Survey Highlights Open Source Perceptions, Pitfalls
Chances are, your IT shop uses open source software (OSS). Indeed, the overwhelming
majority of enterprises use OSS in some part of their organization -- and therein
lies the problem. If you do use OSS, market watcher Gartner Inc. recommends
you have an official OSS policy. But a surprising number of open source adopters
are operating without one.
Eighty-five percent of respondents to a recent Gartner survey report they've
adopted open source solutions. Of these, more than two-thirds (69 percent) say
they haven't yet implemented policies for formally evaluating or cataloguing
the use of open source assets in their environments. One upshot, the consulting
firm warned, is that adopters that haven't codified official OSS policies are
leaving themselves exposed to intellectual-property (IP) infringement violations.
"Just because something is free, doesn't mean that it has no cost,"
said Laurie Wurster, research director at Gartner, in a statement. "Companies
must have a policy for procuring OSS, deciding which applications will be supported
by OSS and identifying the intellectual property risk or supportability risk
associated with using OSS. Once a policy is in place, then there must be a governance
process to enforce it."
Gartners also found that an increasing number of adopters are tapping OSS solutions
to replace commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products. Adoption rates are typically
higher for infrastructure projects -- where both OSS and commercial offerings
are relatively mature -- and in other segments, as well.
"In areas where OSS projects are most mature, IT departments appear comfortable
with using OSS components to enhance existing infrastructure environments,"
Gartner said. "However, in the less mature areas of application software,
OSS is more readily used as a replacement for commercially available software,
probably because of the cost and sophistication level required to customize
many application products."
Open source vendors like to stress that OSS doesn't primarily (or necessarily)
translate into cost savings, but for many adopters, open source's perceived
TCO advantages are a big selling point. Respondents cited both lower TCO and
the "reduction in development of cost-prohibitive factors" as two
key reasons they opted for OSS.
According to Gartner, adopters also tend to perceive OSS as more flexible or
than COTS alternatives. Survey respondents expressed a belief that using OSS
"makes it somewhat easier to embark on new IT projects or software initiatives."
There's a sense, too, in which users associate OSS adoption with freedom --
or, more precisely, with protection against being over-invested in (and thus
overly dependent on) COTS products from any one vendor.
Gartner cited a number of other perceived OSS benefits, including a faster
overall time to market for open source-based solutions relative to COTS alternatives.
Open source isn't without its drawbacks, however. Respondents cited a perceived
lack of governance as the single greatest challenge associated with OSS. Other
drawbacks included frequently conflicting terms and conditions, and a preponderance
of licenses and license types.
"Understanding when and how an OSS alternative may be used is a frustrating
process, especially when there are so many license types and forms from which
to choose," Wurster said. "As time goes by, many of these concerns
will be addressed, but this continues to be a slow process. Increases in OSS
popularity and in the rate of OSS adoption will drive the required changes."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.