by Bernard Golden

Open Source in the Enterprise

Aug 07, 20086 mins
IT Leadership

There’s more open source in the enterprise than most people think. And there’s data to back that up. Two weeks ago, at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, O’Reilly Radar released a Report, written by me in partnership with O’Reilly Research, titled “Open Source in the Enterprise.”

The report draws on experience in consulting engagements with enterprises throughout the world, as well as research, interviews and innovative data mining techniques to describe how enterprises are leveraging open source software in support of their business goals. Based on this data, the report identified the following findings:

  • There are six key drivers for enterprise open source adoption
  • Employment of open source skilled personnel is surprisingly high, representing approximately 5% of all US large enterprise IT hiring over the past three years
  • Enterprises need to create open source action plans to gain the most benefit from open source opportunities; these plans will vary according to the enterprise’s sophistication level with and experience with open source

Enterprise Open Source Adoption Drivers

Based on work with many large enterprises, in combination with interviews and research, we identified six key drivers that motivate enterprises to adopt open source. While no enterprise leverages all six drivers, all pursue one or more of these factors as part of their open source strategy:

  • Agility and Scale: The ability to quickly grow and modify software systems to respond to rapidly changing business conditions
  • Breaking Vendor Lock-in: Reducing proprietary vendor dependence and controlling enterprise IT architectures
  • Quality and Security: Improving the operations of enterprise infrastructure by leveraging open source characteristics of transparency and rapid improvement
  • Cost: Reducing overall IT operational costs by implementing free or low-cost open source software
  • Sovereignty: Reducing dependence upon US-based software companies for local economic development and national sovereignty reasons
  • Innovation: Using open source to create new business offerings or creating open source products to reduce operational costs and make new offerings less expensive to bring to market
Even though all enterprises find these factors relevant in their open source efforts, questions are often raised about the penetration of open source in enterprises. Indeed, if you read a recent comment to one of my postings here on CIO, you’ll recognize that many people assert that no open source is being used in their organization. While it can be emotionally satisfying to take emotional potshots at people whilst arguing about how important open source is to large enterprises, that is hardly convincing evidence of how much open source is actually present in enterprise IT infrastructures. Accordingly, we set out to see if there was some way to identify some hard numbers about open source use. The method we pursued was to examine large enterprise job postings, to see how many open source jobs are available. If you’d like to see what our rather surprising conclusions about enterprise open source adoption are, read on.

Enterprise IT Open Source Adoption Statistics

It’s not easy to figure out how much open source is present in enterprises. One of the traditional methods of use identification – vendor reports – is missing, as most open source software is downloaded anonymously. Self-reporting by enterprises cannot be relied upon, either, as many companies are unwilling to self-report in the interest of avoiding conflict with existing vendors or keeping competitive information confidential.

In this report, we examined actual job postings from large enterprises to determine how much demand for open source talent exists; this provides a proxy for open source adoption, since it is unlikely that organizations would staff for unnecessary skills. By analyzing our database of total job postings for large enterprises, the O’Reilly Research Group determined that open source recruitment, as a percentage of IT employment, represents 10% of IT jobs. Taking into account the possibility that the data mining techniques are somewhat inexact, the Report concludes that open source employment represents somewhere between five and 15 percent of total IT staffs, indicating that open source is playing a significant role in today’s large IT organizations.

The methodology for identifying these jobs was that the job listings were mined for mention of open source products. Before you respond by noting that just because a job mentions Linux doesn’t mean it’s an open source job — it might be an Oracle DBA job for a database that just happens to run on a Linux box, let me make you aware that a job had to include two open source products to qualify as an “open source job.” In that way, jobs such as the Oracle DBA position would not be miscounted.

Frankly we were surprised at the percentage of jobs open source represents. Even accounting for the fact that the number has some inaccuracy, 10% is definitely more than we expected going into the data mining exercise. This means that the person whose comment I noted above is almost certainly wrong with his assertion that his enterprise uses no open source.

Given that there are compelling reasons to adopt open source, and recognizing that open source has at least a de facto presence in all enterprise IT infrastructures, it is critical that organizations treat open source seriously and develop a methodical approach to implementing an open source strategy. Accordingly, the final section of the report describes three action plans, designed for organizations ranging from open source neophytes to companies advanced in open source use.

Enterprise IT Open Source Action Plans

This Report presents three Open Source Action Plans:

  • Early open source use: Oriented toward organizations moving from skunkworks or small departmental open source use to broader mainstream use – what are the basics of methodical open source use?
  • Mainstream use: For organizations that are regularly using open source, this Action Plan provides guidance on how to improve the organization’s skill base, incorporate open source into existing processes, and better evaluate the costs and benefits of using open source for individual situations – how can open source be wired into cultural assumptions and fundamental IT processes?
  • Advanced use: Organizations that intend to use open source as a basis for innovative business offerings will find this Action Plan helpful. Focusing on inventive industry collaborative efforts and harvesting end-user innovation, this section addresses the challenges of advanced open source use – how can open source characteristics be harnessed to drive innovation and improve business performance?
There’s not really enough room in the blog to go into a full-bore discussion about the action plans (or indeed, about the previous sections of the Report, which runs 50 pages in total), but every organization needs to move beyond open source lethargy and create a formal use and strategy. It’s no longer adequate to make a vague statement that open source really isn’t that important to you or that it’s so different you don’t want to devote the time to coming up with something. Open source is already important to your organization, and passively avoiding confronting it is a shocking forfeiture of responsibility.

If you’d like a longer introduction to the Report, look here. There’s a link to an extract of the report on the page. Also, if you would like to purchase it, O’Reilly has very kindly made a discount code available that will give you 30% off the cover price. Use “RFREE” in the discount code box when ordering.