Open source still suitable for business-critical systems

Open source is business-ready. Not just for smaller companies that are looking for a simple CMS, but also for business-critical systems with high-volume traffic. This is not really news, and the examples are well-known, such as the use of Linux at the London Stock Exchange. But an interesting report (pdf) by Jim Norton, former president of the BCS, recently reinforced this message and it is an interesting read. For one, the report had been sponsored by Amadeus, a technology provider to the travel industry. As Glyn Moody rightly notes, this is not a company that has an interest in supporting a particular technological viewpoint, but is focusing on providing real solutions.

Benefits of open source systems

The report lists benefits of open source that are relevant to different kinds of stakeholders. Specifically for enterprise customers, Norton notes that open systems provide:

  • Access to greater innovation – A self-reinforcing open community has emerged of shared research and development that customers of open source software can tap into.
  • Improved supplier responsiveness – Access to an open community allows much better response time for problems. A customer is no longer dependent upon one supplier to respond adequately and timely, but has a wide community of people that may help out when there are problems.
  • Enhanced system accessibility – There is a wide variety of systems that has been developed openly over the last few decades. This enables customers to use and continue to use systems if they have the required expertise available. Customers do not need to depend on supplier-demanded software life cycles.

When focusing more on end consumers, the following added benefits are highlighted:

  • Greater choice and depth of services – Norton argues that certain services that are available for open source have simply not been financially viable under the economic model of proprietary software
  • Democratisation of services – By building services on open source software, removing limitations such as volume-related fees, greater innovation is possible and enables much more sophisticated services to be developed. Simply put, because components such as web servers, search engines and development frameworks are available as open source services can be developed on top of this without the need to worry about these lower level components.

Open source rather than cloud

Norton also analysed the pervasive trend of cloud and concludes that specifically in the area of risk management, some steps need to be taken in order to make sure that systems and data are secure and safe in a cloud environment. Control and visibility of systems are much less clear and obvious in a cloud environment, and auditing processes need to be in place to ensure this is properly addressed.

Another challenge is the interoperability and portability of cloud solutions, which is still very much under development. Open initiatives such as OpenStack and Apache CloudStack develop interesting solutions and communities that address these issues.

Finally, the report provides an analysis to inform IT management how to make transition from closed to open systems. It addresses some of the real practical concerns IT managers may have and helps them understand how to harness some of the benefits of open source. One important part of this is the focus on staff and the need to train staff and make them familiar with the new system and understand the technology. OSS Watch has provided a number of resources that can help you understand open innovation in software. Feel free to get in touch if you would like to find out more.

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