Business needs, vendor support key software considerations

Enterprises deciding between open source and packaged software should first identify requirements they want from the app as well as strength of vendor support and developer ecosystem, observers advise.

With the gap between out-of-the-box software and open source alternatives bridged as the latter mature, companies choosing between the two software groups should look beyond cost considerations and focus on vendor support, software ecosystem, as well as the business needs the application is required to fulfill.

Daniel Zoe-Jimenez, program manager of enterprise applications and business analytics at IDC Asia-Pacific, noted there are several factors to consider when mulling over software procurement decisions.

For a start, the type of software to be deployed--whether it is for customer relationship management (CRM), big data or productivity and collaboration--should be determined as this would dictate the specific requirements needed, Zoe-Jimenez told ZDNet Asia.

For example, there is currently a large collection of big data software, but some are likely to disappear from the market within a few years, he said. As such, companies looking to use such software over a long period of time need to consider options that attract mainstream vendor support.

"For big data technologies, the availability of vendor support and the organization's internal resource and skills to deploy and effectively use software such as Hadoop, will be critical factors that should be considered," Zoe-Jimenez pointed out. The analyst added that those inexperienced with big data analytics and open source software (OSS) should probably consider packaged software that comes with full vendor support.

Matthew Bertram, chief technologist of software at Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific and Japan, agreed. The software chosen should meet companies' needs in terms of "functionality, performance and flexibility", he said, pointing to this as the most important consideration.

Bertram added that other considerations include support, total cost of ownership (TCO) and performance and reliability. Elaborating on TCO, he said all software requires some degree of configuration or customization, and OSS may require more services to configure and maintain than boxed software.

"The ongoing costs of professional services, number of skilled people in the marketplace who can implement and maintain the software, and size of the open source community ought to be factored in," he suggested.

Maturing OSS viable enterprise option
One open source proponent, though, argued that OSS has matured to the point where there is little difference between open source and packaged software.

Amanda McPherson, vice president of marketing and developer programs at The Linux Foundation, cited content management system (CMS) service provider Drupal, as an example of a sophisticated, mature open source software.

"You can basically get out-of-the-box open source software now," McPherson said.

The distinction, she noted, is whether the software is supported by a strong ecosystem in the long-term. This consideration is necessary for both small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and larger enterprises, she added.

Asked if there are different considerations for SMBs and enterprises, Darrel Chua, spokesperson for Free and Open Software Alliance Singapore (FOSA), said smaller businesses cannot run away from cost considerations, even if other factors have inched into the foreground.

Large enterprises, on the other hand, tend to have more complex requirements and they should take time in establishing a clear set of checklists before procuring any software, he urged. Business continuity and support will also surpass budgetary concerns for this customer demographic, Chua noted.

Zoe-Jimenez added that in the Asia-Pacific region, OSS used to be restricted to just the SMB customers but this is changing. Software such as Hadoop and Red Hat's Enterprise Linux are increasingly adopted by the region's enterprises such as the Singapore Exchange (SGX), while others such as SugarCRM and Openbravo's ERP offering are gaining traction, she said.