Gartner: Stay rational with open source

Open source may have its merits, but a market analyst advises businesses not to consider the technology based solely on its namesake.

SINGAPORE--While Red Hat has outlined more strategic reasons for embracing open source, market researcher Gartner says enterprises should not have a strategy specifically for open source.

Gus Robertson, vice president of Red Hat Asia-Pacific said open source has helped lower the cost of IT but there are far more strategic reasons for choosing open-source software over proprietary competitors. He was speaking at the company's Open Source Symposium, a series of conferences held in 14 Asia-Pacific cities to address open-source technology, business and legal issues.

Robertson admitted that while open source allows businesses to view the source codes of their software, customers typically "don't want to tinker around with the operating system". However, he noted, having access to source codes means applications can be developed at a much faster pace than proprietary counterparts.

For example, in 2002, Red Hat Enterprise Linux can only support between eight and 16 microprocessors. "Now, in Japan, our key hardware vendors are running Linux on 128 CPUs in large vertical boxes," Robertson explained. "Linux has scaled dramatically in four short years."

In addition, he said, open source also helps to boost application performance. "For the first time, application vendors can now see inside the operating system and build their applications to perform better," he explained. "This is more than [about achieving] cost reduction."

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However, Dion Wiggins, research director and vice president of Gartner in Hong Kong, advised businesses against having a strategy specifically for open source.

"I'm not saying don't use open source," Wiggins told ZDNet Asia. "What you should do is to have open source as part of your strategy. For example, evaluate database products in the open-source space on its merits [and] as part of your database strategy, not on its [open source] label."

"The same goes for development tools. Adopt them based on merits--open source or closed [source]. You want the best products that fit your business needs, not just because they're labeled open source," he added.

Wiggins said Gartner is seeing a majority of companies taking up open source products simply because they carry the label. "That's the scary part, and it's costing them because they don't do total cost of ownership (TCO) [benchmarking] exercises," he said, adding that many businesses fail to understand TCO implications.

"For example, if I have 500 desktops in my enterprise, switching to Linux may sound like a good idea [because] technically, I get a free operating system," he explained. But, he added, migrating data from Microsoft Office documents to OpenOffice might be an issue since the two productivity suites are not completely compatible. He added that the cost of training users on OpenOffice also needs to be considered.

Wiggins, however, acknowledged the traction of Linux has gained in the server environment.

In fact, according to analyst company IDC, Linux servers posted their 15th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth worldwide, amid lackluster sales in the overall server market during the first quarter this year.

Wiggins noted that Linux today is "far more suitable as a server than in a desktop environment", but said he expects open-source issues on the desktop such as the lack of mature Linux desktop management tools, to be resolved in a few years' time.

Red Hat distribution
In a separate announcement, Red Hat said it has selected ECS Computers Asia as an authorized distributor for the software vendor's products in Singapore.

While ECS has had a prior reseller relationship with the open source vendor in the island-state since 2001, under the new agreement, ECS will distribute the full range of Red Hat products as well as provide on-site engineers for installation, configuration and consulting services.

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