Executives have traditionally viewed proprietary systems as safer, lower-risk options. However in recent times increased scrutiny of capital expenditure has forced corporations to consider alternative technologies in an effort to extract maximum value from their IT budgets.
While cost is an important factor, businesses are also looking hard at other benefits of open source, such as interoperability, flexibility, and access to the underlying code in their systems.
Cost is a crucial criterion in almost every business decision, and increasingly so in IT strategy as businesses seek to maintain competitive advantage. While it may be tempting to assume open source solutions are cheaper simply because the software itself is free-of-charge, other considerations such as infrastructure, training, support and staffing are also important benefits of open source. Many studies that examine the total cost of ownership (or TCO) of open-source versus traditional approaches demonstrate open source solutions typically cost less than equivalent proprietary systems.
Flexibility and interoperability are two key concepts by which open source systems can also deliver business value. Proprietary vendors often implement new features and functionality in their systems to maintain a competitive advantage over their rivals, but this practice can introduce compatibility issues leading to vendor lock-in. Proprietary formats used by these systems to store data can also limit the ability to share information. By contrast, open source solutions are designed to support interoperability and avoid vendor lock-in.
Open source approaches generally implement best-practice open standards or protocols to assure interoperability with the widest possible numbers of third-party systems. The OpenStack approach to open source cloud standards is an example of how technology vendors are building flexibility into new IT delivery models.
The increasing number of vendors offering competing open source solutions means it is increasingly easy to choose a specific open source solution to suit a particular business need. It's also easier to switch to an alternative open source solution when requirements change.
Issues of support and accountability are often cited as advantages for proprietary solutions. Many businesses assume proprietary systems offer better support than open source systems, but that assumption isn't always valid - just because a system costs money does not necessarily make it easier to support. Enterprise-grade support agreements are generally available for popular business software from both camps. There may be a greater incentive at present for commercial open source support organisations to be responsive to client needs because that's often one of their main sources of revenue. But this advantage is receding as more and more service providers offer commercial services to support open source.
Access to the underlying code is a real strength of the open source approach; any issue discovered in the system can be reviewed and addressed rapidly by either in-house or third-party software developers. The proprietary approach means relying solely on the software vendor or partner to provide software updates, and their priorities may not always align with yours. Bugs are more likely to be identified and rectified quickly where the source code is readily available, avoiding pitfalls surrounding the "black box" model of closed-source system.
Open source technology is emerging as the dominant force in the modern enterprise and in many ways challenging traditional paradigms set by incumbent vendors pushing expensive proprietary systems. The number of corporations embracing matured, open technology within their business is growing rapidly, and the advantages of employing such technology within the enterprise are being recognised.
In following posts on this blog I'll discuss issues surrounding open source migration strategies, challenges that might be encountered in the process and ways to overcome these challenges.