Open-source is open to growth

Open source solutions: many factors are affecting their adoption. E&T looks at recent market indicators.

A contracting economy may be bad news for many business sectors, but it could provide a fillip for the fortunes of the open-source software (OSS) ideal, in two key areas. First, the open-source 'community' has reached a maturity point where its proponents are able to make a credible case for its ability to support both enterprise-class operating environments and personal productivity tools. Second, with IT initiatives increasingly having to demonstrate cost efficiencies in order to see proposals approved, the savings that OSS delivers mean it is making inroads into organisations of all sizes.

Savings are being derived not only from reduced licencing overheads, but also from open-source vendors who, hungry to win accounts, are offering highly attractive terms. Indeed, some IT specifiers are calling 2009 something of a 'golden age' for vendor value-added support and deal-cutting, of a kind that that they haven't known for a decade or more.

Persuading enterprises that they could migrate their critical applications to open-source alternatives is proving a more difficult 'sell', however. The reasons are less to do with any anti-OSS prejudice, than the level of investment that organisations have made into their existing 'closed-source' solutions. According to one public sector IT advisor, who prefers to stay anonymous, in the current economic climate any upgrade that involves any cost overhead is on hold, no matter of it's closed or open-source.

"In a recession companies sweat their existing IT assets, and the fact that business is in the doldrums enables them to do this without jeopardising competitiveness," she says. "It's not that OSS per se comes with any sort of special stigma attached, although many higher decision-makers are pretty dubious about what it actually means." The technology is ready, but the board isn't always, she adds.

She adds the belief that much evaluation of open-source options is "quietly underway", and open-source proposals and bring submitted alongside those couched on closed-source alternatives "just to test reaction".

Open source swing

The number of senior execs in a dither over open-source adoption will soon be in the minority, if the evidence of recent market research is to be credited. IT analyst Gartner, for instance, has few doubts about its advance onto enterprise IT agenda, in theory and in practice. Its December 2008 report 'Open-Source Software, Worldwide: User Survey Analysis' avers that adoption of OSS is becoming pervasive, with 85 per cent of the companies surveyed across various countries and markets in Asia/Pacific, Europe, and North America, now using OSS in their enterprises, and the remaining 15 per cent expecting to adopt in some way, shape or form before the end of this year.

Gartner's survey indicated that, globally, OSS in new projects is being deployed nearly equally in mission-critical and non-mission-critical situations. Although the adoption rate is higher for the more mature infrastructure OSS projects and components, more projects related to application software are in progress and are planned to start within the next 12 months.

Respondents consistently cited lower total cost of ownership, and reduction in development of cost-prohibitive factors as major motivations for selecting OSS. Another top reason was that it makes it easier to embark on new IT projects or software initiatives.

Some Gartner respondents indicated that they also use OSS as investment protection against a single vendor 'owning' the entire IT department. Others stated that the major business justification for using OSS projects and components was faster time-to-market, which better positions them to meet specific demands and requirements of internal and external customers and provides them with the ability to sidestep complicated procurement procedures.

The Gartner results came with a caution: 69 per cent of companies surveyed have "no formal policy for evaluating and cataloguing OSS usage in their enterprise". This hole risks opening up potential liabilities for intellectual-property violations, the market-watcher warned.

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Open source trends

The Gartner findings are confirmed by more recent research into the OSS market published last month (August 2009). Now in its fourth year, Actuate Corporation's Open Source Survey is an international market study, conducted by Survey Interactive.

With a response rate of around 1,500 respondents in financial services, public sector and manufacturing in North America, UK, France, Germany and China, the Actuate survey explores OSS trends at three levels: awareness and adoption levels; benefits and barriers to adoption; and the evolution of open-source-based business intelligence. Its key findings, shown here, provide some persuasive snapshots of the state of OSS adoption in key international markets.

In the UK 42.4 per cent of Actuate's respondents are already using OSS. A further 1.3 per cent was in the process of adopting it, with 0.7 per cent having plans to adopt. In addition, 8.6 per cent are currently evaluating it, but have not yet decided whether to adopt; 21.9 per cent are monitoring developments, but are not yet evaluating. A further 13.9 per cent are not monitoring developments, nor have plans to adopt.

Of the regions Actuate surveyed, in China the main perceived benefit of OSS is no licence costs; however, access to source code was uniquely given a 72.6 per cent rating. Europe continues to capitalise on its early recognition of OSS's potential: In France 67 per cent of the respondents already use OSS, and in Germany the proportion using OSS has increased this year to 60.6 per cent. This contrasts with the UK at 42.1 per cent and the US at 41.

Among UK respondents not having any plans to adopt OSS, the main reason given for this is that they have "not really considered it". Other common reasons cited by respondents are that they "consider the software high-risk", "do not see a need at present", are "unclear about the business benefits", or feel that the OSS available "does not meet their existing needs".

Given the growing uptake of open-source there, and the size of the potential market, China holds great interest to the OSS community. The Actuate research group targeted comprised participants in an Eclipse BIRT forum. The two main perceived benefits of OSS are that there are no licence costs and access to source code.

IT directors are seen as the main influencers of strategy and direction of OSS, with the proportion mentioning them staying virtually unchanged. Fewer respondents mention developers than in the previous survey.

As in the 2008 Actuate Open Source Survey, Apache remains the most commonly used OS software, although the proportion of companies using it has declined slightly. MySQL and Tomcat both record gains this year such that they now enjoy equal penetration with Linux. The next most commonly used open source technologies remain Mozilla and PHP.

Among UK respondents using OSS, the top three main areas for which it is being used are server operating systems, application development, and database

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