Open source movement makes its way into the proprietary data center

Before it embraced commercial software support, the open source movement didn't have a strong hold in enterprise data centers. How times have changed.

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Companies are increasingly comparing open source applications with commercial, proprietary applications. As commercial software costs escalate, the attraction of the open source movement has become more pronounced.

Open source application software has long been viewed as a niche solution that is not suitable for mission-critical business processes. In the past, it was limited to academic settings. But a new variant of this model has emerged that provides commercial-grade software support and legal protection from IP indemnification. Enterprise-class, open source application software has the potential to become the preferred solution.

How to embrace the open source movement

Linux operating systems have become a dominant factor in data center operations across the globe. Users have the option of using public domain Linux solutions, or commercially supported versions that provide support options and service-level agreements.

Other widely used open source solutions include content management software, application server utilities and Web browsers. Each of these categories has strong support for collaborative, open, pragmatic software licenses that provide software for the public good. Not only do these solutions provide robust core functionality, but they include developer-level documentation, APIs and access to hundreds of add-on modules.

In the application space, there is growing acceptance for business applications like CRM and ERP. For example, I know a large government supplier using open source ERP for supply chain logistics to the Department of Defense. Open source solutions provided the baseline functionality and the platform to support business requirements that include managing more than one million inventory items across 20 stocking locations around the world.

Commercial-grade open source software

Some commercial-grade open source combines the best of both worlds -- full support and upgrades, coupled with zero licensing fees and full access to the source code. It's a compelling value proposition: the only fee is low-cost annual maintenance, it's modular and extensible by design, there's a large library of open source, bolt-on apps, the software is fully supported and all source code and executables are provided.

Open source: The next generation

It could be that software developers continue to release proprietary software solutions and withhold the source code from the user, as they consider the source code their equity, but we haven't seen this happen yet. Alternatively, open source providers distribute the software and source code free of charge, with the expectation that a large audience of users will provide enhancements and extensions to the software, increasing its value.

Commercial support -- upgrades, bug fixes, version updates -- of open source software has removed the barriers to widespread adoption by large companies. The next generation of the open source movement has arrived and should be seriously considered when evaluating business applications.

This was first published in June 2013

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