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Enterprises Flocking to Open Source Software

Open source software is not a trend; it is here to stay. Debating the value of open source software (OSS) on technical considerations is a moving target. Determining the costs of implementing and using open source makes for a more stable argument. The initial software may be free, but learning, implementing, improving, connecting to, and operating it is not free. When you acquire OSS you will have more responsibilities than if you acquired closed product software from a vendor.

Open source software is defined on Wikipedia as computer software with source code available through licensing for which copyright holders have the right to change and distribute to whomever for whatever reason.

The term open source software is sometimes used broadly and can have multiple definition differences. The distinction between true OSS platforms and mixed OSS platforms means that there may be enterprise editions of the OSS that are offered for a fee. The true OSS will not have any closed-source version of the product. The mixed OSS platform can have one or more closed source versions.

The 2015 Future of Open Source Survey, sponsored by Black Duck and North Bridge and also available as a set of slides, details what enterprises and developers think about OSS. It is an annual assessment of industry trends and issues for software-related organizations and the open source community.

Respondents were asked about their use of OSS, and 78% said they use OSS to run part of their operations, with 66% indicating they create software that uses OSS for customers. The use of OSS for running business or IT environments has nearly doubled since 2010.

The survey found that 93% reported their organization's use of OSS increased or remained the same since 2014. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported that they are participating in OSS projects, which is up from 50% reported in 2014. The respondents were optimistic about the future use of OSS, with 88% expecting to increase their OSS contributions in the next 2 to 3 years. In addition, 66% said they look at OSS before considering other options.

A troublesome conclusion concerning those pursuing OSS is that few enterprises and their staff members have established and enforced formal policies for managing the acquisition, analysis, implementation, and use of OSS. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents reported that they did not have a formal policy or procedure for OSS use. Only 27% have a formal policy in place. Further, just 16% have any automated code approval process in place, which can lead to IT staff accepting code that is not thoroughly reviewed. Even when reviewed, there can still be improper, maybe even malicious, code that is missed during the review process.

Another 58% do not maintain an OSS code inventory, while 50% reported that they had problems understanding known security vulnerabilities. A particularly surprising finding is that only 17% plan to monitor OSS for security vulnerabilities -- demonstrating misplaced optimism in my opinion.

Free OSS is not truly free. There will be internal and external costs associated with OSS. The cost of establishing and implementing OSS will be followed by the operating costs, the TCO.

Initial costs

Continuous costs

The interested enterprise should create both a ROI and TCO for the proposed OSS compared to a closed system of software. You may be surprised that the initial cost may be lower for the OSS but produce a higher TCO.

There is limited consistency and few standards for developing an OSS system. The documentation may be poor or non-existent. Once the decision has been made to use OSS, there remain other issues and questions that must be addressed, including:

The selection and implementation of OSS has been successfully pursued by many enterprises. However, the OSS user has to accept additional responsibilities compared to using a closed system software vendor choice. IT staff has to be ready for these additional responsibilities, especially as it pertains to internal policies and security.