances are anything to go by, open source is increasingly finding favour in IT departments. Whitehurst says Red Hat has grown 30% year on year.

Open source is effectively free. Red Hat is available under the GNU General Public licence (GPL) users can download the software from the company's website and only pay Red Hat for support, maintenance and IT services.

And importantly, Users of open source system do not have to worry about managing licenses. Michel Kahn, group chief information officer of Specsavers has chosen open source for a number of components in the retailer's store expansion plan. He says, "Our over-ridding objective has been to expand the number of stores at relatively low IT costs."

A study from Forrester Research has shown that CIOs regard lower costs as the main driver for using open source products. One interviewee disclosed that his organisation saved €900,000 over three years by replacing a commercial application server with the JBoss open-source application server. And the enterprise architect from the company that replaced multiple Unix systems with a single Linux distribution said that this change cut administration costs by half.

"It is not just the cost of the licence, but also the fact that people have to pay between 20-25% of the value of the licence per year on an annual maintenance agreement with commercial products," says Jeffery Hammond, senior analyst at Forrester.

First, businesses do not have to buy any support unless they need it. "So if a company has 200 software developers and pays $750-$1,000 a year on maintenance support for its integrated development environment, the annual maintenance charge is $175,000.

With an open source integrated development environmnetsuch asEclipse, you can go directly to the open source community or pay a system integrator to provide the support," he says.

Truck and bus manufacturer Scania, for example, is supporting Red Hat in-house. Scania uses Red Hat Satellite Server to maintain local control over the management, administration and monitoring of its systems.

It is highly unlikely businesses will rip out and replace existing commercial products with open source alternatives. But using Linux and open source software in new projects, can help CIOs stretch their shrinking IT budgets a bit further.

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