Understanding Open Source

CIOs and IT departments that see the benefits of exploiting OSS are often put off by the ongoing debates about risk, licensing, support and maturity of open source. And, those organizations that do explore OSS, often employ a misguided one-size-fits-all approach to evaluation, selection, utilization and management within the company.

This type of thinking about OSS is causing many IT organizations to miss out on the ongoing practical value that can be realized from using what is now a vast and diverse toolkit of useful software components.

Know the Benefits

Many CIOs start out wanting to use OSS because it reduces development effort and costs, thereby saving the business money. However, after practical implementation, they soon realize there are several other benefits that are perhaps more significant and lasting:

It’s easy to procure. There is no doubt that OSS can dramatically lower the total cost of ownership of enterprise systems, but one of the greatest benefits of using free software is often overlooked: OSS eliminates the pressure to make big (and expensive) decisions up front about what is needed before it is needed.

It’s fit for purpose. OSS that is not easy to install, use and manage does not survive. Since open source code is scrutinised by thousands of developers worldwide, OSS developers are forced to keep their software as straightforward and lean as possible. They must limit their feature set to what is required right now and add features as their users request them. Unnecessarily complicated and bloated products with large footprints, such as most commercial application servers, are uncommon and short-lived in the OSS world.

It’s easy to change. Using OSS increases the options and the amount of control that can be exercised when developing, enhancing, evolving, and retiring enterprise systems. Open access to source code means that a software developer can always enhance, fix, or otherwise alter any open source component at any time.

It’s high quality. The methods used to develop OSS naturally favour the production of software that is higher quality than most other software, bespoke or commercial. Each OSS project is run like a small and efficient software business. The software is generally developed in cycles, each of which plans to release a new stable production version to the majority of users, who require predictability and reliability.

Employees like it. The people factor shouldn’t be discounted. Working with new, cutting edge software might help attract, retain and motivate internal IT professionals, leading to greater productivity over time.

Gaining the OSS Advantage

Enterprises that learn to think about OSS as a solution to their holistic enterprise development needs will find several opportunities to improve the efficiency of their business and IT organizations, while lowering the costs of building and operating enterprise systems.

A properly implemented approach that addresses application ownership and copyright issues will help drive productivity, reduce risk and save money.

There are hundreds of tools and middleware in the OSS toolkit that are ready for prime-time use in the enterprise. Depending upon specific requirements, OSS can be used to create a complete enterprise solution or mixed and matched to complement commercial software. In either case, there is no reason to wait.

OSS is already an essential part of providing the fastest and most efficient enterprise solutions, and this trend will continue well into the future. Companies that take time today to select, evaluate and apply OSS to their specific requirements will realize widespread benefits that are immediate, ongoing and lasting.

Cyndi Mitchell is a senior architect at ThoughtWorks is global leader in delivering custom software solutions to the most complex problems at the world’s largest companies, and can be reached at [email protected]. Operating across five countries, ThoughtWorks embraces the use of open source software to arrive at higher quality solutions faster and more cost-effectively than traditional software consultancies.