Linux and open source acquisition costs are a fraction of comparable proprietary options, but those savings are often offset by high integration, maintenance and support costs. However, that shouldn't sway enterprise CIOs and CTOs from using open source, a recent Forrester Research Inc. report says.
Author and principal analyst Ted Schadler said enterprises should continue to introduce Linux and open source primarily as a means of moving Unix workloads to cheaper Intel hardware. The report also suggests that support concerns will wane over time as Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. bring their services and support offerings to prices comparable to those of proprietary vendors.
"Ninety-four percent of open source users either run or plan to run on Intel or AMD-based hardware -- where a $5,000 Dell server runs workloads that a $50,000 Unix box ran just three years ago," the report said. "While open source components are often available for any operating system, Forrester believes that ever-improving Intel price performance is an important driver of open source adoption."
Forrester surveyed 140 enterprises in North America about their open source plans. Sixty percent they are either using or plan to use open source software, with 100% of those already using open source saying they have Linux in house in some capacity.
The survey also confirms that open source is prevalent on the perimeter (75% are using the Apache Web server for example), but more are introducing it in mission-critical environments (52% are using MySQL database, 44% the Tomcat Java servlet engine and 21% the JBoss application server).
"Open source components keep getting better as a virtual cycle of developer downloads, interest, and contribution making them good enough to challenge commercial alternatives -- at a vastly lower entry price," the report said.
Those enterprises that said they had no Linux or open source plans cited lack of in-house skills, support, applications and product immaturity as the primary reasons. Ironically, those were the same concerns of enterprises already using open source.
Open source also introduces new licensing risks and familiarity with the GNU General Public License (GPL) is mandatory, Forrester said. CIOs should be aware of whether GPL components are being used in products shipped to customers, or run the risk of having to return proprietary code to the community.
To manage this risk, Forrester recommends forming an open source advisory group that includes developers, decision makers, and legal counsel to establish policy on open source contributions. This apparently isn't a best practice in the enterprise yet as only 11% of open source users said they had established one. Meanwhile, 7% of survey respondents said they contribute code to the community and 46% said they view only.
"That borders on criminal neglect in a market where 60% of the firms we surveyed are using or planning to use open source," the report said.
Support is also a genuine concern, and community support, while plentiful, often doesn't cut it for a CIO. Forrester said distributors like Red Hat and services groups like IBM Global Services have comprehensive help for Linux and open source and give CIOs the one throat to choke they crave.
"Linux may not be ready for high-end transaction systems or 'earned in blood' reliability, but it is certainly ready for mission-critical firewall and Web applications," Forrester said. "And with investments in Linux like those of IBM's pSeries and iSeries teams, Linux is becoming a solid platform for databases and business applications."