As storage spending consumes an ever-increasing proportion of IT budgets across the public sector against a backdrop of severe spending cuts, the case for using open-source storage software in government is gathering momentum.
The public sector has a woeful reputation for using open source, given the potential cost savings involved. So it is not surprising when a series of freedom of information requests, to 44 authorities, found just one government body using open source storage software.
The research, conducted on behalf of open source storage company, Nexenta, found departments reported spending, on average, £236,004 each year on storage. And storage spending reached as high as £1.8m for central government.
IBM, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi Data Systems and EMC are the most popular suppliers of government storage.
Storage is an expensive area for all organisations, with some estimates claiming it is taking 40% of the share of IT budgets. But this figure is set to grow, as more organisations hold on to data.
In these cash-strapped times, using proprietary suppliers for storage software may become a less attractive option for the public sector.
Simon Robinson, analyst at 451 Research, believes government could stand to benefit by adopting the open source storage software model. So far, there has been an absence of open source penetration in this area across public sector organisations, but this could begin to change, Robinson said.
“At a high level it’s been the last refuge of proprietary software within the enterprise IT stack," said Robinson.
"The kind of commodity effects we saw with open source software in the server space with Linux over the last decade haven’t happened here.”
Received wisdom around security had been an inhibiting factor in open source storage, he said.
“People who run storage platforms are conservative. If you lose data, that is the kind of thing you get fired for. So it has to be absolutely robust,” Robinson said.
Only one way for open-source storage
But as the proportion of public sector IT budget spending is going up on storage, this could be the next area targeted for cost savings.
“The planets are aligning for open source storage with the imperative for IT departments to reign in storage spending,” Robinson said.
“If uptake will happen anywhere, it will be the public sector given its unique budgetary pressures. It’s not enough to do things slightly differently, to make savings of up to 50%.
"The public sector is under pressure to have a completely different view of how it manages its storage IT environment.”
Not every IT department will naturally move to open source, as they will need some level of sophistication to management the environment, he said.
“The door is at least going to open to open source storage vendors,” he said.
“Open source storage is likely to increase, it’s at such a low level it can only go up. But the momentum is building.”
Evan Powell, is CEO of Nexenta, which provides open-source storage software. He says it is hard to penetrate a market where companies have built up relationships with incumbent vendors, but believes penetration might be easier in the public sector.
“We compete with vendors who have earned a good reputation, but have lots of long-term relationships with people. But while we can’t compete with guys playing golf with the CIO, government at least have to issue open tenders – which gives us a chance to compete,” he said.
He says the company is tripling its staff in the UK to nearly 30 but says awareness is still an issue. Many proprietary vendors benefit from using open source themselves, he says.
Open source storage products are roughly 60-70% less than proprietary products, with the total cost of ownership up to 80% less, he claims. “The legacy model is to be aggressive on the first deal and then once have locked in charge two or three times as much for the expansion.”
For an area as risk-averse as the public sector, it seems unlikely organisations will rush to become early adopters of open source storage – particularly as it concerns such a sensitive area as data protection. So it will be up to open source storage companies to prove the robustness of their systems.
If they successfully demonstrate this to government bodies, open source storage could become an area of substantial growth.