Open source no longer scares the enterprise

Open source breaks the rules on corporate procurement, but developers never play by the rules and now open source has sneaked in through the back door

A study by Vanson Bourne for Rackspace reports that businesses are making big savings by using open source.

In the survey of 300 organisations, three out of five respondents cited cost savings as the top benefit, reducing average cost per project by £30,146.

With most IT projects at the lower end of the cost scale, such savings are significant.

About half of the organisations in the study reported greater innovation because of open source – and 46% said they used open source because of the competitive opportunities.

In fact, 30% said open source gave them the opportunity to respond more quickly to market trends as a driver. Almost half (45%) said it enabled them to get products and services to market sooner – with project lifecycles reduced by an average of six months.

Speaking at the second day of the OpenStack summit in Barcelona, Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the OpenStack Foundation, said: “As computing pushes us forward, open source is a positive sum game.”

Van Lindberg, vice-president and associate general counsel at Rackspace, who chairs the Python Software Foundation at the OpenStack Foundation, thinks the enterprise is now ready to adopt open source.

“Open source is becoming more accessible because enterprises have seen a number of their peers use it and the sky didn’t fall in,” he said. “And it makes it cheaper and easier to innovate.”

Open source also gives businesses greater control, said Lindberg.

Shift in buying practices

Businesses are used to dealing with the major IT providers and some open source software companies have successfully mimicked commercial models to sell open source to the enterprise.

“Red Hat sells the perception of decreased risk, and it looks similar to proprietary software sales,” said Lindberg. “This was what most corporate procurement people are used to.”

But he added that, in his experience, open source tended to creep in from the bottom through unofficial routes. “It doesn’t require permission or payment. You can simply start using it to deliver business value. It is about people just trying to be more efficient at doing their jobs.”

According to Lindberg, it is a huge indictment of the traditional commercial software business model that no one wants to use the very expensive software stacks that corporate IT used to deploy. “People say they can do things better, faster, cheaper and more efficiently using community-oriented open source software,” he said.

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Webscale organisations such as Netflix and Uber have built their infrastructure on Linux and open source systems.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, said: “Linux isn’t scary any more. People want to consume it fresher and faster.”

Meanwhile, several organisations are contributing code back to open source communities. According to Shuttleworth, organisations such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are building distributions on the Docker Hub based on Ubuntu from Canonical. “Those guys are essentially following the new wave of working at scale,” he said.

When Computer Weekly visited JP Morgan’s development centre in Glasgow, the investment bank said it was a big user of open source. A few years back, JP Morgan was the largest consumer of open source in the world. The Apache Qpid message broker was one of the projects it has contributed back to the open source community.

Among the questions often put to companies that work in the open source space is how they compete. Don Rippert, IBM’s general manager, strategy, business development and technology, IBM Cloud, said: “Open source customers expect better integration and interoperability. It gives us a better surface area to compete.”

Peter Guagenti, chief marketing officer at Nginx, a company that makes open source load balancer, network caching and security software, said open source projects tended to be larger than commercial offerings.

Guagenti, who used to work at Microsoft and then Drupal, the open source content management system, said: “At the time I was there, Drupal had over 2500 code contributors on Drupal 8 core alone.” For comparison, during his time at Microsoft, Guagenti said about 200 people worked on SharePoint.

Driving innovation and security

The sheer number of open source contributors drives innovation and improves security. John Engates, chief technology officer at Rackspace, said: “As an industry, open source code is among the most scrutinised, and its commitment to transparency means that, where there are vulnerabilities, businesses will be aware of these and take steps to protect themselves.”

From an innovation perspective, Rackspace’s Lindberg said: “As the ability to create business value with software increases, software developers become a major driver of business revenue. Developers contribute to various open source projects, to improve both their skills and their marketability.”

Lindberg said open source projects had an economic aspect and a social aspect. “When we each work on the things we are best at and we collaborate, we come out with better overall product,” he said.

In many ways, open source has the ability to bring together people from many different cultures and with different experiences, across organisational and national barriers. Developers in the open source community can contribute best practices from their own industries and personal experiences to a project in a way that is not often possible in commercial software.

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