Open source sales growing despite economy

An Open Solutions Alliance survey finds business is booming for open source vendors, despite the general spending downturn.

The sluggish economy is contributing to commercial open source sales, but customers still rank interoperability with proprietary software and vendor viability among their top concerns, according to a new survey from the Open Solutions Alliance.

Most of the companies surveyed, including independent software vendors (ISVs) and system integrators that vary in size and business model, showed a clear increase in sales and services related to open source, with 83 percent of respondents on track for a year-on-year revenue increase this year, the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) said.

The result is significant in an economy in which many companies are tightening their belts, the OSA noted.

Respondents were less clear about the reasons for the growth, with 44 percent saying they 'somewhat' agreed that the recessionary economy is driving open source sales, and another 29 percent saying it 'definitely' is.

Companies were, however, less ambiguous about the main factors behind open source adoption. Price was the top factor, according to 79 percent of the respondents, followed by reduced lock-in or access to source code at 60 percent, and customizability at 52 percent.

The survey suggested that open source is growing despite continuing customer concerns over whether the products will work with existing infrastructure and whether the open source vendors themselves will continue to be viable.

The OSA found that 79 percent of participants said their customers were concerned about interoperability between open source and proprietary systems, with another 56 percent worried about interoperability between different open source systems.

Both licensing questions and vendor viability were cited by 48 percent of participants as significant concerns that may be keeping potential customers from making a commitment. Other worries cited were support at 44 percent, security at 41 percent, and interoperability with Microsoft products at 41 percent.

Microsoft was a recurring theme in the survey, which painted a picture of IT systems dependent on Microsoft and other proprietary vendors. Most participants--84.5 percent--said their products ran on Windows or interoperate with Microsoft products, with only 9 percent reporting Microsoft-free environments. Half of respondents had an active partnership with Microsoft.

Other recent research has also indicated that open source is filling in gaps alongside proprietary software rather than replacing it, even when strong incentives for open source adoption are in place.

For instance, a Forrester Research survey earlier this month found the market for open source databases to be booming due to new workloads, such as RFID projects, rich Web applications and small portals, despite the unwillingness of enterprises to replace their Oracle, DB2 or SQL Server systems with open source.

As in Forrester's research, the OSA found that new patterns in IT were a major source of expansion for the open source economy.

A majority of 72 percent of companies surveyed by the OSA said software as a service (SaaS) was an important part of their business strategy. Just over half said Web 2.0 was providing new opportunities for them, although a third said they were not sure what impact Web 2.0 was having on their business.

The OSA conducted an online survey of 45 senior managers and executives in a geographically dispersed area, including both OSA members and non-members. The survey was published last week as part of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Oregon.