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Unwilling to fix what's not broken, Asia firms hold back on open source

Enterprises in the region still harbour concerns about open source and won't move out of proprietary platforms, especially if these systems continue to function.

Years after Linux and open source first emerged in the market, organisations in Asia remain unsure about the platform's ability to support enterprise applications and are cautious about moving out of their proprietary software environment.

"There's a lot of misconception and also some inertia," Damien Wong, Red Hat's Asean senior director and general manager, said in an interview. "There are unfounded concerns about whether open source is enterprise-ready and mission-critical. These companies also see little reason to change and move to open source when their existing systems haven't failed in the last five or 15 years."

"The rationale is, why change something that has continued to work for years?" Wong said, noting that such views about open source continued to permeate the enterprise community today, even among large enterprises and government agencies in considerably more matured markets such as Singapore.

Harbouring such mindset puts these companies at risk of falling behind, though fortunately awareness about the benefits of deploying open source was increasing, he said. The fact that large tech giants such as Google and Facebook were large open source users, hiring significant number of engineers with such skillsets and contributing to the open source community, had helped improve enterprise perception, he added.

Wong also pointed to Microsoft's recent decision to finally include Red Hat Enterprise Linux to the list of Linux distributions supported natively on the Azure cloud platform. With the new agreement, Microsoft also would provide Red Hat's JBoss middleware as an option on Azure. Support staff from both companies would work in tandem to service such deployment.

Announcements like these would further help change public perception about open source, Wong said, adding that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared "Microsoft loves Linux".

"All this indicates that the focus for Microsoft doesn't seem to be on the server OS anymore, but more about cloud. And it's not possible to ignore if you're serious about providing cloud services," he said, noting that open source technology addressed the need to be scalable and agile, which were critical in cloud.

Adding that more than 80 percent of public cloud today ran on open source, he reiterated Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst's previous comments that the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook would not exist today if not for open source. For instance, in its first year of operation, Google would have had to fork out $10 billion in software licensing if it had not deployed open source, Wong said.

Cost, though, remained a big consideration when enterprises do decide to move to an open source environment, he said. And because it might be costly for some organisations to rewrite, port, and test their applications before migrating to a new platform, most typically deploy new applications on open source, preferring instead to retain their legacy apps on proprietary systems.

Ongoing security worries

Security concerns, however, appeared to have lingered and were exacerbated when the Heartbleed vulnerability was found to be an OpenSSL coding error.

Asked if incidents like these indicated the platform was not secured, Wong said: "I would say on the contrary. Open source tends to be more secured because there a lot more limelight on. And with open source, you can't hide a Trojan because everything's [public] and exposed. There are many more eyes looking at the codes so it's only a matter of time before someone picks it out.

"Hackers look at ways to capitalise by using what is native to the software. And this will be an ongoing challenge whether it's proprietary or open source," he said.

Furthermore, while Linux was once deemed a poorer cousin of Unix, ongoing contribution from the community over the years had made the former more stable. "For instance, Linux on x86 has surpassed Unix in terms of performance, reliability, and scalability," he added.

According to Wong, Asia-Pacific including Japan and Australia accounted for 15 percent of Red Hat's revenue last fiscal year. The vendor also clocked double-digit, he said, and Asia-Pacific's growth rate was above the company global average. He declined to provide actual figures on the region's revenue growth or headcount, as the company did not break these down by region.

He pointed to IoT, big data, containers, and software-defined networking as future growth drivers. "These require applications that need small footprint to run basic functionalities, because your power requirement cannot be high on these edge devices [that collect, generate, and analyse data]," he said, pointing to Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 7 Atomic Host, which was designed to run on containers or embedded devices.

Security tools, for instance, could be partitioned into containers and embedded into IoT devices to address security concerns associated with these systems, he suggested.