by Edward Qualtrough

Using open source in the enterprise – 19 CIOs embracing free and open source software

Nov 21, 2016
IT StrategyMobile Apps

Open source enterprise use cases appear to be on the rise, at least anecdotally, with an increasing number of CIOs, IT directors and Chief Technology Officers telling CIO UK about investigating and adopting free and open source alternatives to proprietary software as they seek to gain freedom and flexibility, cut costs, increase agility, improve code quality and avoid vendor lock-in. [See also: Six barriers to open source]

UK businesses it seems have also finally conquered their “irrational fears” of open source and security fears are also on the wane, reports have suggested.

The most recent studies by the non-profit Linux Foundation in its Enterprise End User Trends reports have revealed year on year increases in Linux deployments over the last four years, with the open operating system seeing particular growth as a platform for cloud computing.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst told CIO UK in 2015 that CIO attitudes towards open source had changed dramatically in recent years. “It was seen as a lower cost alternative around commoditisation, but open source is now seen as very innovative and CIOs don’t want to be seen to fall behind on innovation,” said the CEO of the world’s first billion dollar open source company.

Recently a host of CIOs have espoused open source software and tools, and spoken about the use of open source in the enterprise. Here we present 19 CIOs, from the Ministry of Defence and Goldman Sachs to the Daily Telegraph and NHS, commenting on the use and benefits of adopting open source for businesses:

“We are very much an open source-centric organisation, so a lot of our strategic technologies are not provided by vendors.

“We focus on capabilities and services that partners can bring to our business rather than commercial products to buy. We have got some key commercial products that are truly market-leading such as Vertica and Adobe, but equally 90% of our new technology stack is open source, with budget going to exploiting these technologies rather than licensing and hardware.

“This is a strategy that has been very successful this year with us migrating away from 95% of our legacy by the end of 2015 and over 60% already completed.

“Open source tends to allow you to focus on narrow best-in-class solutions rather than broad and expensive commercial propositions.” Tim Jones, CTO

“Open source has always been really important to us and probably why we have a reasonably big in-house team to manage all of that open source technology and to tie it all together. And I think it will become increasingly important.

“Also we can take something out and putting something else in quite quickly, so it is not just open source but also open standards. I talk to the business a lot about what we need to build our Lego bricks. At the moment we have Duplo – these massive great big chunks and we need to get down to those tiny little microservices. You can build much more refined structures if you are working with much smaller components.

“Everything we do is open source, and if it isn’t open source now, it will be very soon.” Sharon Cooper, BMJ CTO

“We will see more and more businesses using open source tools in mission-critical scenarios. We certainly are, and we are seeing the material benefit in how well we can run mission critical applications compared to what we used to do. Because of the multiple instances it is actually easier to do that.” Finbarr Joy, William Hill CTO

“The old mantra at Goldman Sachs was: ‘The only think crazier than making all your own software is not making all your own software’.

“Which is how we ended up with a billion and a half lines of software code.

“That mantra very different now; we’ve changed that that to: ‘Download, build, buy’. We are huge adopters of open software and also increasingly large scale contributors to open software.

“Our engineers created their own messaging service which went viral inside Goldman Sachs and we then took to rest of industry.” Martin Chavez, Goldman Sachs CIO

“We are using as much open source as we can, and we are committed to it in our digital platform and analytics.” Mark Dearnley, HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer

“We prefer to follow an in-house strategy wherever possible, for time to market. From a strategy perspective, open source rocks.” Mark Holt, Trainline CTO

“Why should government be locked into a proprietary software model designed for a different era?

“We need to harness the potential of open source. Don’t outsource IT, crowdsource it.

“Let’s open source our apps and harness the power of the crowd. But this is fundamentally a move around collaboration.

“It makes absolute sense for us to share code; of course collaboration is better than paying for the same thing many times over.

“We need to redefine the market by disrupting medieval markets, we need to challenge the doom and gloom merchants, and it’s important for CIOs to stand up to that and to be resilient.” John Jackson, former Camden Council CIO

“Traditionally the MoD has been cautious of adopting emerging and unproved technologies. However, we need to adopt these freely available open source capabilities and services now.” Mike Stone, Ministry of Defence Chief Digital and Information Officer

“We are removing Oracle and replacing it with Postgres – in terms of the products we create that is probably our only big piece of licensed software we have.

“A lot of it is for performance and it is also cost. It is a huge amount and we don’t really use much of it. What we do with databases is relatively straightforward. We don’t need a lot of the complexity, and we have tools which use very little functionality.

“It is also about speed of access and the ability to do things faster.” Sharon Cooper, BMJ Chief Digital Officer

“We expect the open source electronic patient record system to cost at least 60% less, compared to a traditional proprietary route.

“The trust is a big supporter of the move towards open source within the NHS and always considers open source options first when procuring IT. We want to not only gain more efficient patient care by using the most advanced EPR available but at the same time, achieve value for money through an open and collaborative roadmap for ongoing software development.” Steven Bloor, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust CIO

“We went open source with NHS Spine 2 and moved away from SQL to an open source NoSQL database. It was a brave move but it was the right thing to do

“We also use Postgres, which has been very successful in our security environment and supports what the NHS does. We did not totally throw away SQL, but the underlying principle was that our database would use open source.

“The majority of our estate is now open source. Open source can support the enterprise, and the NHS is a huge enterprise. Not everything is open source, there are fills where use proprietary but we could fill in those gaps.” Andrew Meyer, NHS Spine 2 Programme Head

“Our existing apps are largely proprietary; there’s a disproportionately small number of large vendors dominating the market, and no real open source advocates in government.

“There’s lots of cynicism around open source and the art of the possible, particularly in the CIO community who want to buy things off the shelf and are too worried about security.” John Jackson, Camden Council CIO

CIO 100 leaders and open source

Open source technologies have also been mentioned increasingly by CIOs recognised in the annual CIO 100. Chief Digital Officer at The EconomistJora Gill said as part of the 2016 CIO 100 that its most cutting-edge technical changes used open source, while in 2015 Post Office CIO Lesley Sewell said that the organisation’s new digital platforms were “based on cloud and open source systems” while Director of Information at MEC, Trevor Attridge, described open source as a leading supplier to the media agency.

In 2015 then UK government CTO Liam Maxwell and Rob Harding, CIO at Capital One both described open source as the technologies that are crucial to enabling transformation.

Open source in the NHS

NHS organisations are often seen dabbling with open source software as seen above with the NHS Spine 2 project and the openMAXIMS EPR in Blackppol. But a trio of NHS Trusts went a step further by setting up a community interest company (CIC) at the start of 2015 to be the custodians of open source code guiding the development of an electronic patient record system. At the time NHS England said it hoped the move would ignite the open source digital health care services markets.

On setting up the CIC, the director of informatics at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust Neil Darvill said: “It is fair to say there have been limitations on the speed and flexibility of implementing some systems within healthcare, and we’re establishing the CIC so that best practice is shared and promoted. This means we can adapt and enhance the code, with input from colleagues across the NHS, to meet the current and future needs of the health service.”

In the 2016 CIO 100, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust CIO Stephen Docherty said that the organisation was developing an open source digital observation platform for clinicians as well as an open source personal health record app. Fellow CIO 100 member Rachel Dunscombe of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust works with the open source community in the UK, US and Slovenia to promote open data archetypes for health and sits on the NHS England Open Source board.

Walmart makes OneOps open source

US retail giant Walmart has open sourced the cloud technology it built up following the acquisition of OneOps – a tool which helps organisations manage applications across any cloud-based infrastructure and migrate whole environments from one provider to another.

Walmart CTO and Head of @WalmartLabs Jeremy King said: “By making OneOps available to the open source community, we’re enabling any organisation to achieve the same cloud portability and developer benefits that Walmart has enjoyed.

“Walmart is a cloud user, not a cloud provider. It makes sense for Walmart to release OneOps as an open source project so that the community can improve or build ways for it to adapt to existing technology.”

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst

Red Hat, an open source provider to the enterprise community, became the world’s first one-billion dollar open source company in 2012 when it announced $1.13 billion in annual revenue for the fiscal year.

CEO Jim Whitehurst said that the organisation was a provider to more than 90% of the global Fortune 500 – with UK customers including Sky News, Telegraph Media Group and the University of Reading.

Telegraph Media GroupCTO, Toby Wright, said in September 2015 that the organisation had created an open source integration platform using Red Hat JBoss Fuse as part of its digital transformation placing digital content at the centre of its multi-platform strategy.

“It became more apparent that point-to-point integrations, coupled with inconsistencies in data supplied by various back-end platforms, was not the way to proceed,” Wright said. “The challenge for TMG was how to bite the bullet on an extensive programme of rewiring system integrations, while at the same time continuing to deliver new revenue-generating products at the right cost.”

“Red Hat’s cadre of experts gave TMG the assurance that the desired platform could be built to a high performance grade, as well as allow TMG to participate in a global product roadmap. This proved to be an excellent choice.”