The open-source movement is gradually impacting corporate IT departments at major corporations worldwide. This trend is being supported by various forces internal and external to the software industry. In this column, I will try to explore some of the reasons why open source is becoming more acceptable to corporate IT departments.
One of the simplest reasons is the common "hype" factor often associated with technology trends. Linux exemplified qualities of open-source development for many people (and we all know the shape of the curve associated with the stock price of Linux companies). We are now in a phase where people have seen open source and become more familiar with it. Good projects -- and good code -- have come out of open-source efforts. The quality of open-source efforts has increased and the value of the collaborative power that goes into these efforts is being appreciated more and more. Open source is no longer some radical idea but a trend and a method of software development that has produced good work and sometimes has surpassed its commercial alternative in terms of quality and robustness of the code.
Another major factor is the current economic environment. With major budget reductions, IT departments are looking for innovative ways to complete their projects. Open source looks attractive from a cost perspective, although IT departments are finding out that open source does not always mean the overall cost of a project will go down. While software licensing costs are reduced by embracing open-source software, you still need careful planning and project management discipline. As life in IT goes, while the budget numbers go down, the expectations around delivery time, quality, and support do not change.
Current market conditions have caused software companies to cut back on spending. Some of the reduction has come from R&D and support departments. This has indirectly undermined one of the main arguments used by the commercial software development firms against open source: quality of support. At the same time, some consulting companies have embraced open-source software and offer paid-support for it. JBoss (last month's topic) is one example of this trend, where a network of JBoss developers offer consulting and support services to users of the open-source application server for a fee.
|The increasing acceptance level of open-source code within IT departments brings forth challenges and new opportunities.|
As businesses evaluate their relationships with their software vendors, the issue of support will be increasingly scrutinized. The line between what is considered a support issue and what is considered worthy of a professional services engagement is blurry. As they examine the numbers, paying for consulting services around open-source code will seem more plausible and acceptable. This also means that commercial software vendors need to be prepared to engage in projects where at least pieces of the software come from the open-source world.
New hires are also impacting open-source deployment. Many of them were involved in open-source efforts while in school. They are used to the collaborative effort and organization of open-source development. Some are even leaders of open-source efforts, with a passion for the code they have developed, and they will not hesitate to promote such projects within the IT groups that employ them. They also serve as goodwill ambassadors of open-source efforts. IT departments will be seeing more and more of their new talents equipped with open-source methodology and that demographic alone will bring change.
The increasing acceptance level of open-source code within IT departments brings forth challenges and new opportunities. Commercial software vendors will be pressed to show value and ROI for their products. At the same time, there are integration and support opportunities for these vendors to showcase their products and develop close relationships with the customer. IT departments need to stick to project discipline and manage their risks regardless of the commercial or open-source software they use.