Red Hat's survey results on the state of enterprise open-source software

It's an open-source IT world out there, and these days we're all living there.

If you're surprised 90% of IT leaders are using enterprise open-source software, you've been living under a rock for the last few decades. In its latest State of Enterprise Open Source report, that's exactly what leading Linux and cloud company Red Hat found.  

After all, as Red Hat president and CEO Paul Cormier, pointed out, "Open source has solidified itself as an innovation engine for the software industry. The technology trends that you see changing how we work and do business were born in open source -- enterprise Linux, cloud computing, edge and Internet of Things (IoT), containers, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, and DevOps." It's all open source, all the time. 

It's not just what we think of as IT. Thanks to the power of open source, which combines collaboration, transparency, and the belief that the best idea can come from anywhere, we've been able to come up with COVID-19 vaccines in mere months instead of years.

But where exactly is open-source software being used? Infrastructure modernization, which is a fancy way of saying replacing the last proprietary operating systems in servers and data centers, remains at 64%, open-source software's top use.

Specifically, open-source networking is spiking in popularity. It jumped from 36% two years ago to 54%. This is probably because so much of modern networking has moved to software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and the emerging technologies that rely upon it such as 5G

The second most cited use, 54%, is application development. Hot on its heels is digital transformation with 53% of respondents. These are closely related because they show how open source isn't just replacing infrastructure plumbing, but being used to create new cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. 

Behind these, in turn, as you'd expect, is the rise of containers. Container adoption is already widespread. Just under 50% of respondents worldwide use containers in production. Thirty-seven percent use containers for development only. A mere 16% of respondents are still only evaluating or researching container adoption. A separate study by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) found container use has exploded by 300% in the last four years.

Interestingly, 69% of those Red Hat surveyed prefer to use multiple vendors for their cloud infrastructure needs. While that certainly supports Red Hat's hybrid cloud plans, it's higher than I expected.

To make that happen, Red Hat needs users to continue to embrace containers and Kubernetes, the red-hot container orchestrator.  Red Hat has no fears on that account. The survey found 30% of IT leaders expect to significantly increase container usage over the next 12 months. Another 42% expect to slightly increase container use. Kubernetes is overwhelmingly seen as important to cloud-native application strategies for its container orchestration: 66% of respondents view it as "very" or "extremely important," and another 19% consider it "important." 

For Red Hat, that means OpenShift, its Kubernetes' distribution, is more important than ever. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's more important than its traditional flagship product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), to Red Hat's bottom line, but it's getting there.

Another important factor in open source's growth is that most of the 1,250 IT leaders surveyed agreed that open-source software is as or more secure than its proprietary rival. Overall, 87% see enterprise open source as "more secure" or "as secure" as proprietary software. 

Other answers reinforced this conclusion. Eighty-four percent agreed that enterprise open source "is a key part of my organization's security strategy." Seventy-five percent trust enterprise open source because it undergoes "[...] a stringent vetting process and commercial testing to ensure quality code." The processes associated with enterprise open source specifically are also reflected in the 55% majority who say that enterprise open source is more secure than community-based open source. 

In a related blog, Red Hat community evangelist Gordon Haff noticed the delusion "that open source code carries risk is waning." The old Microsoft open-source FUD may be history, but it still persists. 

Looking ahead, Haff summed the survey's result as "IT leaders widely view enterprise open-source software as a superior form of software with higher quality, more innovation, and even better security than the alternatives. Furthermore, they also widely appreciated that the full value of enterprise open source is provided through vendors who actively participate in the open-source development model rather than just repackaging open-source code. Collectively, it's a recognition that enterprise open source is increasingly the future of software."

Of that, there is no doubt. Even Microsoft, now a Red Hat partner, is now on open source's side. 

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